Daibutsu, Kamakura

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

Friday, July 31, 2009

In Japan, getting ready for the Big One

This article from the Los Angeles Times is about Japan preparing for the next big one in the Tokai region south of Tokyo. The article describes how the lady in the picture below is preparing for this next big earthquake. Is she obsessed or just smartly prepared. I think she is a little bit of both. Maybe more on the obsessed side.

Earthquake escape hatch

From the Los Angeles Times


In Japan, getting ready for the Big One

Many believe a massive earthquake is due any time in Tokai, an area south of Tokyo that sits atop a precarious confluence of tectonic plates. One worried mom has taken preparations into her own hands.
By John M. Glionna

July 31, 2009

Reporting from Kisarazu, Japan — Come hell or high water -- she's actually expecting both -- Nobue Kunizaki will be ready when the dreaded Tokai earthquake finally hits central Japan, whether in the next month or years from now.

She's anticipating a temblor that's already got a name as well as estimates on when and where and how mightily it might strike, a guessing game that has rattled even this earthquake-prone nation.

But no one, perhaps, is shakier than the petite 39-year-old. She's built a new "Ninja house" with high-tech gadgets and design improvements that she hopes will withstand the force of the next earthquake for at least long enough for her family to escape.

Go ahead and call her Japan's Chicken Little, the Earthquake Lady or Calamity Queen; others here in this suburban community just outside Tokyo already do.

But Kunizaki is bettering her chances on an archipelago perched upon a precarious confluence of shifting continental plates that each day causes 1,000 quakes strong enough to be felt and scores of temblors annually that are magnitude 5.5 or greater.

Her $600,000 home is connected to Japan's vaunted earthquake early-warning system, which senses the first shaking of a temblor and can give up to half a minute or more of notice before a major earth movement reaches a particular location. There are also secret fall-away doors, emergency lights, indoor sprinklers and other sensors.

"I don't think I'm paranoid," she says. "Tokai is imminent. The earth is going to move in a big way. Now that I'm prepared, I feel I can try to live a normal life."

Kunizaki is illustrative of what experts call Japan's evolving approach to earthquake preparedness. For decades, scientists here focused on technology that could accurately predict an earthquake -- its size, location and time.

Now the government has shifted its approach, acknowledging criticism -- both at home and abroad -- that such formidable natural occurrences cannot be predicted with such certainty.

Instead, Japan has shifted much of its emphasis to instructing people on how to react once a temblor hits.

A nationwide education campaign features drills conducted at centers with quake simulators. Seminars on emergency medical treatment, fire extinguishing and finding one's way out of a smoke-filled building have attracted hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Recently, two Tokyo schoolteachers clutched the legs of a fastened-down table as a simulator stage shook for nearly a minute with the force of a 6.9 temblor, jolting the test room like a malevolent thrill ride.

"Everyone here is surprised at the violence of the movement and how long it lasts," said Toshio Seki, a former firefighter and instructor at Life Safety Learning Center in Tokyo. "They say, 'I didn't know the earth moved so vigorously.' And I tell them that this is just a test. The real one is much worse, much more emotionally terrible."

The Tokai region, centered 100 miles south of Tokyo, is the anticipated ground zero for Japan's next Big One, which researchers say could reach a colossal magnitude 8.0. Southern California's most powerful modern earthquake was the magnitude 7.9 Fort Tejon temblor in 1857.

At Tokai, experts explain, the Philippine Plate is sliding under the Eurasia Plate. In a process known as "crustal deformation," a sharp-edged peninsula that juts into the sea is being pushed down several millimeters a year. The quake would release the pressure, causing the land to leap up several yards and send deadly shock waves across Japan.

The Tokai region was last hit by such an earthquake 154 years ago. With an estimated frequency of 150 years, that means another ground-shaking event here may be just around the corner, Seki said.

"If the quake hits at 6 p.m. rush hour," he told one tour group, "more than 60,000 people could die."

