Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Top Japanese pitcher close to deal with Red Sox

The AP reports Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa moved a step closer to signing with the Boston Red Sox after rejecting offers from three other major league teams.

The 22-year-old right-hander contacted the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves on Friday to reject their offers, Kyodo News agency reported Friday.

Tazawa is expected to hold a news conference early next week to announce his decision. He reportedly received offers from the Rangers, Braves, Mariners and Red Sox.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Whale Wars

There is a new series from the Animal Planet channel. It is a TV show that follows the environmentalists that harass and attack the Japanese whaling ships.

Let me state that I am not happy about the killing of whales. But I am also not happy with the extreme environmental activists. The "eco warriors" or the "eco terrorists". I put these whale activists in these categories. Eco terrorists. They break the law and engage in dangerous activity in order to try and stop the legal whaling activities.

I sent an email to animal planet stating that I did not agree with their TV show which I told them glorified these illegal eco terrorist activities. Below is the Animal Planets response to my email:

Dear Viewer,

Thank you for contacting Animal Planet.

Last winter, Animal Planet's producers were embedded with the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society, a non-violent conservation group that uses hardline
tactics in stopping alleged illegal whaling activities, founded by former
Greenpeace member Paul Watson. The new television series, entitled WHALE
WARS, is an intimate character study of the members of the organization on
how far would they go to stop this practice.

Several much-disputed and internationally publicized incidents unfolded
during the filming, including two Sea Shepherd crew members boarding and
being held by a Japanese vessel, as well as when Watson claimed to have
been shot during an encounter with another Japanese ship – a claim the
Japanese whalers adamantly deny. Watson, who was wearing a protective
vest, was unharmed in the situation.

Animal Planet showcase these events, the challenges, missteps, mishaps and
more in WHALE WARS spotlighting this global conservation issue that has
several nations at odds over the practice of whaling in oceanic
territories. In allowing viewers to get a closer look, Animal Planet in
no way endorses Sea Shepherd or their controversial tactics but thinks it
is important for viewers to judge for themselves. By the outpouring of
responses, it appears that is exactly what viewers are doing.

Thank you for your interest in our programming.


Viewer Relations
Animal Planet

The advertisements for the new TV show clearly glorify the activists. The ads have some of the eco whale activists speaking of their cause while emotional music plays and scenes play of their dangerous and "heroic" activity. It seems to me Animal Planet appears to be is endorsing their activity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Life of the Great Sakamoto Ryoma

I could write pages on Sakamoto Ryoma but I will just list some of his high points and accomplishments.

Ryoma was a samurai from the Tosa domain. He abandoned his domain in 1862 to join the Loyalists fighting to restore the emperor to power, overthrow the Tokugawa Shogun and expel the foreigners.

In 1862, Ryoma decided to assassinate Katsu Kaishu. Katsu was a high ranking officer in the Tokugawa government. He was the commander of the ship "Kanrin-maru" on it's first mission to the U.S., sent by the shogun for the purpose of signing the Japan-U.S. commercial treaty. He was, perhaps, the most progressive person in the Shoguns government. His ideas on communicating with foreigners and his apparent support of the shogun aroused the anger of the Loyalists.

Katsu apparently knew of Ryoma's true intentions and persuaded him to listen to his views before taking any action. As Katsu later wrote, Ryoma did listen, admitted his true purpose, and said, "I am ashamed of my narrow-minded bigotry and beg you to let me became your disciple." After that, Ryoma introduced his friends to Katsu. It was an abrupt change in Ryoma's philosophy that led him to become a trusted mentor of Katsu. Katsu was convinced that Japan should have a navy for protection from other countries. But Katsu also knew that Tokugawa regime was weak.

Katsu persuaded the shogun to establish a naval school in Kobe. Katsu soon appointed Ryoma as a head of the new school.

In 1864, Japan continued to destabilize. The Choshu clan had bombed Dutch ships, the Satsuma clan had fought with the British at Kagoshima, and more assassinations had taken place. Later the two clans were attacked by a western allied forces. Satsuma and Choshu suffered humiliating defeats which forced them to realize the power of the west.

