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January 09 2014

The Faces of Those Affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

the three-dimensional terrain of Google Earth, and the testimony of the victim who survived the tsunami disaster, a photo that is collected from immediately after the disaster.

Screenshot of Project Aceh Tsunami Archive. The project page allows users to view the three-dimensional terrain of Google Earth overlayed with stories of people who survived the tsunami disaster as well as photos collected from immediately after the disaster.

[All links lead to Japanese-language webpages unless otherwise noted.]

A group of researchers in Japan in cooperation with the Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center of Syiah Kuala University in Indonesia have used Google Maps to publish an extensive digital archive of stories and images of people in the Indonesian province of Aceh, one of the areas hardest hit by the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami [en].

Project Aceh Tsunami Archive was developed by three professors, Hidenori Watanave, Hiroyuki Yamamoto, and Yoshimi Nishi, and their students to digitally archive the stories of Aceh's damage and recovery toward a brighter future.

Hiroyuki Yamamoto shared his hope that there is something everyone can learn from the disaster recovery process:

被災から復興への過程は人類共通の財産です。その過程そのものが他の被災地域にとっても大変参考になる資料ですし、被災地域以外にとっても教育・防災で参考になる点が多くあります。この点で、復興に向けて町が変化すること自体が記録すべきものだと考えます。モニュメントとして一部の象徴的な爪跡などを残す動きはありますが、復興の過程で被災の面影が全く感じられなくなるほど変化するエリアもあります。私たちが継続的に定点調査し、日々の変化を記録しているアチェ津波モバイル博物館のデータをもとに、一般の人に使いやすくデザインされたアチェ津波アーカイブにより、被災地の内と外が繋がり、アチェの経験が人類共通の財産となることを期待します。

The process of recovery from the disaster has universal interest. It serves as a reference which will be very helpful for other affected areas, as well as helpful in disaster prevention education outside the affected area. In this regard, we believe that the changes in the region towards recovery should be recorded. Even though there is a movement to preserve damage as a monument, some areas undergo such drastic changes during reconstruction that no damage from the disaster can be traced. I have been researching the regions on a regular basis along with the data sets from Aceh Tsunami Mobile Museum. I hope that our usefully designed interface for the Aceh Tsunami Archive will help connect the people inside and outside of the affected region, and that the experience of Aceh will be shared as common property of mankind. 

Users have the option to select what information appears on the map, such as stories, photos, and aiding countries. By clicking the round photos of people, users can read the story of disaster victims in both Indonesian and Japanese. These stories of survivors were originally compiled and published by Badan Arsip Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, the library branch of the National Archives of Indonesia in Aceh, and will be updated more in the near future as more of the text is translated into Japanese.

Screenshot of Aceh Tsunami Archive

Screenshot of the Aceh Tsunami Archive showcasing the story of Intan Mayasari, survivor of the disaster who quickly ran out of the house after the earthquake. 

Project Aceh Tsunami Archive is a counterpart to the already published East Japan Earthquake Archive [ja], so both sets of information can be viewed on a single globe integrated in Google map.

Hidenori Watanave, who has worked on a series of digital archive projects including the aforementioned archives as well as the Tuvalu Visualization Project [en], Nagasaki [atomic bomb] Archive, Hiroshima Archive, and Peace Learning Archive in Okinawawrote:

現地の学生たちは、口を揃えて「津波の記憶が薄れつつある」と話していました。このことには、日本とインドネシアの国民性の違いもあらわれているかも知れません。しかし学生たちは、未来に記憶をつなぐ研究活動を精力的に続けています。また、被災遺構である発電船や、打ち上げられた船の周りに集って遊ぶ子どもたちなど、津波の記憶が「日常」のなかに定着しつつある例も見受けられました。こうしたバンダアチェの被災状況、そして現状を知ることは、日本の将来を考える手がかりとなるかも知れません。

The students in Aceh unanimously said that the memories of the tsunami are fading away. That's something different from Japanese counterpart victims, which may reflect the different characteristic of each nationality. Yet these students are working hard so that their experience will be preserved for the future. We have also seen children playing around the powership and the stranded ship, which are remnants of the tsunami. These scenes are example of memories of the tsunami staying in everyday life, and knowing the condition of the effects and aftermath of the disaster may give clues to how we think about the future of Japan.

December 24 2013

7 Things You Didn't Know About Japanese Food

Image of bakery in Japan

Image of bakery in Japan by Flickr user ohpapercut. (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Traditional Japanese cuisine, washoku, usually consisting of rice, soup and vegetables and featuring a variety of mostly mild and delicate flavors, has become well known throughout the world. Recently, washoku – a way of cooking, presenting and eating traditional Japanese cuisine – was inducted into UNESCO‘s Cultural Heritage list.

Global Voices contributor Taylor Cazella, who recently moved from the US to Japan, introduces seven unexpected yet tasty foods and food trends that you don't want to miss if you visit Japan.

1. Bread and Japanese bakeries

In Japan, as is the case with most Asian countries, rice is the staple grain. Rice has played an important role in socio-economic history of the Japan, and, up until the modern era, was even used for taxation purposes instead of a manufactured currency. Following the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese diet became increasingly westernized. Bread grew in popularity, and now occupies an important and flourishing role in Japan’s food culture. A visit to any of Japan’s numerous bakeries will reveal a great variety of well-crafted products: everything from delicious sweets and French-style baguettes to shrimp rolls and pigs-in-a-blanket.

macha or green tea flavor ice cream. Photo taken by flickr user emrank

macha or green tea flavor ice cream. Photo taken by Flickr user emrank (CC BY 2.0)

The Japanese have also invented new types of bread, such as anpan, a Japanese sweet roll most commonly filled with red bean paste, and curry bread, a deep fried dough filled with Japanese curry. There are also efforts to counter the popularity of bread by using rice as a base in recipes. In addition to regular bread, some bakeries make rice bread, a special type of bread using rice flour, in hopes of increasing consumption of domestically grown rice.

2. Ice cream, with a Japanese twist

Ice cream probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind when someone mentions Japanese food. Yet, Japan is home to some truly unique flavors of this summertime favourite — the kinds of things you won’t find on US ice cream maker Baskin Robbins‘ famous list of 31 flavors. Among the more popular Japanese flavors are maccha (green tea), sakura (cherry blossom), satsumaimo (sweet potato), goma (black sesame seed) and yuzu (a type of citrus fruit with a flavor similar to mandarin orange mixed with lemon).

Less common are exotic flavors [ja] that you wouldn't find anywhere else but in Japan, based on local specialties. These include basashi (horse-meat sashimi), eel, and wasabi (Japanese horseradish). Such varieties can be found in particular souvenir shops in locations where the ingredients are local specialities.

3. Gekikara ramen and other spicy foods 

You can find a variety of snacks with extremely hot, spicy flavors in Japan. Image by flickr user  yuichi.sakuraba (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

You can find a variety of snacks with extremely hot, spicy flavors in Japan. Image by Flickr user yuichi.sakuraba (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Japanese food has a reputation for being mild, and some might even go so far as to call it bland. However, anyone willing to make that generalization has obviously never experienced a bowl of gekikara ramen, a version of the ubiquitous noodle dish flavored with potent spices. Those brave enough to try a bowl should expect to sweat a bit! And while Japanese curry is typically sweeter and less fiery than its Indian counterpart, some curry shops will allow you to select your level of spiciness, the higher of which will definitely pack some heat.