Over the decades, Japanese scientists have spent billions of dollars conducting studies with sensitive equipment they hoped would offer clues to when the Tokai temblor might occur. Then the 1995 Kobe quake hit -- a magnitude 6.9 monster that killed 6,400 people and caused $90 billion in damage.

"Kobe changed everything," said Teruyuki Kato, a professor at the Earthquake Research Institute at the University of Tokyo. "People complained that no one had predicted a quake in that region. They said researchers had failed."

The government responded with an education campaign that included multimillion-dollar earthquake simulators and other efforts to prepare the public for the aftermath of a quake. Although researchers still use seismic probes and other instruments to monitor movement in Earth's crust, Kato said, the aim no longer is to predict the hour or day or week of the next quake.

"We tell people not to expect researchers to predict earthquakes with any exactness because we've discovered that it's nearly impossible to do," Kato said, adding that his opinion is now the expert consensus in Japan and elsewhere. "We've started talking in a more holistic way, about how to react when one hits."

The Kobe quake changed life for Nobue Kunizaki.

She was living in a rented home near Tokyo and saw the images of destruction on TV along with the rest of the nation.

She began reading up on disaster preparedness and found most books written from a male view.

"Men think it's enough to escape a second floor with a ladder or rope," said Kunizaki, who has children ages 13, 10 and 3. "But if you're a woman with kids, you can't climb down a rope with a baby."

With what the homemaker learned about earthquakes, she began a private "disaster management advisor" business, offering safety seminars.

She's also written two books, "Save Your Child From the Earthquake," and "The Earthquake Came to My Town," offering pointers such as preparing an emergency backpack for each child that includes not only disaster essentials but soft, comforting items like stuffed animals to help ease the emotional stress.

Then Kunizaki got the idea to construct her own house to illustrate her safety ideas. She bought land in suburban Tokyo and had the home built.

Without architectural training, she designed a modern structure in which each room has two doors, balconies for easier escape and lights that are covered in case the bulbs explode.

She argued with her builders, who repeatedly told her that what she wanted couldn't be built. She also quarreled with her husband, Manubu, an engineer who helped foot the bill. "Her idea became an obsession," he said. "She's a bit more worried about earthquakes than the normal person."

Each bathroom has a push-out wall or door in case someone is trapped.

But the escape hatch in the upstairs bathroom is too small for Manubu to fit through, Kunizaki said. "So we've supplied the bathroom with a whistle to call for help and a radio to listen to until it comes."

She also conducts regular drills with her two oldest boys.

"My mom is kind of paranoid, but I'm not afraid of earthquakes," says 10-year-old Yutaka.

"Liar!" his brother Junnichi yells from the next room.

Kunizaki's house was completed last year. Now she waits for the ground to shake. Manubu teases her about her next project. She laughs and says no, she's not going to build an asteroid-proof house.

"I'm ready for the worst," she said of the Tokai quake. "But even though I've prepared this much, I'm still scared."


Friday, July 24, 2009

Tenchijin & the "real" Uesugi Samurai Naoe Kanetsugu (updated)

The current NHK Taiga drama Tenchijin follows the life of Uesugi samurai Naoe Kanetsugu. The drama depicts Kanetsugu as a warm and emotional samurai. Not necesarily as a brutal, take no prisoners samurai vassal of the Uesugi Lord Uesugi Kagekatsu.

However, in the book "The Maker of Modern Japan" it describes an incident about Kanetsugu as just that, a brutal Uesugi samurai willing to do anything for his lord and the Uesugi clan. After the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi but prior to the defining battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu learned that his rival Uesugi Kagekatsu was busy building a new castle at Kazashigahara. Ieyasu questioned Kagekatsu but received only a response from Kagekatsu's chief retainer Naoe Kanetsugu. Kanetsugu simply replied that these were normal repairs and nothing more. In response, Ieyasu sent an envoy to persuade Uesugi to visit him, but Naoe regarded the envoy as a spy, and recommended Uesugi to have him put to death. But the envoy somehow got wind of this and made his escape. This incident was one of the events that led to the final defining battle for power in Japan, Sekigahara, which led to Ieyasu becoming the supreme ruler, the Shogun.