In 1864, Ryoma with about 20 friends started the "Kameyama Shachu" (the company) which would later become known as the "kaientai" (Naval Auxiliary Force). The kaientai is sometimes called Japan's first corporation. Ryoma modeled his corporation on foreign corporations with shareholders and investors. The company was used to aid Choshu and other domains with guns and other weapons to fight the Tokugawa.

Although Satsuma and Choshu were both rivals of the Tokugawa, they were also bitter rivals to each other. Ryoma began working hard to unite these to rival clans. He knew that if Satsuma and Choshu were united, they would be strong enough to defeat the Shogun. Ryoma finally realized his dream by convincing these two clans to unite in 1866.

The following day, Ryoma was staying at an inn where his girlfriend Oryo worked. The government learned of his negotiations with the two clans and sent soldiers to attack him. Over 20 soldiers broke into the house. Ryoma earlier had obtained a revolver and he used it against his attackers but his fingers were so badly wounded in the sword fight that he could no longer shoot. Ryoma escaped out the back and to safety at the Satsuma mansion in Kyoto where his wounds were nursed. After this event, Ryoma married Oryo.

In 1867, one of Ryoma's commercial ships was sunk negligiently by the Kii clan, who were relatives of the Shogun. Ryoma began negotiations with the Kii clan to try to secure funds for its replacement. Ryoma had become very familiar with international maritime law and Ryoma wanted this to be the first accident resolved by using maritime law in Japan. He succeeded in obtaining a rather large sum of money from Kii. The Kii clan was humiliated and Ryoma became famous.

Ryoma was now one of the most influential people in Japan, even though he was just a "lowly ronin".

Ryoma now believed that avoiding a bloody civil war was necessary to avoid foreign subjugation. He came to believe that the best plan to avoid war would be for the Shogun to relinquish power to the emperor peacefully. Ryoma told Goto Shojiro, a Tosa official, his idea and he in turn relayed it to the Tosa lord, who thus became the first to formally ask the Shogun to resign.

Ryoma's ideas for a new government were outlined in his Eight Point Plan. He suggested that power should be returned to the emperor and that the value of gold and silver be equalized with that of other countries. Ryoma made a list of the new government officials which was read by Saigo Takamori of Satsuma who wondered why Ryoma did not put himself on the list. Ryoma then told him, "I don't like the red tape and I have a dream that I will have business with western countries using my ships."

Stunningly, the shogun accepted Ryoma's plan to return his authority to the emperor in October of 1867. Sakamoto Ryoma's great efforts over the last five years led to the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogun, who's family had ruled for over 250 years.

In November of 1867, Ryoma was in Kyoto with his friend Nakaoka Shintaro. On the 15th they were both assassinated at a soy sauce shop called Omiya. Ryoma was 33. It was never proven clearly who assassinated Ryoma but many believe it was Kii domain in revenge for their humiliation in the ship sinking affair.

What was unique about Ryoma compared to many other leading men during this time in Japanese history, Ryoma thought of equality and freedom and he hated the class distinctions that existed in Japan.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Black Ships

It is well known that the intrusions of the western powers in the 1850's helped trigger the eventual collapse of the Tokugawa Shogun's. In particular, it was the Black Ships of the United States in 1853 commanded by Commodore Perry.

In a carefully calculated act of intimidation, Perry led a squadron of four warships into Edo Bay. Perry's command ship was a state-of-the-art steamship. At more then 2,400 tons, it overmatched at least 15 Japanese ships put together. The American ships entered Edo Bay at nearly nine knots, leaving the shogunal navy scrambling in their wake.

Shogunal officials were astonished by the ships' armaments. Observing from shore, Kagawa Eizaemon, an aide to the Uraga magistrate, counted about seventy large-caliber cannons. The shogunate had roughly 100 cannons around Edo Bay, but only 11 of these were of comparible caliber.

With four ships Perry had outgunned Japan's supreme warlord. Stunned, shogunal forces were forced to receive President Fillmore's "request" for a treaty with the United States. Perry had "invaded" Japan without firing a shot.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New from Japan to the USA

One of the things that I like about visiting Japan is seeing products or services that you don't see in the United States. And due to my time spent in Japan, sometimes I will see a new product in the United States that I had previously seen in Japan where most Americans would never realize that.

