2005年8月23日 (火)

`Costa Rica' term refers to politics, not nation


`Costa Rica' term refers to politics, not nation


Costa Rica-born Maricelle Futaba, 50, is a Tokyo resident of 23 years. She can read and understand the gist of what Japanese newspapers say.

Recently, she began noticing stories that contained expressions such as "Kosutarika shometsu" (Costa Rica vanishes) and "Kosutarika hokai" (the collapse of Costa Rica). She thought with alarm that something cataclysmic must have happened in her native country.



When she asked her husband, Shinichi, 58, a restaurant owner, she was told that Japan has a unique election system named after Costa Rica.

Specifically, her husband explained, this formula was devised to prevent the cannibalization of votes when a party fields more than one candidate from the same electoral turf. Under this formula, the candidates are allowed to run alternately from a single-seat constituency and a proportional representation district.

The explanation confused her more, as there is no such system in her native Costa Rica.


Costa Rica has a unicameral, 57-seat national assembly. All candidates are elected by proportional representation.

According to Taku Takemura, a Toyama University professor specializing in Latin American politics, no Costa Rican legislator may seek consecutive terms in office. Politicians must wait four years after their term has expired to run again. This system is meant to prevent political corruption.

Takemura went on to note that whenever he explains Japan's Costa Rica formula to Costa Ricans, they look displeased.


When Japan did away with medium-sized constituencies and switched to the current single-seat system in the 1990s, political parties had trouble paring down their candidates to just one per constituency. The Costa Rica formula was introduced to solve this problem.

A newspaper article from that period says this was the brainchild of former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a big shot in a Japan-Costa Rica friendship association formed by Diet members.

Mori hinted then at following the Costa Rican system of barring legislators from seeking consecutive terms in office, but it is now obvious that he had an ulterior motive in pushing this election system.


This summer, the "Costa Rica" system's spirit of "coexistence and co-prosperity" is being ignored. Former Liberal Democratic Party members of the Lower House, who voted against the postal privatization bills, have been denied party endorsement and are being pitted against pro-privatization, party-anointed candidates on their home turfs.


Ominous expressions that suggest turbulent times, such as "assassin," "repression," "mass arrest" and "forced transfer to an undesired region," are being used.

Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco visited Japan recently. One wonders how he viewed the upcoming election here.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 14(IHT/Asahi: August 22,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (1)

Koizumi's twist on the Kabuki double-suicide


Koizumi's twist on the Kabuki double-suicide


In any contest, force of numbers decides the winner. But there is something pathetic about people who scurry around trying to get the numbers up at any price.



The Sept. 11 Lower House election campaign kicks off later this month, and the unfolding political contest is starting to look increasingly like an action-packed drama or a cutthroat power struggle being acted out before the voting public.


I do not mean to be disrespectful to novelist Shotaro Ikenami (1923-1990), but the ongoing "drama" reminds me of the titles of some of his works: "Banken no Heikuro" (Heikuro the watchdog), "Kubi" (The head), "Sakuran" (Derangement), "Abare Okami" (Out-of-control wolf), "Katakiuchi" (Revenge), "Kancho" (Spy), "Butaiura no Otoko" (Backstage man), or "Oni-bozu no Onna" (The fiend-monk's woman).


"Shikaku" (Assassin) is a short story about Toranosuke Kodama, a man who was made to serve the evil head retainer of the lord of the Matsushiro clan in Shinshu (present-day Nagano Prefecture). Toranosuke is ordered to eliminate an emissary, being sent to Edo by another senior retainer, a decent man seeking to reform the clan. Being an assassin is nothing to boast about in public: "Toranosuke smiled wryly, a sad and desolate smile." (From a complete collection of Ikenami's works published by Kodansha.)

Images and words right out of samurai costume dramas, such as "assassin," kunoichi (female ninja) and so on are flying around the political nerve center of Nagatacho as the process of selecting candidates gets under way.

But what is happening there today could not be farther removed from the world depicted by Ikenami, a master at bringing out the pathos and emotional subtleties of ordinary people in feudal Japan.

 刺客とは、表だって胸の張れる存在ではない。「虎之助は苦笑した。淋(さび)しく哀(かな)しい苦笑である」(『完本池波正太郎大成』講談社)。「刺客」のほかに「くノ一」や 「印籠(いんろう)」が飛び交う永田町かいわいは、池波さんが描いた人生の悲哀や機微の世界からは、かなり遠い。

A recent article on the Japanese political situation in the Economist magazine noted that most Kabuki plots look the same to the uninitiated: every story ends with "a double love suicide." But, the article observed, the Kabuki staged by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had a different ending--namely, Koizumi drew the curtain unexpectedly and, out of hatred for legislators who opposed his postal privatization bills, chose the path of "double hate suicide." The article went on to laud the outcome as a rare departure from Japan's political tradition.