4. Raw egg

One of the hallmarks of Japanese food is the abundance of fresh ingredients that are quite often used raw. The best known example of this is the raw seafood used in sushi, but several other raw foods figure prominently in Japanese cooking.

Raw egg, for example, can be found in many dishes, typically served on top of rice, or as a dip for noodles. This presents, arguably, one of the greatest difficulties Americans face when sampling the array of  Japanese food. American children are taught from a very early age to regard eggs with extreme caution. In the interest of preventing food-borne illnesses, Americans learn to always wash their hands after handling raw egg, to be careful not to cross-contaminate other foods with raw egg, to always store eggs in the refrigerator, and certainly never to eat eggs raw. This can be quite a shock for American visitors to Japan, who will find eggs stored on grocery shelves at room temperature, and eggs served entirely uncooked in a number of restaurant dishes.

That said, if properly handled, raw egg – sourced from clean, healthy chickens – is perfectly safe for human consumption. And everyone should try the humorously named oyakodon (mother and child bowl), which consists of cooked chicken and reduced onion served over rice with raw egg on top, at least once.

5. Okonomiyaki and common cuisine

Japan is a destination for foodies and gastronomes the world over, seeking the subtle and sublime qualities of Japan’s high-end dishes. This has led to a somewhat skewed perception of Japanese cuisine, as  common Japanese dishes – the cheap and delicious meals enjoyed daily by average people – are sorely underrepresented abroad.

A great example of this is okonomiyaki. Many varieties and regional variations of okonomiyaki exist; in fact, the name itself means “cooked how you like it.” The basic formula, however, includes different vegetables (often: cabbage, carrot and/or onion) and meats (often: squid, pork, shrimp and/or beef), diced and mixed into a pancake-like batter, cooked on a flat-top grill and garnished according to personal preference (often with a type of barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, edible seaweed and/or dried bonito flakes).

Bars and restaurants that serve okonomiyaki usually have a great social atmosphere, given that okonomiyaki can be cut into pieces with a metal spatula and shared with friends or family. Actually, many places allow groups of patrons to make their own okonomiyaki by ordering ingredients and using a griddle built right into the tables. This do-it-yourself style is not uncommon to other forms of Japanese common cuisine, including the ever-popular takoyaki (octopus balls).

6. Whiskey!

whiskey and soda

Image by Flickr user satetsu (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

It might be considered cheating to include a section on whiskey, quite clearly a beverage, in an article intended to be about Japanese food. But would any article about French cuisine fail to include mention of French wine? Food and alcohol have a long relationship, though Japan’s affection for good whiskey is somewhat surprising, considering that sake usually hogs the cultural spotlight. Nevertheless, Japan’s distilleries produce high-end spirits that continually challenge the supremacy of Scotch, and often take first place in blind tastings and international competitions.

Whiskey bars, serving a variety of import and domestic products, are not uncommon in larger cities. And the whiskey highball (usually whiskey and either ginger ale or soda water served on ice in a highball glass) remains a popular cocktail of choice for both freewheeling Japanese youth and more staid businesspeople. The highball even emerged recently as part of a buzzword employed by Japanese beverage conglomerate Suntory in a marketing campaign: hai-kara, which is a whiskey highball (haiboru) served with fried chicken (karaage).

7. Otsumami, the marriage of alcohol and food

In Japan, alcohol is rarely consumed by itself, but is almost always accompanied by food of some kind. Visitors to Japan may be surprised when they order a drink at a bar or restaurant and are served a complimentary bowl of potato salad or strips of grilled chicken. This is entirely normal, part of the unspoken rule that says alcohol should always be paired with something to snack on. In fact, there is an entire category of snacks made and marketed to accompany alcoholic beverages. These types of foods are known as otsumami, which comes from the verb “tsumu”, which means “to pluck” or “to pinch,” a reference to the fact that they are quite often finger foods.

Japan is a notoriously alcohol-friendly society. Alcohol is abundantly available, to the point of being sold in vending machines in many places, and the consumption of alcohol on a regular basis is culturally accepted. For this reason, otsumami are very popular and sold in countless varieties. Those new to otsumami may want to start with more familiar fare, like mixed nuts or edamame (soy beans), but the more exotic varieties hold their own allure as well, such as squid jerky and whole dehydrated anchovies.

Whatever one’s culinary inclinations or perceptions about what traditional Japanese cuisine is, or ought to be, there is a lot more going on in washoku than just sushi and white rice. Japanese cuisine is big, wonderful, nebulous, and ever-changing. Those willing to explore it are sure to find something spectacular.

New Jersey native Taylor Cazella currently lives in the southern end of Mie Prefecture, Japan and works as an Assistant Language Teacher at a local high school.

December 20 2013

Top 10 YouTube Videos of 2013 in Japan

RocketNews24 has compiled a list of the top 10 YouTube videos in Japan for the year 2013. The list includes a video uploaded by a popular Japanese idol girl group AKB48, a video of two cute kids showing off their new toys, and a video of a shocking moment of lightening during a thunderstorm striking a moving train captured by a YouTube user.

7 Amazing Vintage Photos of 19th-Century Japan

This week, the Public Domain Review (PDR) posted a series of hand-colored albumen prints that date back to 19th-century Japan. Albumen is a process that used egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper. 

The prints, uploaded by the Dutch National Archieff, offer a glimpse of life in Japan some 150 years ago. Take a look:

Samurai with bow and arrow, helmets, swords, spears and coats of mail.

Samurai with bow and arrow, helmets, swords, spears and coats of mail. Public Domain

the photo of Japanese women styling hair, taken around 1880. Public Domain

Three Japanese women styling hair, taken around 1880. Public Domain

Fishermen on a boat. Japan, around 1870-1890.

Fishermen on a boat. Japan, around 1870-1890. Public Domain

Two women sleeping under a padded coat / blanket in a room with painted screen, scrolled painting and paper lantern. The cushion is a small wooden box

Two women sleeping under a padded coat / blanket in a room with painted screen, scrolled painting and paper lantern. The cushion is a small wooden box. Public Domain

Messenger or postman delivering the mail clasped in the end of a split bamboo pole. Japan, around 1868-1895

Messenger or postman delivering the mail clasped in the end of a split bamboo pole. Japan, around 1868-1895. Public Domain

Garden view from the open porch of a Japanese tearoom

Garden view from the open porch of a Japanese tearoom. Public Domain

Mendicant with staff, begging bowl and pointed hat.

Mendicant with staff, begging bowl and pointed hat. Public Domain

View more images from the series of 42 hand-coloured albumine prints from Spaarnestad Photo by Felice Beato, Kusakabe Kimbei or Raimund baron von Stillfried.

Reposted bydarksideofthemoonbinarephee

Japan's Open Data Catalog Launches Beta Version

Snapshot of the website data.go.jp, a catalog with an aim to provide a sphere for the use of data owned by different governmental ministries and agencies as open data.

Snapshot of the website data.go.jp, a catalog with an aim to provide a sphere for the use of data owned by different governmental ministries and agencies as open data.

Data.go.jp, a website that aggregates publicly available data by Ministries and Agencies of the Japanese government, launched its Beta version on December 20, 2013.