The book reveals more about Ieyasu's style and about Naoe Kanestugu following Sekigahara. Ieyasu considered it politic not to be too drastic in his penalties to those who fought against him at Sekigahara. This is revealed in his reply to his chief retainer Honda Masanobu's suggestion that Naoe Kanetsugu deserved to be punished (death), since he had been one of the chief instigators of the rebellion. "No doubt," replied Ieyasu, "and not only he, but the chief councillors of Mori and Shimazu and the others, because they all pushed their lords at Ishida's instigation (Ishida Mitsunari). And if I punish Naoe the others will get upset and run away to their provinces, and we may have all the trouble over again."

The real Naoe Kanetsugu, at least the one portrayed in the book, does not really match the one in the NHK drama Tenchijin. My feeling is the book portrays him a little more accurately. None the less, the drama Tenchijin is one of my favorite Taiga dramas I have seen. I think the characters for Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Uesugi Kagekatsu are really good. I am interested to see how Tenchijin shows how Naoe 'instigates' the rebellion of Sekigahara.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Webcam of Nikko's Shinkyo Bridge

Here is a link to the Shinkyo bridge webcam in Nikko Japan. I like to visit this webcam periodically. It is nice to see the bridge and see what the weather is like in Nikko.

Shinkyo bridge is one of the most historically famous bridges in Japan. A couple of years ago it was completely refurbished. It is a red vermillion lacquered bridge and belongs to Futarasan Shrine in Nikko. The bridge was dedicated as a World Heritage site in 1999.

The legend of the bridge is that in 766 the founder of Nikko, Buddhist monk Shodo Shonin, attempted to cross the Daiya river but could not. He prayed for help and was answered when a Buddhist god appeared and released two snakes. The snakes then formed the bridge allowing Shodo Shonin to cross. Hence the name "Snake Bridge."

It is possible the bridge was formed as early as the late Nara period (710-794). Through much of its history, only samurai generals or court representatives could cross Shinkyo. Commoners had to cross the river by a nearby temporary bridge. In 1902, the bridge was washed out in a flood and rebuilt in 1904.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The American Deserter of Sado Island

Below is an interesting article from the Los Angeles Times about Charles Robert Jenkins, the American deserter who now lives on Sado Island. The article talks about is new job as a greeter at a local Sado souvenir shop. He doesn't look very comfortable with his career. But he refuses to "live off his wife's income", which I think is good of him. It seems to me that he is popular among Japanese tourists mainly for being a celebrity oddity on the remote island.

From the Los Angeles Times


Second life of GI who deserted to North Korea

Charles Robert Jenkins was an Army sergeant when he sneaked across the DMZ in 1965. Allowed to leave the North in 2004, he lives on a Japanese island with his family, working as a greeter in a shop.
By John M. Glionna

July 16, 2009

Reporting from Sado Island, Japan — Charles Robert Jenkins is running late. He hurries into work at the souvenir shop to a chorus of approving calls that has become the foreign-language soundtrack to his life.

"Jenkins-san!" shout two dozen tourists lined up to meet this diminutive man with jug-handle ears, a 69-year-old American who speaks only a few words of their native tongue.

With a weary smile, Jenkins poses for a frenzy of snapshots, awkwardly holding a box of specialty cookies. Everyone wants a piece of him, pressing in close to shake his hand and ask him to sign their souvenir snacks.

"One day I counted 300 pictures in the first hour alone," Jenkins recalls in the easy cadence of his native North Carolina. "Then I just gave up counting."

And so begins another day in the bizarre life of a man famous for "the stupidest decision of my life."

In 1965, Jenkins was a U.S. Army sergeant assigned to the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula, a skinny 24-year-old who was terrified of being sent to what he considered a sure death in Vietnam.

One night, after guzzling 10 beers for courage, he abandoned his sense of duty and freedom as he knew it to stumble across the border into North Korea, a desperate midnight maneuver that led to four lost decades in communist captivity.