Is this situation welcome for Japan? The outcome is to be decided by voters. How this political drama will end--with a "double love suicide" or "double hate suicide"--is really quite irrelevant.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 19(IHT/Asahi: August 20,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

Hoping for strong ceilings in future quakes


Hoping for strong ceilings in future quakes


While I am not pleased that Shinkansen bullet trains were out of service for hours in some areas, I am truly thankful that not a life was lost in Tuesday's earthquake off Miyagi Prefecture.

I imagine this good fortune was due to the preparedness and quick measures taken by people in the regions that have been repeatedly rocked by big temblors.



In contrast, there was no staying power in the ceiling of Spopark Matsumori, a sports facility in Sendai that opened in July. The jolt caused the ceiling panel to crack and fall in chunks on to an indoor swimming pool. A father who grabbed her little girl and jumped in the pool said she was hit on the head and shoulders. Many others there were also injured.


For people who felt exposed and defenseless for being clad only in swimwear, the broken ceiling panel pieces that showered on them relentlessly were just like flying weapons.

How could this have happened at this brand new facility? Obviously, the safety standards for installing the ceiling, the design and how the inspection of the facility was carried out must be closely re-examined.


A building of this style-a cavernous space with practically no pillar to support the vast ceiling-is not uncommon. But when I am in that kind of place, I do sometimes feel a bit nervous. I wonder if the ceiling is attached securely to the roof structure.


In a traditional Japanese house-raising ceremony, a card called munafuda is inscribed with the building's description and the names of its architect and carpenters, and nailed to the ridgepole above the ceiling. In the olden days, munafuda sometimes bore the owners' wishes or prayers, such as "harmony in the world," "transparency and purity always," "calm under the ground," "long life free of calamities" and "peace in the family."

According to "Tenjoura-no Bunkashi" (Cultural history of attic crawl space), a Kodansha book authored by Masahiko Sato, one old munafuda was inscribed with a short poem that read: "Cranes and tortoises do not live forever/ The only things that are permanent/ Are the mountains and the flowing waters."

 建物の棟上げなどで、工事の由緒や建築者、工匠などを記して天井裏の棟木に打ち付ける札を棟札という。古い時代の棟札にはこんな願いが書かれている。「天下和順」「日月清明」「地下安穏」「息災延命」「家族安寧」。歌を記した棟札もある。〈鶴亀は かぎりありけり いつまでも つきぬは 山と水と流れ〉(佐藤正彦『天井裏の文化史』講談社)。

People in charge of public safety must pay special attention to dark and hard-to-see places such as attic crawl spaces.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 18(IHT/Asahi: August 19,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

We're closer to our neighbors than we realize


We're closer to our neighbors than we realize


South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun made no reference to Japan-South Korea relations in a speech he delivered on Liberation Day, the holiday South Koreans celebrated on Monday to mark liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

In China, anti-Japanese demonstrations were canceled.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi refrained from visiting Yasukuni Shrine. He also issued a statement expressing his feelings of "deep remorse and heartfelt apology" toward Asian countries.



Aug. 15 was the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Japan, China and South Korea each marked the anniversary in their own way. The day was observed calmly.

The question is whether the prime minister and members of the Cabinet can embody the idea expressed in Koizumi's statement. The leaders and ministers of the three nations are urged to visit one another to actively advance dialogue.


Two poets from Japan and South Korea exchanged letters and ideas over four years. This correspondence was published in a book titled "Ajia no Nagisa de" (On the shores of Asia) by Fujiwara Shoten.

Ko Un, a prominent South Korean poet, has been devoting himself to the democratization movement even though he was imprisoned and tortured. He accompanied then-President Kim Dae Jung to North Korea when the leaders of the two Koreas met in 2000.

Gozo Yoshimasu, meanwhile, has been creating poems brimming with life and compassionate words.

 日韓のふたりの詩人が、対談や書簡で対話を4年続け、それが『「アジア」の渚で』(藤原書店)としてまとめられた。高銀(コウン)さんは、韓国の代表的詩人で、投獄・拷問を受けながら民主化運動に力を尽くした。00年の南北会談では金大中(キムデジュン)大統領に同行した。対する吉増剛造さんは、言葉へのいとおしさのこもる表現で、豊かな生命力を宿 す詩を紡いできた。

Ko said poets from Northeast Asia should get together and compose poems on a ship while plying the open waters of Northeast Asia.

"We should not only stick to our own land, which is exclusive territory, but also sing the praises of the magnanimous spirit of the ocean, which belongs to everyone," Ko said.


Yoshimasu said: "Let us scoop up every drop of the ocean."


In his statement, Koizumi said Japan is "separated only by a strip of water" from China and South Korea.

Although geographically this is true, the distance between us seems to be increasing these days.