Datasets by 21 governmental organizations and 567 groups are available under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.1 Japan detailed in the Terms of Use. This comes as a part of the efforts of the nation's Open Government Data Strategy adopted in July 2012, to promote the use of public data in an advanced information and telecommunications  society.

Protesters March Against Nuclear Plant's Re-Start on Japan's Kyushu Island

This is biggest rally ever in Satsuma Sendai City. The residents of this city do not want to talk about nuclear energy. Areas with nuclear power plants have received financial support from government. Taken on 15 December 2013 by rieko uekama. Copyright (c) Demotix

A group of young mothers were marching while singing, and brought a flag of No Nukes written in German. The case of the transition to alternative energy from nuclear energy, are often introduced in the anti-nuclear demonstration. Photo taken in Satsumasendai on 15 December 2013.  by rieko uekama. Copyright  Demotix

About 1,800 people marched on December 15, 2013 in protest of the re-start of the Sendai Nuclear Power Station [ja], according to the protest organizer. After two years of the plant's operations being suspended, Kyushu Electric Power Company applied for examination in July from the Nuclear Regulation Authority with the intention of bringing the power plant back online, making citizens against nuclear power feel unsafe.

The number may sound small for a little-known city of Satsumasendai in the southwest tip of Kyushu island, a community long been dependent on nuclear power for its economy, yet this is said to be the biggest rally in the last 40 years of silence to utter against 30 year-old nuclear plant. 

Greenpeace Japan submitted an letter [ja] in November 29 to demand the governor of Kagoshima prefecture not to approve restart of the plant . Citizen Media Miyazaki covered the protest on YouTube [ja].

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

December 18 2013

Refuse to Pay Pension Premium? Japan Could Seize Your Assets

The Japan Pension Service has announced that people who refuse to pay the national pension premium could have their assets seized if they still refuse to pay. Japan's young population have been reluctant to pay for national pensions mostly because they believe the system will be broken by the time they are old, and fear they won't receive the benefits. JapanCrush translated the reaction of netizens’ comments to this move. 

December 14 2013

Another Rural Japanese Elementary School Disappears Due to Declining Birthrate

schoolwithrainbow

Takaoka Municipal Nishihirotani Elementary School, Toyama Prefecture, Japan. The sound of birds singing echoes in the classrooms. Photo by SanoRie, Used with permission.

There are nine students in all. Community residents and the students know each other by name, and local farmers help students to grow vegetables in their schoolyard. The students carefully package their crops and sell them by themselves at the morning farmers market. This small public elementary school in rural village of Takaoka [ja], a mountainous area of Toyama prefecture, the only one providing unique education in a sparsely populated area, is closing next March[ja] because no more children are expected to enroll.

Every year, about 500 public schools [ja] in Japan take the same path as Takaoka Municipal Nishihirotani School: closure due to a shortage of children. Japan's declining birthrate with the exhaustion of domestic rural labor power are hitting rural villages hard. And the cost of education per student is practically not affordable for rural public schools to operate. While local residents make efforts to keep schools afloat, many of them are forced to close.

Takaoka Municipal Nishihirotani School, which celebrated its 120th anniversary last year, is located about 30 minutes by car from the center of the city. It once had an adequate 47 students in 1988 [ja], but has continued to dwindle since. After community residents fought for its continuance in 2009, the school applied for Special Unrestricted Small School program [ja] in order to enroll more students from outside its school district. Usually, Japanese elementary schools accept students from within walking distance of their school district. The Special Unrestricted Small Schools program is a system which removes the district restriction for schools in which the number of children enrolled is extremely low so that they can continue operation.

Thanks to adoption of this system, children from the entire area of Takasaki City have been accepted at Takaoka Municipal Nishihirotani School, and some parents drive to drop off and pick up their children from outside of the school district. With small class sizes, a rich surrounding natural environment, and support from the community residents, the school offered the students original experiences that would never be possible in urban schools. Both students and parents were highly satisfied.

However, it did not stop the school from closing. The Takaoka City Board of Education decided to close [ja] the Nishihirotani school during an extraordinary meeting on September 10, 2012. The reason stated was that all the children within the school district will have graduated by March 2014, and no new students are expected to enter from the area.

西広谷小学校

Top left: Gathering ginkgo nuts using an umbrella in the school yard. Students would take these nuts and sell them at the morning market. Top right: Residents help students with activities. Bottom left: Harvesting mukago (wild yams) and wild edible plants. Bottom right: Children learn the Mugiya-Bushi traditional folk dance during a school trip. Center: students gather in the gymnasium. Top and bottom center: The joint Sports Day with the community.

Children grow up being watched over by the community residents. Photos by SanoRie, Used with permission

The closure of the Nishihirotani school is a symptom of the country's population shift to cities as well as the declining birth rate. Japan had been an agricultural country since ancient times, and rural villages with farming population, such as those in the area around the Nishihirotani school, were seen everywhere in the country. After the Second World War, and throughout the period of high economic growth, the population became increasingly concentrated in cities and declined in rural areas. The declining birth rate producing fewer children is a serious social issue for Japan: Its young population percentage, being 13.1 percent [ja], is the lowest among major nations. Although the declining birth rate and aging population are a national trend, the effect is more pronounced in rural areas.

On the other hand, schools in urban areas have their problems too. Bullying, suicide and truancy in elementary and middle schools also have been serious social issues throughout Japan in recent decades. In urban public schools, there are far fewer teachers per student, and not many opportunities to interact with adults in the community. When 30 to 40 students of the same age spend every day in class, it becomes stressful for children, and not all of them get along with each other. With more time occupied in specialized schools known as cram schools, they have little occasion to play their own role in society with pride, and even during playtime they may prefer to play in unsocial ways, such as with video games or Internet. These social environments are considered to be one cause for problems in schools.

Small class sizes in rural villages seem to provide the exact opposite environment. In Nishihirotani school, teachers watch students carefully, residents are in close contact with students, and children of various ages play together in the midst of nature. Some believe these schools are a place where truant children might be able to feel at ease and express their own identities again.

The Special Unrestricted Small Schools system gives hope for the continuance of elementary schools in depopulated areas, and is a ray of light for families troubled with truant children in urban areas. However, the system is a financial burden to the educational administration because of the high cost per student.

In June 2012, the City Board of Education convened [ja] a school district deliberative council. During the meeting, they examined the cost, and showed concerns that even if the school continued inviting new children from other areas, it would be difficult to gain support from local residents once there were no children from local families. 

In response, community residents and parents quickly collected 409 signatures in a petition for the school's continuation, more signatures than the regional population of 270 persons. It was to be submitted to the mayor and the superintendent of education, but the council did not consider the petition at all, and submitted a recommendation a month later on July 23 to close the school [ja]. Following the recommendation, the Board decided to close the school during the meeting on September 10, held behind closed doors, without informing the parents about the meeting.

One of the parents, “karisumasuu”, expressed dissatisfaction with the decision process on his blog[ja]:

これまで教育委員会と保護者との間で話し合いが幾度と行われ、署名活動もやり、最後は教育長まで引きずり出しましたが本当の教育よりも金ありきの教育委員会の方針は変わらず2年後国吉小学校と統廃合されることとなりました。校長、教頭、現場の先生も絶賛のこの小学校、教育委員会は現場の先生に事情を聴くこともありませんでした。

Many meetings between the Board and the parents, the petition campaign, and finally appeals to the superintendent of education couldn't change the Board's policy of preferring money to true education. The school will be abolished, and consolidated with Kuniyoshi Elementary School two years later. Though the school has been highly praised by the principal, vice principal, and teachers in the district, the Board never held a hearing with the school teachers of the district.