Jenkins quickly became the Pyongyang government's most prized Cold War pawn. He starred in propaganda movies and memorized the inflated political tracts of "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, enduring a life so dreary and deprived that "most days you wished you were dead."

Eventually, he married Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman abducted in 1978 as a teenager by the North Koreans. They raised two daughters, eking out an existence on government-issued rice and the undersized vegetables they grew in their garden.

Soga was released by Pyongyang in 2002 but later reconnected with Jenkins and the children she left behind. The couple's emotional reunion, falling into each other's arms at an Indonesian airport, elevated them to the status of unofficial Japanese royalty -- their fairy-tale cross-cultural romance celebrated by an entire nation.

In 2004, Jenkins settled here on isolated Sado island off Japan's western coast, explaining that it was for the sake of his family. Soga, who was abducted from Sado, and daughters Mika and Brinda, who speak little English, have declined to discuss their captivity, which, for the daughters, ended along with Jenkins' in 2004.

Not Jenkins. Since his U.S. Army court-martial, at which he was sentenced to 30 days in jail for abandoning his unit, he has published a memoir, "The Reluctant Communist," a book his wife didn't want him to write out of fear of North Korean reprisals.

Still part Southern good ol' boy, Jenkins likes fast cars and racing his motorcycle. He slaps his knee when he tells a joke.

But despite his five years of freedom, the Wal-Mart-style souvenir shop greeter remains a solitary figure, a modern-day man without a country. He's an accidental expat with few close friends who still grapples with the guilt and shame of abandoning his men and his nation so many years ago.

The fallout from being held more than half his life in a secretive, alien culture still hovers about him: He knows that some folks back in North Carolina, the place that's still part of his bones, dismiss him as a communist sympathizer. Yet in Japan, where he is accepted, even embraced, he often feels like a dime-store curiosity.

Life remains a dizzying cultural puzzle. He admits that he speaks better Korean than English. He uses Korean with his wife and daughters, who prefer to speak Japanese among themselves.

He likes Elvis Presley, a boyhood hero, but also listens to Michael Jackson, whose music he first discovered buying black-market cassettes in Pyongyang, which he pronounces "pinyan."

"You couldn't make up his life -- it's something out of an absurd film," said Jim Frederick, who co-wrote Jenkins' 2008 book. "It's the story of a stranger in a strange land.

"While everyone is nice to him, he's still an outsider, still a stranger. He's still not home, and he probably never will be."

The moment he crossed the barbed-wire border into North Korea, Jenkins realized he'd made a terrible mistake.

His time in North Korea was part comedy, part horror. He says he and three other American deserters mocked their political minders, whom they nicknamed Whitey, the Fat Cadre and the Colonel in Glasses.

Jenkins also says he once had part of a U.S. military tattoo on his arm cut away -- without anesthesia.

In 1980, he was introduced to Soga and soon became protective of the slight woman 20 years his junior. They quickly married.

"I don't know what drove us together. On the face of it, we had very little in common," Jenkins wrote in his memoir. "I do know that we were very lonely in a world where we both were total outsiders. And it took us a very short time to realize that we both hated North Korea. That gave us a strong common bond."

Jenkins rounds the corner in his Japanese subcompact and points to a spot along the road. "There," he says, "right there."

Near his wife's childhood home, where the family now lives, is the place where Hitomi Sago and her mother were abducted as they returned home from the market. Decades later, the mother's whereabouts remain unknown.

Nearly 700 miles east of Pyongyang, the site serves as a grim reminder of a captive past that will not leave Jenkins be. He often dreams about being chased by North Korean agents. More often, he fantasizes about kidnapping one of the sons of current North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, as a way to have some sort of revenge for a life lost.

Jenkins still shivers and looks over his shoulder, unconvinced that North Korean agents won't come for him.

"I figure I know more about North Korea than any foreigner in the world outside of Pyongyang," he says. "I don't care if they kill me. I just don't want them to take me back."

Each day, Jenkins reports to the souvenir shop with a homemade lunch of rice and dumplings his wife prepares before she heads off to work at a nearby nursing home. He has gained weight since arriving here at just over 100 pounds.