Why not think of the ocean as coastal waters that link countries and peoples, not divide them?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 17(IHT/Asahi: August 18,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

For war-displaced, the scars never heal


For war-displaced, the scars never heal


Dainari Adachi was a 12-year-old middle school student in occupied Manchuria when World War II ended. His family lived in a small town near the border of the Soviet Union. On the day word arrived that Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, had admitted defeat in the war, he was playing outdoors as usual.

When Dainari returned to his home, his mother told him that Japan had lost the war. He was too young to know what that meant in practical terms.



A few days later, Soviet warplanes appeared over the town. One shot at the boy without warning, and he fled into nearby woods. "Although the war had ended in Japan, you might say the war actually started for me on that day," he recalls.


Soon, Soviet ground troops arrived. Dainari's father, a civil engineer, had died of illness several months before. With his mother and two younger brothers, Dainari was moved through a succession of internment camps. During this period, his youngest brother, a 2-year-old, died while being carried on his mother's back.

Food was scarce. It occurred to young Dainari that if he were not around, his mother and other brother would have more to eat. He left without saying even goodbye.


The boy found work on a frontier farm. Early in his 20s, he met his future wife, a woman named Motoko.

Motoko was the daughter of a Japanese farmer who had settled in the former Manchuria. She had fled with her mother from the invading Soviet forces. After her mother died, she was raised by Chinese foster parents.

It was not until 36 years after the end of World War II that the two war-displaced Japanese who married in China set foot in their mother country.


At the surrender, about 1.5 million Japanese were living in the former Manchuria. In the turmoil that followed, at least 200,000 are estimated to have died in raids by Soviet troops and Chinese residents, group "suicides," illness and other circumstances.

Their stories graphically illustrate how the wheels of fortune turned in different ways for these individuals, according to where they were on Aug. 15, 1945.


Today, Adachi and his wife live in Chiba Prefecture on a 60,000-yen monthly pension. His wife cannot speak Japanese. Being five years her senior, the husband wonders anxiously, "If I die before my wife does, what will become of her?"


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16(IHT/Asahi: August 17,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

Obsessing blindly over our `assigned duties'


Obsessing blindly over our `assigned duties'


Because I was born two years after the end of World War II, obviously I was not around to experience the day of Japan's defeat 60 years ago on Aug. 15, 1945.

I can say, however, that this date has always been at the back of my consciousness.

Whenever I came across something that was related to this date or the days that preceded it, I was invariably compelled to ponder its meaning.



Various people have noted their thoughts and feelings about Aug. 15, 1945, in their diaries.

Each observation is striking in its own way, but the one I would like to dwell upon anew in this 60th anniversary year is a passage from "Haisen Nikki" (Journal on defeat in war) by novelist Jiro Osaragi, published by Soshisha.


Referring to his loss of sleep over worrying whether Japanese soldiers would be able to bear the indignity of defeat, Osaragi notes in part that the soldiers "had been taught to remain blind to anything other than their assigned duties ... ."

But this was not the lot of soldiers alone. The great majority of Japanese citizens had also been conditioned to focus solely on their "assigned duties."


When the war began, every soldier, politician, parent and child blindly sought to live up to their respective ideal images.

Missing the crucially important overall picture-namely, where the nation was really headed-the Japanese people withdrew into their rigidly defined roles.


There is something painfully pathetic about the intensity of their resolve.

But it was also this collective frenzy that allowed the nation to run amok and sacrifice the lives of a tremendous number of its own people as well as those of neighboring nations.

And I am pained to be reminded, too, of how the media pursued a grossly misguided cause.


Aug. 15 should be a day for each one of us to not only remember and mourn the dead, but also to ask ourselves once again whether we are still obsessing blindly over what we imagine to be our assigned duties.

I pray that our present postwar era will never go down in history some day as another prewar era.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15(IHT/Asahi: August 16,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

Rent-a-cow system keeps everyone content


Rent-a-cow system keeps everyone content


Four black wagyu Japanese cows graze contentedly on common weeds-kudzu, pigweed and overgrown goldenrod-effectively acting as "live weed eaters" in the fallow rice fields of Yanai city, on the Inland Sea coast of Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The cows are part of the city's "rent-a-cow" system for local farmers. Many of the farmers are elderly and ready to retire but do not want their fields to become overgrown with weeds and infested with pests. They fear those pests could ruin their neighbors' crops.




Hiring people to cut the weeds can be an expensive proposition, even if done through the city's "silver personnel agency," a program for retired people who want to take on odd jobs and make themselves useful to the community.

Even if "silver personnel" would undertake the job, working under the scorching summer sun would be extremely strenuous for them.


A solution to the problem of overgrown rice paddies came four years ago. Yanai Mayor Tetsuro Kouchiyama, 47, suggested during a meeting with farmers that perhaps cows could do the job. At the time, the city's shrinking farmland and declining stockbreeding industry were cause for serious concern in the farming community.