Staff members of Community House Hitonoma, a group of facilitators and citizens working to bring the community together in Takaoka City, also opposed this process:

「子供にとって必要な教育とはどういうものなのか」ということを本当に考えなくてはいけないのは教育委員会や審議会ではない。
子育てを行っている当事者である親や、
子供たち本人たちであり、
実際に関わっている教員であり、
地域の大人たちであり、
私たち市民ひとりひとりであるはずだ。
我々が当事者として高岡の教育を考える機会を与えず、むしろ隠すようにひっそりと行う。
そのことが高岡市の教育環境にいい影響を及ぼすプロセスだとは思えない。

It must not be the Education Board, nor the deliberative council, who decide what is necessary education for children,

but the parents who are raising children, the children themselves,

the teachers who work in the field,
the adults in the community,
and each of us, citizens.

Instead providing us an opportunity to discuss education in Takaoka city, the decision was made silently, as if to conceal it. I don't think that is good process to make changes affecting the educational environment in Takaoka City.

Even though it won't change the school's closure, local members and parents are keen to keep the spirit of the school alive. In September 2012, Hitonoma held a “Think About School“[ja] meeting to hear stories from the parents of Nishihirotani Elementary School. Some parents, like Noriko Kodama and Rie Sano, have been taking such opportunities to let people know about the benefit of small school program. They spoke at various events, including giving speeches during the intermission of the lecture seminar held by “Toyama Itazura-mura Kodomo-Asobase-Tai’ [ja], a non-profit organization supporting parenting, in September 2013, and at the conference by Four Winds Association for Infant Mental Health [ja] in Hiroshima in November. She insists, and shares one example of truant child's change after entering small school, in her presentation document [ja]:

明るい挨拶やきれいな話し方が上から下へと受け継がれ、ルールも自然に学ぶ。上の子は助け教えることに誇りを持ち、下の子は上の子を信頼し憧れる。

[...]伸びて育つ子どもの姿を逃さず語りかけ、文章で表し、認められほめられる喜びを子どもたちに伝える大人たち。口々に「いい学校」と言われ、この学校で学べてよかったと信じる子が育っている。 前の学校を休み続けた子に笑顔が戻り、緊張で声が出なかった子が転校して大声で話す。集団になじめず自信を失っていた子が大役を果たす。先生たちもみずみずしい心で教える楽しさを取り戻す。小さな学校にこそ豊かな育ちがある。

[...]子供達の周りに先生や地域の方や親がいて、子供達自身が小さな村社会を作り、時には葛藤を通じて、悩み、傷つき、そして生きる力を育み、大きな社会に出る準備をすること、それが教育ではないでしょうか。

Younger children inherit cheerful greetings and a polite manner of speaking from elder children, they learn rules naturally. The elder are proud to lead the younger, and the younger trust and admire the elder. [...]

Parents won't lose opportunities to talk to, write to, and convey the joy of being accepted and praised to, the growing children. When they hear the praise “What a wonderful school!” from many people, children grow up with a belief that they should be happy to study at that school. Children who were truants at their former school start smiling again. They regain the voices which they had lost due to stress, and speak loudly after transferring schools. Children who found it hard to adapt to their group, and had lost self-confidence, now play an important role at their school. Teachers regain the feeling of enjoying teaching with a fresh mind. It's a small school where you can see rich growth. [...]

“Being watched over by teachers, community residents and parents, children themselves make a small society, may sometimes be in trouble or hurt through conflicts, develop their viability, and prepare to go out into a larger society. That is true education, isn't it?

Noriko Kodama has a dream to make a new school at the site of closed school where “children would pester their parents to go to”, and accessible for children including mentally challenged and truant children with hybrid of public construction and private management for a consistent education for elementary and middle school.

西広谷小学校児童によるマリンバ演奏。2013年10月、富山県区域連合音楽会にて

Nishihirotani school students playing the marimba, taken on October 2013 image used with permission

December 13 2013

UNESCO Honors Japanese Cuisine as Intangible Cultural Heritage

The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO has officially recognized Japan's traditional cuisine “washoku” as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” among its 14 new listings.

Image of Japanese cuisine taken by flickr user Kei Kondo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Image of Japanese cuisine taken by Flickr user Kei Kondo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Overjoyed after reading the news, Japanese twitter user Komachi jokingly commented that her regular habit is now part of renowned heritage:

That means I can say that I am cooking intangible cultural heritage [washoku] once every three days!

December 08 2013

In Japan, Disaster and a Radio Show Put Refugees On the Agenda

Nanmin Now

Radio host Katsuya Soda talks to the audience at Radio Cafe, a community radio station in Kyoto. Used with permission. 

“You see, it’s different here. It’s much safer and more peaceful in Japan,” said my friend. I was introducing her to the idea of Global Voices: hearing stories from other side of the world, because “the world is talking”.

She continued: “There’s almost no need for people here to voice any kind of opinion or point of view, especially when your life is secured by following the norm.”

In a way she’s right. People living in Japan don’t always have to be concerned to what’s going on elsewhere. News headlines reflect this: in the public evening news broadcast, international news makes up only 7% of the total coverage. A researcher who monitored the broadcast [ja] over a period of three months found that a total of only two minutes, or 0.7 % of overall, were dedicated to reporting anything related to the African continent.

What’s going on outside the island usually doesn't matter to Japanese, unless it’s North Korea conducting nuclear tests, or something significant related to the superpower, the United States. And ignorance is bliss, as they say.

One Japanese citizen who disagrees is Katsuya Soda, who believes that the public’s indifference to world affairs is ruining things in Japan. In February 2004, Katsuya started Nanmin Now! [ja], a radio program about refugee issues that airs on a community radio station in Kyoto. The show begins with an introduction by Katsuya in Kyoto-flavored dialect: “It’s time for Nanmin Now! A program that reports refugee information like a weather report.”

Before the Internet and social media became a space for popular expression, low-power FM, or community, radio was the only medium available to those who wanted to get an issue like the plight of refugees on the airwaves in a traditional city like Kyoto.

“At that time, information from the Internet had even less credibility than it does now,” says Katsuya. “I thought it was important to provide information via a medium that was familiar to everyone. Community radio is small in terms of reach, but it’s a trusted medium, as the airwaves are mandated by law to transmit information.”

With Nammin Now!, Katsuya’s ambition was to report news about refugees in such a way as to make refugee issues an item of concern in the minds of fellow Japanese. He was inspired to start the show after reading a book by Sadako Ogata, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “It taught the importance of the role of media and sustainable relationships, and the idea of a weather forecast came to my mind,” Katsuya says. “I decided to start a radio program that continuously reports on refugee issues just like the weather.”

Since launching the show, Katsuya has interviewed more than 500 people on the topic of refugees. The six-minute broadcast airs on a Saturday.