UNIQLO is one. I have been to UNIQLO many times during my visits to Japan and have some clothes from there when I am lucky enough to find some that fit my 6 foot 3 inch frame. A couple of years ago UNIQLO started to make a move into the US market when they opened one or two stores back East. They have yet to move out to the West coast yet and it may be a while before that happens due to the economy.

More recently, Family Mart has been expanding in to the US. Although they are not the traditional convenience store formats that you see in Japan. They have opened many outlets in the downtown Los Angeles area but they are a more upscale style convenience store and stores are not called Family Mart but are called Famima. You guessed it, a combination of the name Family Mart.

And within the last year or so, Gulliver has now come across the ocean to California. I am not sure if Gulliver is all over Japan but if you are not familiar with it, they are a used car dealership. I had seen the funny looking Gulliver signs all over Tochigi and now there is a Gulliver in Torrance California.

And yesterday, I saw a TV ad for Yakult. A beverage from Japan. This is same Yakult as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball team. I remember seeing Yakult TV ads and on store shelves in Japan. I have never had it though but it is some sort of milk-like product. One thing that is interesting is that the bottles of Yakult here in the US are really tiny but a little bigger then the bottles in Japan.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Toyota vs GM

GM is expected to lose almost $16 billion this year. GM is laying off tens of thousands of employees. The company is BEGGING for money from the Feds. Yet the CEO of GM makes many, many millions of dollars in compensation per year.

While Toyota is also struggling in the difficult economy, Toyota is projected to EARN about $5 billion this year. When Toyota shut down their Tundra full-size pickup factory in Texas for about 6 weeks earlier this year, they did not lay anyone off. The factory employees STILL earned there regular salary WHILE participating in community service projects sponsored by Toyota around the city of San Antonio, Texas. Toyota, and no other Japanese car company, are asking for help from the Japanese government. AND, the president of Toyota makes a very reasonable and well deserved salary of $1 million per year.

It's easy to see which company is well run and which one is not and only makes excuses.

Where would it stop. If aid is given to the Detroit automakers, then will the airlines come begging next? Then home builder companies, insurance companies, big and small retailers? They will also say we need government help also.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

About Nikko - Karadou-torii

This torii gate is called the Karadou-torii. The famous Yomeimon Gate is seen in the background. The 3rd Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu spent approximately 200,000,000 yen in today's currency for the construction of this torii gate.

This torii gate is unusual in that it is made of bronze which is also why it cost so much. What is also unusual is that a lotus flower is carved on the foot of the pillars. It is unusual because the lotus flower is associated with buddhism while torii gates are asscoiated with Shinto Shrines.

That is one way to tell a Shinto shrine from a Buddhist temple if there is a torii gate located at the entrance.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Satsumaimo, the Japanese sweet potato. Do you know where the name satsumaimo comes from?

The domain of Satsuma.

Satsuma was one of the powerful outside feudal domains during the Edo period. Satsuma was one of the domains that fought against and lost to Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603.

However, Satsuma remained a powerful outside domain. Although the domains were forbidden by the Tokugawa Shoguns to engage in foreign trade, Satsuma domain did not abide by this rule. Satsuma engaged in much international trading during the Edo period (1603-1868), including with China, where they originally imported sweet potato's from.  Later, Satsuma became famous for growing the sweet potato's in their domain.

Hence, the name, satsumaimo.

$850 Christmas Chicken

I guess the current worldwide economic crisis has not affected averyone.

In Japan, $850 Christmas chicken defies recession

For those in Japan willing to splurge this Christmas despite a looming recession, a department store is offering truffle-stuffed roast chickens for 84,000 yen ($847) apiece.

Takashimaya Co has started taking orders for 12 capons to be flown in from Landes, France in time for Christmas Eve and filled with black truffles, foie gras, white sausage and chestnuts.

“People may think it's expensive, but it would be perfect for a party,” said a spokeswoman at Takashimaya.