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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2005年7月14日 (木)

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10日 (日)

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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2005年6月21日 (火)

Lifesaving AEDs slowly being taken to heart


Lifesaving AEDs slowly being taken to heart


An AED is an automatic external defibrillator. It's a device that sends an electric shock to jump-start a stopped heart.

A year ago, restrictions on who could use an AED were lifted. You no longer need any formal medical training, as would a doctor or an emergency medical services worker, to operate an AED. Today, many airports and hotels have AEDs handy.



Having heard there was even an AED at a sento public bathhouse in Tokyo's Ichigaya district, I went to take a look.

The defibrillator was there, sitting on a shelf by the reception desk.

"This is my way of serving the community," said Tetsuya Maeda, 37, the owner of the bathhouse.


The sento began offering courses on artificial respiration and emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to patrons seven years ago. That's when Maeda and other young local business owners got together to talk about how they could serve their community. Maeda had CPR training and thought it would be a good idea to teach others.

Having given CPR lessons in the sento's changing room several times every year, it was a natural move for Maeda to bring an AED to his establishment.


Between 20,000 and 30,000 people are said to suffer a cardiac arrest in or outside their homes in Japan every year.

Thanks to AEDs, two men survived their cardiac emergencies at the Aichi Expo site-one late last month and one early this month.


Hideo Mitamura, a cardiologist and deputy director of Tokyo's Saiseikai Central Hospital, said: "An AED is used before the ambulance arrives. Just as there should be a portable fire extinguisher in every home, ideally, every home should have an AED. But for the time being, the government ought to popularize the use of AEDs by requiring every koban (police box) and volunteer firemen's houses to keep one, which will bring the unit price down."


An AED currently costs hundreds of thousands of yen. Maeda leases one for about 7,000 yen per month, but doesn't balk at the cost.

"My place is open until midnight," he said."I am glad to be able to position it as an emergency rescue base for the community."


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

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2005年6月19日 (日)

Beef safety must take priority over importsBeef safety must take priority over imports


Beef safety must take priority over imports


Shelf space for domestic beef is shrinking daily at meat stores around the country. Only limited selections of beef are available, and the cuts are expensive. The empty space is being filled with pork. Many people are making do with pork for their shabushabu and curry.



U.S. beef imports were suspended 18 months ago after a cow there tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Domestic beef prices meantime have continued to climb, hitting an all-time-high early this month, according to the agriculture ministry. The retail price of 100 grams of chilled sirloin is now about 704 yen, probably the highest ever.


For about a millennium from the Hakuho Period (645-710) to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867), beef did not figure in Japan's culinary history.

After Emperor Tenmu, who reigned in the seventh century, issued an imperial edict that banned eating "cattle, horses, dogs, monkeys and fowl," meat-eating gradually became taboo.


The meatless diet dismayed Westerners visiting Japan. In "Nikushoku no Shiso" (Carnivore's philosophy), a Chuko Shinsho pocketbook, author Toyoyuki Sabata mentions Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier's complaint: "I can never fully satisfy my hunger because nobody in Japan eats livestock." Townsend Harris, the first U.S. consul general to Japan, made many diary entries lamenting the absence of beef from his table.


With the lifting of the ban on meat-eating, the Meiji government started promoting meat consumption, but the masses were hardly eager to go along.

Many clapped their hands in prayer and recited Buddhist sutras before they took their first morsel of beef. But the popularization of gyunabe-similar to present-day sukiyaki-helped to establish beef in the Japanese diet.


In America, a second cow suspected of having BSE has been found. This is in the wake of repeated assurances of the safety of U.S. beef from President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, both of whom have pressed Japan to resume beef imports.