The word refugee—“nanmin” in Japanese)— doesn't appear very frequently in the Japanese news headlines. Japan accepts fewer than 50 refugees per year (in 2010 it accepted 39), even though it makes the world’s second largest financial contribution to the UNHCR. This is a surprisingly small number for a secure and peaceful island country. Some of these asylum-seekers even experience difficulties in Japan, such as deportation and detention. For the Japanese, the refugee problem is something going on the other, poorer side of the world. “It’s like a distant sorrow,” Katsuya says, “not just in terms of physical distance but also mentally. People believe they could never be a refugee.”

The mission of Nanmin Now! Is to ensure that “all the children of the world can sleep at home safely,” referring chiefly to places like certain countries in Africa, Afghanistan, and Myanmar, major sources of refugees. In the aftermath of Japan’s March 2011 earthquake, however, and accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that followed, Katsuya became concerned about children in Japan.

The disaster destroyed 126,583 residences [ja], and, in Fukushima alone, 160,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. 100,000 people now live in temporary housing inside Fukushima, with another 60,000 are scattered throughout Japan.

After the earthquake, Katsuya joined a team setting up a temporary radio station in a disaster-stricken area to provide emergency information. After the government shifting the radiation exposure limit [ja] for children from 1 to 20 millisieverts, some people in Japan came to consider they were being put at risk by their own leaders, and Katsuya became actively involved with people who evacuated from Fukushima.

“When I communicated with evacuees from area with high radiation levels,” Katsuya says, “I started to see a kind of similarity between Fukushima evacuees and refugees: both have to do with structural violence. People had to evacuate from their homes in Fukushima because there was a nuclear accident. The act of locating a nuclear power plant is like a domestic colonization, which marginalized communities have to accept.”

For the Japanese people, the 2011 earthquake and the Fukushima accident have brought the refugee issue very close to home, both validating and amplifying the work Katsuya has been doing for nearly 10 years.

Nanmin now! airs on FM79.7MHz, a community radio station in Kyoto, as well as online on-demand. Katsuya Soda's first book [written in Japanese] A Proposal from Community Radio in an Era When Everyone Has a Risk of Becoming a Refugee―Connecting the Voices from Fukushima is available [ja] on Amazon.co.jp.

Keiko Tanaka is a Japanese civic media enthusiast interested in digital engagement, radio and youth culture. 

December 06 2013

1,000 Days Since 2011′s Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

December 4, 2013 marked the thousandth day since a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit the island of Japan on March 11, 2011, killing more than 15,000 people, devastating parts of the country, and causing a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. According to a survey conducted last month by the Reconstruction Agency, it is reported [ja] that there are still 277,609 evacuees who have not returned to their homes; 84 percent of them are from Fukushima prefecture.

Top 4 Buzzwords that People in Japan Couldn't Stop Saying in 2013

In 2013, Japan had variety of newly introduced phrases and words. Image by Keiko Tanaka

In 2013, Japan had variety of newly introduced phrases and words. Image by Keiko Tanaka

Among the slew of new and popular words to emerge in Japan this year, only four have risen above the rest to win the honor of the 2013 New Buzzwords Award [ja], an annual distinction handed out by distance learning company U-Can and publishing firm Liberal National. 

In an unprecedented result, the four winners tied for first place out of 50 nominees. They are: 

1. Imadesho!

Meaning “how 'bout now?!”, the phrase was made popular by Hayashi Osamu, a lecturer who teaches modern Japanese at a specialized school known as a cram school, after he used it in the school’s commercial to express it is about time you start studying for exam.

2. O-mo-te-na-shi

Simply the spelling aloud of the Japanese word “omotenashi”, meaning hospitality, this buzzword was introduced to the Japanese language by Christel Takigawa, female news presenter who spoke at the final Olympic bid meeting for Japan. This word is used in the context of hospitality and warm welcomes that are deeply rooted in Japanese society.

3. Jejeje

Meaning “What? What?! WHAT!?”, the phrase entered the public's vocabulary thanks to the 2013 widely popular television drama “Amachan.” This is a dialect that is used by the main character when expressing surprise in the Tohoku region. She tries to become a celebrity idol in Tokyo, and finally returns to Tohoku to help revitalize the area after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

4. Baigaeshi

Also from a popular television drama, “baigaeshi” means “two-fold payback” or “revenge” and is the catchphrase of the main character on “Hanazawa Naoki,” a banker who stands up to his unreasonable boss.

Twitter user Yukihiro Matsumoto commented about the television link between all four of the top words:

With the Buzzwords Award, the fact that all four selected words have some basis in television just goes to show that television’s sphere of influence is larger than before.

Among others that entered into the top ten on the list announced on December 2, 2013 was “hate speech”, a word that was on the lips of many in 2013, a year that saw anti-Korea protesters, angry over the popularity of Korean products on the Japanese market, grow more vocal.

Other words in the top ten included “PM 2.5”, as it is commonly called, or atmospheric pollution in the form of particulate matter, which became a buzzword stoked by fears that neighboring China's pollution is reaching Japan; “Secret Protection Bill,” a controversial bill that would toughen penalties for leaking national secrets; and “Abenomics,” a sort of slogan for the administration of President Shinzo Abe’s economic policies.

Ascii art used to describe gekiokopunpunmaru, a new buzzword used in 2013 to express one's anger

Ascii art used to describe gekiokopunpunmaru, a new buzzword used in 2013 to express one's anger

Net Buzzwords Award

On the other hand, what seemed to garner even more interest was the “Net Buzzword Award [ja],” announced on December 12. The award, which highlights popular words from the Internet, is carried out by Japan's search engine company, and decided by users from 2chan, an online bulletin board, who cast their votes [ja] on what they think were the most well-noted phrases of the year.

The Net Buzzwords Award also awarded the top spot to “Imadesho!”, while “Baigaeshi” took third. In second place was “gekiokopunpunmaru”, a phrase that childishly expresses extreme anger in the form of an onomatopoeia and therefore is fairly difficult to translate into English.

Commenting on the similarities between the Net Buzzword and New Buzzword awards, Twitter user Katsura Igarashi wrote:

The Net Buzzwords Award and the regular Buzzwords Award were pretty much the same. This is the end of the Internet as a refuge .

This post was written by the author in Japanese and was translated by Taylor Cazella

December 05 2013

Controversy Smolders Over Japan's State Secrecy Bill

Image by twitter user @281_ for anti-state-secrecy-protection bill.

Image by twitter user @281_ for anti-state-secrecy-protection bill.

Japan’s proposed State Secrecy bill continues to stoke controversy after its passage in the Lower House last week. The proposed law would introduce harsh new punishments for leaking national secrets related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage.

National security is one of the most important agenda items for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The bill, in relation to an already-enacted law that launched Japan's version of the NSA, is considered very important for the party's success.

During a key plenary session and even days after its approval, people opposing the bill rallied in front of the Diet (Japan's House of Parliament), shouting “stop the secrecy bill! The evil bill should be discarded!” This is unusual in Japan — although the Japanese constitution affords citizens the right to assemble, most people will not join public rallies.

Shigeru Ishiba, Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party, found the noise unpleasant, and casually referred to demonstrators as “terrorists” on his blog [ja]:

単なる絶叫戦術はテロ行為とその本質においてあまり変わらない

It seems to me that the tactic of simply shouting at the top of their lungs is not much different from an act of terrorism, in essence.