Letting cows graze in the paddies would mean eliminating the costs of labor and as well as feed-a perfectly happy solution for landowners and cattle owners alike. The local agricultural association acted on the mayor's suggestion at once. This summer, seven farming households are taking advantage of the rent-a-cow system.


The system is hassle-free. All the user has to do is corral the grazing area with two electric wires hooked up to solar batteries.

According to the city's estimates, it would take two people working two days to cut all the weeds on a 5,000-square-meter property. The bill would come to 50,000 yen, including transportation and disposal costs.

If the same job is done by two cows, however, they would eat all the weeds in about 50 days. The bill would come to around 24,000 yen, including the cost of equipment.


There is something serene and soothing about the sight of grazing cows. How pleasant it would be if such a scene were common on fallow fields around the nation. Just when I had this thought, my eyes met a cow's innocent stare.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 31(IHT/Asahi: August 15,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

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)

Hurdles overcome, on the track and in space


Hurdles overcome, on the track and in space


Human imagination takes a humorous bent when it creates the rules of sports. This is clearly the case with hurdles. I mean, it's kind of funny that running on flat ground is deliberately made difficult by placing obstacles one after another.



According to "Haadoru" (Hurdles), a book by Ken Miyashita from Baseball Magazine Sha Co., this particular sport originated in Britain. The rise of the Enclosure Movement for pastoral land, which peaked in the 18th and 19th centuries, gave birth to an equestrian race using the enclosures. The first hurdle race as we know it today took place in the mid-19th century as an Oxford-Cambridge collegiate competition event. Sheep enclosures were used as hurdles.


In the wee hours of Wednesday, I awoke from a restless sleep and switched on the TV. The 2005 World Track and Field Championships were on, and Japan's Dai Tamesue was just about to run in the final of the men's 400-meter hurdles. It was raining in Helsinki. While I thought that the weather itself was a hurdle of sorts, the starting gun boomed.


Athletes' legs are beautiful as they leap over each hurdle. One leg is fully stretched while the other is lifted swiftly. The upper body is bent forward, and the eyes are trained on the track ahead. I was reminded of a lithe animal hunting down its prey.


When Tamesue was nearing the finish line, his lips parted slightly as if in a smile. The race became a dead heat just before the end, and Tamesue collapsed across the finishing line to win a bronze medal. For him, this was a triumph that came in the wake of a long slump and other personal misfortunes that included the death of his father. His face was wet with tears, sweat and rain.


Meanwhile, the space shuttle Discovery landed safely Tuesday in the United States. Astronaut Soichi Noguchi's beaming face mirrored his satisfaction with the completion of a tough mission.

Noguchi's performance was in space and Tamesue's was on the ground. But having cleared their respective hurdles, both men gave encouragement to those who watched.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 11(IHT/Asahi: August 12,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年8月12日 (金)

Virgin Mary statue witness to atomic bombing


Virgin Mary statue witness to atomic bombing


In Nagasaki, a monument stands at ground zero of the atomic bomb explosion. Standing there, I looked up into the sky at 11:02 a.m. Tuesday, the dazzling sun causing my eyes to blink. Precisely at that moment 60 years ago, the bomb detonated about 500 meters above the city.



The atomic attack is said to have made the world look as if the sun had come down on it. I tried to imagine the hellish scenes.

I closed my eyes to think, recalling pictures taken just after the attack, eyewitness accounts and exhibits at the local peace memorial museum, a mental exercise I do every time I visit Nagasaki.

As before, what I could imagine fell far short of what really happened. The gulf made me wonder if I had no choice but to repeat what other people have said: An odious act far exceeding the human imagination in its cruelty was committed by man.


On Monday, I met a woman on the premises of Nagasaki University, about 1 kilometer away from ground zero. She was watering flowers in front of a memorial for bomb victims. She said she was turning 70 this year. She was a fifth-grader in elementary school when the bomb was dropped. Though exposed to radiation, she survived because she was at her home, rather removed from ground zero.

Her father died, though. He was working in a now-defunct arms manufacturing factory in Nagasaki. "Even his body was not found," she said.


A statue of the Virgin Mary that was damaged in the blast was unveiled Tuesday at Urakami Cathedral standing on a knoll near ground zero.

Originally, the statue adorned the cathedral's altar. The blast nearly leveled the building, leaving only side walls standing. Later, only the upper part of the wooden statue was found and retrieved.


Up close, I saw that the statue was burned on the face and head. Bereft of eyeballs, the eye sockets were just black hollows.


The pathetic figure let out an unaccountably strong life force, however. It occurred to me that the lost part of the wooden statue symbolized what happened to Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The statue, a witness to the atomic attack, seemed to be trying to convey memories of that 1945 day to future generations.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 10(IHT/Asahi: August 11,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)