Sometimes he tires of the fishbowl life, the reporters who follow his every move. They trailed him to Tokyo when he went to take his driver's license exam and followed him to North Carolina, erecting their cameras in the front yard when he returned home to bury his 94-year-old mother.

And although he is thankful to the Japanese, he often feels like screaming if he has to pose for one more tourist snapshot. He now declines to autograph the boxes of cookies thrust at him.

With a smirk, he wheels out the life-size replica he calls "the dummy" that his bosses produce for tourists when he's not there.

"The tourists have seen his face on TV so often, they consider him a movie star," said Keigo Homma, a volunteer who helps Jenkins with his Japanese. "He's about their size, not like other Americans who tower over them. So they feel comfortable with Jenkins."

Despite the annoyances, Jenkins revels in his life without barbed wire, in being free to kick-start his motorcycle and go out for a spin. Like the day the local mayor let him race down the tiny island airport's runway. "Got up to 150 miles an hour," he says with a smile. "Man, that's fast."

He has quit smoking, but he says he can still taste the harsh North Korean cigarettes that burned your lips when lighted. There are other legacies of the nightmare: On an island where sashimi is plentiful, Jenkins says he can't bring himself to eat raw fish.

He's afraid the taste will evoke the sickening feeling he had in North Korea, eating fish he was sure had fed on the bodies of starvation victims dumped into rivers.

He feels anxious about money, so he keeps working. "I can't retire, ever," he says. "I'm not living off my wife -- I'm not doing that."

He might, he says, write another book about his life in North Korea -- half for the money and half to spite Kim Jong Il. "I don't have to get his permission to do something anymore," he says.

He keeps tabs on his old captors via the news on cable TV and says he pities the two U.S. reporters being held in North Korea. They're being played like cheap marionettes, just like he was, "dancing to Kim Jong Il's fiddle."

And he does a lot of remembering. The rest of his family just wants to forget, but Jenkins cannot. So on long walks along the scenic island back roads with his Labrador named Biscuit, the dog hears his stories.

Jenkins wonders about the soldiers he left behind that night before crossing the border north: Are they alive? Would they ever forgive him?

Often, involuntarily, the mindless North Korean political tracts Jenkins was once forced to learn invade his mind. He can't help but remember the beatings he received if he didn't know them well enough, and he winces.

Struggling with Japanese, he insists that the language isn't hard because it's grammatically similar to Korean. "All I've got to do is memorize the words," Jenkins says. Then he sighs. "But I'm tired of memorizing things."


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hikone attempts to rehab image of Japanese dictator

An interesting article in the Japan Times describes how Hikone in Shiga Prefecture is attempting to strengthen ties with Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture in order to overcome past differences. The differences arose during the Ansei Purge (1858-1859). Fuedal Lord Ii Naosuke of Hikone, the highest ranking retainer of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the defacto ruler due to the young age of the Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi, executed dozens of political leaders and opponents of his policies. Included among those executed was Yoshida Shoin of the Hagi Domain.

The main reason for the opposition to Naosuke was his signing of a treaty to open trade with the United States after U.S. Commodore Perry opened up Japan with the threat of force. Shoin, who was a samurai intellectual from Hagi, opposed the treaty with the United States. For this, Naosuke had Shoin executed.

The article states that the Hikone municipal government is holding a series of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Naosuke's efforts to open Japan to the rest of the world including the promotion of friendship between Hikone and Hagi by expressing its condolences over the death of Shoin.

What is interesting is that Hikone is holding these events in order to rehabilitate the image of Naosuke from that of a brutal dictator. Interesting because the many books I have read about this time period have explained pretty clearly what a brutal dictator Naosuke was.

However, Hikone's attempts to rehab Naosuke's image may not be that inappropriate. Clearly his tactics for achieving his goals were extreme and brutal. But today there is little debate that Naosuke's attempts to open the country were necessary and far sighted. He was pragmatic and knew that Japan needed to open up to the rest of the world and to modernize if they were to avoid foreign domination at the hands of the Americans and other western powers.