Taken out of context, Ishiba's comment might sound outrageous, but it's easy for people see protests as hindering political progress, whatever that progress might mean. Later, Ishiba posted an apology and correction [ja] to withdraw the above remark:

整然と行われるデモや集会は、いかなる主張であっても民主主義にとって望ましいものです。 一方で、一般の人々に畏怖の念を与え、市民の平穏を妨げるような大音量で自己の主張を述べるような手法は、本来あるべき民主主義とは相容れないものであるように思います。「一般市民に畏怖の念を与えるような手法」に民主主義とは相容れないテロとの共通性を感じて、「テロと本質的に変わらない」と記しましたが、この部分を撤回し、「本来あるべき民主主義の手法とは異なるように思います」と改めます。

Protests and gatherings held in an orderly nature, are desirable for democracy, regardless of what they stand for. On the other hand, I think protests, which are loud enough to bother neighboring citizens’ peace of mind, and leave citizens in awe by blatantly expressing what they stand for, run counter to authentic democracy. I had written on my blog that such acts are not much different from terrorism because I felt there was something similar about these tactics of scaring and leaving citizens in awe with an act of terrorism, but here I withdraw this part of the sentence, and rewrite it as “different from tactics in the original form of democracy.”

Such remarks have evidently done nothing to turn down the volume of protesters. If anything, it seems to be getting louder. On December 5 and 6, angry protesters marched in Hibiya park at a gathering dubbed “drums of fury” [ja].

A coalition of artists, film-makers, editors and publishers opposing the State Secrecy Protection Bill have gathered over 4,400 endorsements for an appeal [ja] against the bill. Their Facebook page [ja], founded on December 1, 2013, has already reached 8,270 Likes.

In a statement, they called for support from people who engage in acts of expression:

「表現人の会」では、声明の趣旨に賛同いただける方を広く募集しています。
条件は、「声明に賛同する」ことと、「あなた自身が、何らかの表現者」であること。プロ・アマ・経歴・国籍は問いません。

We are calling for people to support our appeal [against the Secrecy Bill]. Anyone engaged in any type of work that involves expressing yourself, regardless of nationality, professional or non-professional work history in expression, is eligible to support our appeal.

Patriotic conservative blogger gintoki commented on the issue, suggesting [ja] that people against the bill are predominantly leftists.

マスコミのみならず、ジャーナリストに弁護士、それに賛同する者達が集まってデモを行う・・・
その集団の後ろには労組系や左派系と思しき団体の幟が林立し、まるで反原発デモか、沖縄の反米・反基地運動かと見間違うほどだが、マスコミが彼らの事を左派系団体だとか、労組系を中心にした…などというその団体の本質的な部分について触れて報道する事は少ない

It is not only the mass media, lawyers, journalists, and people who support them and are coming together and protesting [against the bill] [...] This group appears to look like a protest rally before an anti-nuclear power plant, or and anti-US base in Okinawa, with multiple banners of unionists and left-looking groups behind them. However, no mass media described them as left-wing groups or unionist groups. Very few reports touch on the fundamental part of the protesting groups.

Until recently, acts of protest were considered some what rebellious and often times protesters were labeled as “professional activists”, “commies” or “leftists”. But since the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, more people have started to take action and we have seen many first-time demonstrators. Yet those who oppose the secrecy bill seem to stretch beyond Japan's so-called left.

A wide range of organizations have expressed opposition to the proposed law. Seven doctors and dentists released a statement [ja] opposing the bill that won the support of roughly 200 doctors and dentists:

私たち医師・歯科医師が「特定秘密の取扱者」になった場合、日常診療において患者さんから得る病歴・薬物歴・精神疾患歴・家族歴などのプライバシーを、国に強制的に提供させられることになるかもしれません。特定秘密に指定されれば、強制も秘密になります。これは医療者の守秘義務に大きく反し、たいへん危険な人権侵害に加担することになってしまいます。

We, doctors and dentists, may have to be obliged to provide the government with private information of patients such as illness history, record of medication, mental health history, family history that we keep from daily consultation, if we are assigned as people who deal with ‘special secret'. Once special secret is designated, we would have to keep the fact that it is enforcement. Such an act would be far from our duty of confidentiality as medical workers, and would assist human rights violation.

The Directors’ Guild of Japan [ja], Writers’ Guild of Japan [ja], and Japan Writers’ Guild [ja] also put out a joint statement against the bill.

To sound the alarm internationally, Japan Computer Access for Empowerment (JCAFE) released an urgent appeal on December 1, saying that the proposed law is dangerous in the following ways:

We think the law is problematic because:

  • The scope of “specific secrets” is broad and vague, and how exactly “specific secret” will be designated remains unclear. Especially, there is no regulation which forbids specification of the disadvantageous information for the government.
  • The government can permanently designate any information it wants to hide from the public as specific secrets.
  • Any independent third-party bodies will not established that have the power to screen information to determine whether it merits being classified as a specific secret. Even the Diet or courts can not check.
  • The bill includes serious threats to whistle-blowers and even journalists reporting on secrets. Government officials who, in good faith, release confidential information on violations of the law, or wrongdoing by public bodies, should be protected against legal sanctions.
  • Anyone who asks central government employees to offer specific secrets could be subject to punishment on the grounds that they abetted the leakage of secrets. This withers too much the coverage act by all the press containing community media, independent media, and foreign media with the intimidation by punishments.
  • The “aptitude evaluation system” is a privacy infringement not only to public servants and the private citizens that have accepted commissions for government contracts but also to their families, friends, and even their romantic partners.

We call upon all members of the House of Councilors to scrap the bill.

The House of Councilors is expected to vote on the bill on the afternoon of December 6.

Artist Project Illustrates “Fear and Folly” of Nukes

A map created by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto – 橋本公 – shows all the 2,053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998.

According to the CTBTO website that hosts the time-lapse video, the artist created it with the goal of showing “the fear and folly of nuclear weapons.”

Hashimoto has also created a video that simply lists the names of all the atomic bombs launched in the past century.

Hirokazu Tanaka: One Name, Many Different People

Hirokazu Tanaka [ja] was 25 years old when he stumbled upon a news clipping that another Hirokazu Tanaka was drafted as a professional baseball player in 1994. This announcement, in which a prominent baseball manager read the shared name aloud, made the long-time baseball fan feel like a dream had come true.

Since then, he embarked on a journey to find other people named Hirokazu Tanaka, learning about the different lives of people sharing the same name. The coincidence continues to fascinate him and bother him. Once, he almost failed to have a loan application approved because the bank was not able to distinguish him from another Hirokazu Tanaka who had bad credit history and the same birthday.

Image of some Hirokazu Tanaka,

Image of some Hirokazu Tanaka, screenshot from http://www.tanakahirokazu.com/

Through the Internet, Hirokazu Tanaka continued to meet other Hirokazu Tanakas. After 20 years, there are 104 Hirokazu Tanakas recorded by the organizer of this Hirokazu Tanaka movement [ja]. Fourteen Hirokazu Tanakas with completely different job titles ranging from apple farmer, graphic designer, composer, and engineer, appear in the book titled “Mr. Hirokazu Tanaka” [ja], literally, a compilation of Hirokazu Tanakas. 

Organizer Hirokazu Tanaka continues to meet more Hirokazu Tanakas, hoping one day to beat the number of people named “Jim Smith“, one of the most common name in English speaking countries.

Tanaka is Japan's fourth most common last name. As far as the author of this post knows, she is not related to organizer Hirokazu Tanaka.