America's pushiness makes feel queasy. It's disappointing when gyudon beef-bowl chains don't serve gyudon and you can't order gyutan beef tongue slices at eateries specializing in them. But safety must come first, even if Japan has to be criticized for being as slow-moving and obstinate as a cow.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 12(IHT/Asahi: June 14,2005)

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2005年5月24日 (火)

Elderly need warm-up to face food hazards


Elderly need warm-up to face food hazards


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



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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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2005年4月12日 (火)

Freedom to travel a right to be enjoyed by all


Freedom to travel a right to be enjoyed by all


Miyako Okamura of Kyoto can walk no more than 3,000 steps a day. She cannot carry anything heavier than 2 kilograms. Lifting a suitcase, even for a second, is out of the question. Staircases are her most difficult hurdle.

Yet, she travels alone overseas almost every year.



Six years ago, when Okamura was in her 40s and working for a travel agency as a tour conductor, she was diagnosed with hip disease and fitted with an artificial joint in her right hip.

Although she had to give up her job, she decided nothing would stop her from traveling for pleasure.


The strategy she worked out was this: First she calls a taxi, and asks the driver to carry her suitcase to the car. At the airport, she uses a baggage trolley as a walker. If there is a chance she may have to use a ramp to deplane at her destination, she arranges with airport personnel to have a lift waiting for her. Upon arrival at her hotel, she asks a valet to place her suitcase in a position that will make for easy opening and closing.


``In the past, an overseas trip was a bit of a risky gamble for people with disabilities,'' said Iichiro Kusanagi of Japan Tourism Marketing Co.'s Universally Designed Tourism Center. ``Nowadays, many people with disabilities go wherever they want to go, not just where they can go.''

Indeed, airports and train stations are today better equipped to aid people with disabilities, and airline companies and travel agencies have also gotten better at serving customers with special needs.


It was 10 years ago that the Tourism Policy Council of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport noted, ``Everyone has a right to travel ... . The freedom to travel is of special value to people whose movements are restricted, such as those with disabilities and the elderly.''

It depends on each person's type or degree of disability, but perhaps the ``right to travel'' is finally becoming real.


Okamura would like to go to Mongolia this summer, but is still undecided. ``If suburban roads are bad, my artificial hip won't stand a chance. It is vital that I check such details before I go,'' she said.


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

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2005年4月 4日 (月)

Japan's 'mask season' is a news item abroad


Japan's 'mask season' is a news item abroad

The Asahi Shimbun

Never before have I noticed so many people wearing masks as this year.

On one sunny, gusty day-the worst kind for pollen-allergy sufferers-I counted roughly one out of every four people on a commuter train wearing a mask.



Pollen allergy is not unique to Japan. But outside Asia, there are not many cities where you see so many mask-protected people in early spring.

"You hardly ever see anyone walking around like that here," said a Japanese man who works in Washington, D.C. Most pharmacies in the United States do not sell masks.

When he advised his allergic American colleague to try a mask, the colleague was horrified that it would make him look like a carrier of some serious contagious disease.


Another Japanese man, residing in Germany, noted: "In this country, people don't go to work if they are in a condition that requires wearing a mask. They just take the day off if they can't stop coughing or sneezing."

He added that he has never seen many people in masks in London or Paris.


This makes Japan's "mask season" a news item in the Western world. A U.S. newspaper reporter described a horde of masked Japanese marching the streets and commented he thought he had run into a group of surgeons heading for the operating theater.

An Australian newspaper reported some years ago that such a sight could be taken for a mass anti-government rally by voters. The exaggerated tone seems to underscore the rarity of this phenomenon in Western culture.


According to Hakujuji Co., a major sanitary goods maker established in 1896, masks became popular in Japan during the Spanish influenza epidemic from 1918 to 1919. Before that, masks were worn only by factory workers as a protection against dust inhalation.

The traditional mask is rectangular in shape and covers the nose and mouth, but the mainstream design today is oval-shaped for wider coverage from the nose to the chin.


In Europe and America today, television and newspapers provide "pollen forecasts." But even though experts recommend wearing a mask to alleviate pollen-allergy symptoms, the custom has obviously not caught on yet.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 28(IHT/Asahi: April 4,2005)

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