Although Naosuke's purge was successful in silencing his high ranking samurai opponents, it did not have the same effect on the lower samurai. In March of 1860, Naosuke was attacked by a band of 17 young samurai loyalists from the Mito Domain and cut down in front of one of the gates of the Shogun's Edo castle.

Naosuke's murder crushed any hope of the resurgence of power to the dying Tokugawa shogunate. His death led to eight years of loyalist samurai terrorism across Japan and the restoration of rule to the Emperor in 1868.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Pair of Pissers on the Kanto

My current read is The Maker of Modern Japan by A.L. Sadler published in 1937. It describes the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

One humorous section I like was from the Chapter about Ieyasu taking control of the Kanto region after the defeat of the Hojo clan by the coalition forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi which included Ieyasu's armies. Hideyoshi awarded the Hojo lands to Ieyasu as both a reward as well as to remove the powerful Ieyasu farther from Hideyoshi in central Japan. The provinces awarded to Ieyasu by Hideyoshi actually made Ieyasu the largest landowner in Japan, larger then Hideyoshi himself.

The humorous part of this chapter comes from the following excerpt:

One day Hideyoshi went out with Ieyasu, who was in charge of the main army there, to inspect the castle of Odawara. Taking Ieyasu's hand he said: "See, we shall soon overthrow the Hojo now, so I promise you as your fief the eight provinces of the Kanto." "Good. Let's piss on the bargain, then," replied Ieyasu, and the pair of them went over toward the castle and pissed together. So to this day the children speak of them as the 'Pair of pissers on the Kanto' (Kanto no tsureshoben).

I am not sure what references Sadler used to obtain this information but it was humorous none the less.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hattori Hanzo

Have you heard of Hattori Hanzo. Many people have through the movie "Kill Bill". He was the greatest samurai sword maker in Japan who made the sword for Beatrix in order for her to seek her revenge against Bill and his clan of assassins.

However, the real Hattori Hanzo actually comes from the late Sengoku period in Japan (1467-1600), the Period of Warring States. Hanzo was a very loyal samurai retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu. In the book about Oda Nobunaga (Japonius Tyrannus), it was even reported that Hanzo may have practiced the arts of the Ninja. It is clear that Ieyasu did use Hattori Hanzo for special assignments such as reconnaissance and espionage during the turbulent and violent last days of the Sengoku period.

For those who have also been watching the NHK taiga drama Tenchijin, they have already heard of Hattori Hanzo as he has been mentioned in some of the episodes.

Hanzo earned the nickname Oni-Hanzo (Devil Hanzo) because of his fearless tactics he displayed in action. Hanzo died in 1596 supposedly of natural causes. However, rumor has it that Hanzo was killed by a ninja named Fuma Kotaro in battle.

Hanzo was succeeded by his 18 year old son. His son and his men would later act as guards of Edo Castle. Today, the legacy of Hattori Hanzo and his decendents remain. One of the gates of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the former Edo Castle of the Shogun, is named Hanzo's Gate. Also, the Hanzomon subway line which runs from central Tokyo is named after the gate and therefore named after Hattori Hanzo.

Hanzo's grave is located at the Sainen-ji temple in Shinjuku. The life of Hattori Hanzo is depicted in the fictional manga series Path of the Assassin as well as the video game series Samurai Warriors where he is depicted as a ninja as well as many other movies, manga and TV shows.

より大きな地図で 伊賀流忍者 を表示

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Skinny Skyscrapers

When I visited Tokyo in the past, one of the tings that intrigued me were the narrow highrises. I thought it was pretty cool to see a 8 or 10 or 15 story building that was only one room wide. Below is one I remember from my visits to the Ginza area.

View Larger Map

Monday, July 06, 2009

July Metro Poster

I don't see these types of people on the LA subway, yapping about the great deals they got while shopping. Mostly homeless who pile their nasty bags on the the seats next to them. But nobody want't to sit next to them anyways.

That guy in the lower left looks really pissed. What do you think he's thinking?

I think those two ladies should be more worried about the crazy zombie lady behind them.