November 27 2013

Japan’s ‘State Secrets’ Bill Passes Lower House

People rallied in front of the Diet during the plenary session of passing Japan's State Secrecy Protection Bill

People rallied in front of the Diet during the plenary session of passing Japan's State Secrecy Protection Bill. Image captured from live stream on IWJ.

Japan's House of Representatives passed the controversial State Secrecy Protection Bill on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at the plenary session. The session began in the evening, five hours after its originally scheduled time, due to opposition party requests to withdraw the legislation.

The bill will introduce harsher punishments for leaking national secrets related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage. The bill uses a definition of “special secret” that is vague and broad. It remains unclear how information will be categorized as such, and what entities will be charged with this task.

Human rights advocates, journalists, and citizens in Japan and worldwide have expressed strong opposition to the bill. Locally, it has hit a nerve among those who were most affected by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. According to numerous sources, government officials systematically limited reporting on environmental conditions following the disaster, to the detriment of many peoples’ health.

Commenting on the bill on his blog [ja], journalist Ryusaku Tanaka quoted Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie town in Fukushima prefecture, looking back on the Fukushima disaster. The mayor reflected on the painful experience that resulted from the lack of public information immediately following the disaster:

SPEEDIの情報が的確に公開されず、避難に活かせなかった。情報公開さえしてくれれば何らかの方法があった。東電と通報協定を結んでいたが守られなかった。我々は民主主義の拠り所である幸福追求権、生存権、財産権を全て侵害されている。人権を守って、情報公開してほしい。明るみに出せるところは出してほしい。もうちょっと慎重な対応をするべき。国民と論議を尽くすことが大切だ

[After the earthquake and nuclear accident in March 2011], The SPEEDI information was not made public promptly, and residents were not able to make use of the SPEEDI information. There might have been other ways to operate evacuation if the information had been made public. The agreement of TEPCO and [the local government] to report was not kept. All of our rights― right pursuit happiness, right to live, right to property―were violated. Information should be made public to protect human rights. Anything that can be brought to light should be. The legislative measure should be more careful. It is crucial that officials discuss this with the public.

The Lower House held a public hearing before the special committee for national security in Fukushima City, shortly before the vote. Community representatives at the hearing expressed strong opposition to the bill.

In an interview [ja] with Our Planet TV, a non-profit online broadcast station, Mayor Baba said that while he appreciated the fact that the hearing was held in Fukushima, he felt that the hearing “is almost like a stunt.”

The bill has an impressive range of critics around the world. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called the bill a threat to transparency and the New York Times called it “illiberal.” Journalism professor Yasuhiko Tajima charged that it would go against Tshwane Principles, a set of global principles covering national security and the right to information. The bill has also been criticized by former United States National Security Council member Morton Halperin [ja].
After earning approval from an ad-hoc Lower House committee on Tuesday morning, the bill passed the lower house in the evening of the same day with strong support from the Liberal Democratic Party. Meanwhile, protesters held a vigil out side of the Diet to show their opposition to the bill.

Video footage of the bill's hasty approval in the committee on the morning November 26 was uploaded on Youtube by user named fukusima311.

Rights advocates, journalists, and citizens fear that the law could restrict right to information before what is already considered a non-transparent government. Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 Press Freedom Index ranked Japan at 53 in April. The report highlighted the lack of transparency and access to information, particularly on information related to Fukushima.

PEN International released a statement last week, pointing out that the bill may not necessarily be about protecting secrets.

The Japanese government’s “Designated Secrets Bill” is not about the needs of the state or real secrets or the protection of the public good. It seems to be about politicians and employees of the state hiding behind an inflated idea of secrecy and an obsession with security verging on the hysterical, all in order to gather more power for themselves by undermining the rights of citizens to information and to free speech.

Agence France-Presse quoted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisting that the bill would neither restrict media freedom nor encourage authorities to “arbitrarily” designate information as restricted. Abe also has said it is vital for Japan to prepare a legal framework for exchanging sensitive information with other countries.

Counter intelligence guidelines adopted [ja] in August 2007 by Japan's Counter Intelligence Promotion Committee [temporary translation] include approximately 420,000 pieces of “secret” information, mostly consisting of space satellite images and cryptogram. Abe said that secret information would be selected strictly, urging people not worry about an over classification of data as “secret”.

The bill now awaits debate and a vote in Upper House, expected to take place in early December.

November 22 2013

Protesters, Journalists Speak Out Against Japan's National Secrecy Bill

Protest against Japan's Secrecy Law

Screenshot from the live stream of the protest against the Secret Information Protection Act on November 21, 2013. Demonstrators chant, “No to secrecy law, protect the constitution.”

Thousands of people marched in Hibiya Park in Tokyo in protest of a bill that stiffens penalties for leaking classified information that could jeopardize national security. The bill has been lambasted by critics who fear it could hinder freedom of the press and the right to information.

Representatives from human rights groups, labor unions, the Japanese Communist party, and concerned citizens joined the protest on November 21. According to the organizer [ja], 7,000 people participated in the march to demand the withdrawal of the bill.

The bill would introduce harsher punishments for leaking national secrets in related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage, but it remains unclear how the so-called Secret Information Protection Act would define what is a “national secret”.

The day before the march, a group of journalists organized a press conference in Tokyo to publicly object to the bill. Journalist and critic Soichiro Tahara spoke [ja] at the gathering:

私たちが普段やっている取材では、オフレコ取材、共謀、教唆などあたりまえ。この法律で“不当な取材”とされたら10年の懲役刑を喰らう。これでは報道は萎縮してしまう。これは危険きわまりない法律で、とんでもない

The job of journalists like us commonly involves off-the-record news gathering…If the bill is put into force, our job of reporting could be considered an act of inappropriate reportage, and we could face ten years in prison. This would make journalists wither. A bill like this is nothing but dangerous, and truly absurd.

Journalists criticize Secret Information Protection Act

Journalists criticize the Secret Information Protection Act at a press conference held in Tokyo on November 20, 2013. Image captured by Labornet Japan

Article 19, a London-based organization concerned with freedom of expression, also condemns the bill:

ARTICLE 19 urges the Japanese National Diet (Japanese Parliament) to reject the pending Special Secret Protection Bill. The bill violates international standards on freedom of expression and the right to information.

On the Internet, a number of users mentioned the bill. According to social media analytics, more than 370,000 tweets mentioned the bill during the week of the protest. Users published their messages under the hashtag “Demolish the Secrecy Act”(#秘密保護法をブッ潰せ) to express their sentiments against the proposed law.

Aside from the danger that the bill poses for access to information and freedom of expression, a pseudonymous lawyer known as “K” pointed out in an article [ja] on Weekly Playboy that foreign spies might not be subject to the penalties of leaking information:

このままでは日本ばかりが外国の機密を守る義務が生じて、日本の機密は他国に奪われ放題という悲惨な状態に陥ってしまうと思います……

I think, ultimately, the law would only obligate Japan to protect secret information potentially designated as such by foreign countries, while Japan's national secrets can be spied on and obtained by other countries, which would be a terrible situation.

Protesters, Journalists Voice Against Japan's National Secrecy Bill

Protest against Japan's Secrecy Law

Screenshot from the live stream of the protest against the Secret Information Protection Act on November 21, 2013. Demonstrators chant, “No to secrecy law, protect the constitution.”

Thousands of people marched in Hibiya Park in Tokyo against a bill that stiffens the consequences for leaking classified information that could jeopardize national security, but is lambasted by critics who fear it could hinder freedom of the press and the right to information.

Representatives from human rights advocates, labor unions, the Japanese Communist party, and concerned citizens joined the protest on November 21. According to the organizer [ja], 7,000 people participated in the march to demand the withdrawal of the bill.

The bill would introduce harsher punishments for leaking national secrets in related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage, but it remains unclear how the so-called Secret Information Protection Act would define what is a “national secret”. 

The day before the march, a group of journalists organized a press conference in Tokyo to publicly object to the bill. Journalist and critic Soichiro Tahara spoke at the gathering:

私たちが普段やっている取材では、オフレコ取材、共謀、教唆などあたりまえ。この法律で“不当な取材”とされたら10年の懲役刑を喰らう。これでは報道は萎縮してしまう。これは危険きわまりない法律で、とんでもない

The job of journalists like us commonly involves off-the-record news gathering, potential collusion and instigation. If the bill should put into force, our job of reporting could be considered an act of inappropriate reportage, and we could face ten years in prison. This would make journalists wither. A bill like this is nothing but dangerous, and truly absurd. 

Article 19, a London-based organization concerned with freedom of expression, also condemns the bill:

ARTICLE 19 urges the Japanese National Diet (Japanese Parliament) to reject the pending Special Secret Protection Bill. The bill violates international standards on freedom of expression and the right to information.

Journalists criticize Secret Information Protection Act

Journalists criticize the Secret Information Protection Act at a press conference held in Tokyo on November 20, 2013. Image captured by Labornet Japan

On the Internet, a number of users mentioned the bill. According to social media analytics, more than 370,000 tweets mentioned the bill during the week of the protest. Users published their messages under the hashtag “Demolish the Secrecy Act”(#秘密保護法をブッ潰せ) to express their sentiments against the proposed law. 

Aside from the danger that the bill poses for access to information and freedom of expression, pseudonym lawyer “K” pointed out in an article [ja] on Weekly Playboy that foreign spies might not be subject to the penalties of leaking information:

このままでは日本ばかりが外国の機密を守る義務が生じて、日本の機密は他国に奪われ放題という悲惨な状態に陥ってしまうと思います……

I think, ultimately, the law would only obligate Japanese to protect secret information potentially designated as such by foreign countries, while Japan's national secrets can be spied on and obtained by other countries, which would be a terrible situation.

Japan's Independent Tofu Makers Are Rapidly Disappearing

Traditional tofu maker

Photo of a tofu maker's store, in which tofu is produced and sold. Image by Flickr user sawako (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Japan's Yomiuri Newspaper recently reported [ja] that the country's traditional tofu makers who produce and sell tofu in their own shops are on the verge of extinction. According to the article, in the last ten years, 5,000 tofu makers have closed down their businesses.

Tofu industry journal Toyoshimpo [ja] detailed that the number of tofu makers are decreasing year after year, and now there are less than 10,000 tofu sellers in Japan.

Times are getting tougher for these independent tofu providers due to a hike in the cost of soybean. Supermarkets and grocery stores are demanding lower prices from tofu makers, and independent tofu makers that sell tofu have to compete with the price of cheap mass‐produced tofu amid Japan's economic stagflation.

The news reverberated on Twitter, where users recalled the tofu makers in their own communities and commented on the state of the industry. 

Journalist Shoko Egawa wrote anxiously in response to the news report:

The report says “The price competition of tofu is increasing, and tofu makers are having a difficult time.If tofu makers don't review the price or start selling their tofu to supermarkets, they will disappear.” Now that is a problem! ―Tofu makers closing down businesses, say there's no profit despite being open 365 days―

Twitter user Kiwi Shiroyama found herself powerless, and commented in grief that despite her personal effort to support the community tofu maker by intentionally avoiding mega-stores that sell tofu, it didn't make a difference:

I have always made the effort to visit local stores instead of going to a big supermarket, yet my favorite tofu seller in the community closed up shop. ―TTofu makers closing down businesses, say there's no profit despite being open 365 days―

Tofu seller

Photo of a tofu store taken by Flickr user vintagecat (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hiroko Inagaki recommended that people take a hard look at the consequences of cheap tofu prices: 

It is certainly strange to have tofu stuck at low price while other products's prices are rising. Making the price unreasonably low could lead to endanger food safety. It's always delightful to see things at lower prices, but we have to be able to look deeper at the price tag and see what lies behind.―Tofu makers closing down businesses, say there's no profit despite being open 365 days―

Home made tofu store

Customers visiting a tofu maker in Tsukishima, Tokyo, to purchase tofu. Image by Flickr user urawa (CC BY 2.0)

Twitter user Don Uworry asked tofu makers to raise their prices:

Dear tofu makers, please stop competing with the prices and start making delicious, safe tofu and soy milk made of soybeans grown in Japan with higher prices. I'll have it every day. ―Tofu makers closing down businesses, say there's no profit despite being open 365 days―

Tofu lined up in glossary store

A variety of tofu is available in grocery stores, but independent family-owned tofu sellers that make and sell tofu are disappearing.
Image by flickr user shibuya246 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Atsuko Momoi wished the best for her favorite tofu maker:

I hope my favorite tofu maker stays in business forever. I'm rooting for them because their tofu is good and has soul.  ―Tofu makers closing down businesses, say there's no profit despite being open 365 days―

Chieda Aritake explained a personal connection to the dire news about tofu makers:

My family used to be tofu maker, but closed right after my grandmother died. ―Tofu makers closing down businesses, say there's no profit despite being open 365 days―

tofu store owner

Photo of a tofu maker. Behind him are machines to make tofu. Photo taken by Flickr user iMorpheus (CC BY 2.0)

User ASTORIA_11105 advised consumers to take their fair share of the blame for situation that tough tofu makers find themselves in:

I think the public has been wrong because they have blamed the bad economy on deflation and neglected paying the proper price. Consumers need to realize that if they don't allow tofu makers to profit from what they do, it is going to come back to haunt consumers. ―Tofu makers closing down businesses, say there's no profit despite being open 365 days―

Thumbnail photo of Japanese tofu (CC-BY 2.0) taken by Flickr user www.bluewaikiki.com

November 21 2013

Japan's Open Data Policy Still Needs Work

Open Data Index

Screenshot of Open Data Index

Even though the Japanese government is working toward advancing its open data policy, the country has a ways to go, ranking 30th out of 70 countries, according to an index compiled by Open Knowledge Foundation. Masahiko Shoji of Open Knowledge Foundation Japan writes:

日本は、政府支出、企業登記情報、交通時刻表、立法の分野で低い評価を受けました。また、どの項目もオープンライセンスの採用については「Yes」の評価を得ませんでした。これらの課題は6月に発表されたG8諸国における速報の時点と同じであり、日本の取り組みが大きくが進んでいないことを表しています。

Japan's open data on government spending, company register, transport timetables and legislation received low ratings. All data set fields were not able to receive an evaluation of “YES”. Such challenges are the same as that of the ratings among the G8 compiled by Open Knowledge Foundation in June this year, and it shows that the progress of Open Data efforts in Japan is small.

To find more about criteria of the rating, please visit here
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