Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

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.

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

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 22 2013

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

October 26 2013

Journalists Fear Japan's Proposed Secret Information Protection Act

The cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a bill [ja] on October 25, 2013 to impose tougher penalties on civil servants, lawmakers and others who leak national secrets and harm national security. The so-called Secret Information Protection Act has been unpopular among Japanese press, human rights advocates, and citizens who fear that the government would conceal radiation information.

Information security law expert Lawrence Repeta examines potential risks of this bill such as right to access information in comparison with the American cases of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning.

Before the bill was approved, the government accepted comment from the public, and among 90,480 comments submitted in a two-week span in early September, 69,579 were against the bill. The bill awaits the approval of parliament.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

October 25 2013

The Guardian's (Mis)guide To Japanese Sex Trends

女子会 at kasahara

“Aversion to marriage and intimacy in modern life is not unique to Japan,” said The Guardian. “Nor is growing preoccupation with digital technology. But what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country's procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense.” (Image: 女子会 at kasahara, by Flickr user sakaki0214. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” An article with that headline appeared in the UK's Guardian newspaper on October 20, 2013 and soon went viral, with over 70,000 Facebook shares. The article was quickly aggregated by TIME magazine, the Washington Post and Slate, in pieces bearing the alarmist titles Japan's Sexual Apathy Is Endangering the Global Economy, Japan's Hottest New Sex Trend is Not Having Sex and Young People in Japan Have Given Up on Sex.

The article begins with an anecdote about Ai Aoyama, a dominatrix turned sex counselor, and explores the allegedly widespread phenomenon of “celibacy syndrome” among Japan's young people. It leans heavily on quotes from Aoyama, evidently one of the author’s key informants, as well as interviews with young Japanese men and women and statistics gleaned from surveys and studies.

The article does highlight some genuine trends in Japan, such as the decline in the country's birthrate, and it was favourably received by users of the online bulletin board 2ch, who confirmed that they too, were not having sex.

But others, skeptical of the framing of the topic, the sweeping generalizations and the conclusions drawn, thought the article misrepresented and sensationalized the complexity of Japanese society.

This Guardian article is a version of a piece by the same author, Abigail Haworth, that appeared in the July 2012 online edition of the fashion magazine Marie Claire under the less sensational title “No Sex In the City”. Before it was mentioned on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream, the piece seems to have attracted little attention, with only 10 “shares” on Facebook.

In a series of tweets posted on October 24, Tomomi Yamaguchi, an anthropologist and feminist quoted in both the Marie Claire and Guardian articles, said that a journalist contacted her last spring requesting a telephone interview. They talked for 30 minutes. “I understood it as a story for Marie Claire,” said Yamaguchi, who explained that a fact-checker from the magazine followed up with her in June, and she was able to review the quotes to be used in the article.

“I thought that was it,” Yamaguchi said. On October 20, however, she began receiving emails from members of the press asking about an article in the Guardian. “At first I thought it was going to be a re-publication of the piece that appeared in Marie Claire. But after I read it I discovered my quote was not exactly what I said.”

In the days following its appearance online, the Guardian article was picked apart by Japanese and Japan-based Twitter users, who questioned the author’s interpretation of the data, her understanding of Japanese society and her grasp of its cultural norms.

Brian Ashcraft, the Osaka-based editor of the gaming and entertainment blog Kotaku.com, wrote a post dismantling some of the article’s arguments.

“Some of the data is surprising! Some of it is totally misinterpreted or misconstrued,” Ashcraft said. “[The article] claims that “another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all.” So…two-thirds have, then? Last I checked, “dating” and “having one-night stands” or simply “having sex” were different. And according to that same study, one in ten couples got married after getting pregnant. But I thought young Japanese people weren't having sex?” 

“@Guardian #fail,” tweeted “American, Japanese” @eidoinoue. He pointed out that a study cited in the article as reporting that “an astonishing” 90% of young Japanese women believed that “staying single” was preferable, actually reports that nearly 90% of the women respondents said they planned on getting married. “Call me a snob,” he said to another Twitter user, “but I think people that report on Japan should understand Japanese language and use pure untranslated sources.”

@eidoinoue disputed the existence of the “old Japanese saying” quoted in the article (“Marriage is a woman’s grave”), and criticised numerous other aspects of the piece, including the author’s heavy reliance on the testimony of “sex counsellor” Ai Aoyama

@hunyoki felt the author was mixing matters: “‘marriage', ‘sex', and ‘decline in birth rate’ are correlated, yet these are completely different issues to be addressed separately.”

This sentiment was echoed by Tomomi Yamaguchi, who tweeted that the Guardian “seems to be confused which issue they intended to cover: lack of sex, or marriage, or decline in birthrate.” Another concern of Yamaguchi’s was that the author likely focused on urban areas, failing to address “the problem in the countryside where the decrease in number of children has quite a serious impact.”

@Ucaty suggested that social desirability bias might have come into play: “I think Japanese people state less than the actual amount they study or their level of interest in sex. Just like when we used to say to our classmate right before the exam, “I didn't study at all last night”.”

“Come on British papers, can't you write a piece without using words like “sex” and “drugs”?” tweeted a cheeky @mogura, referring both the British media’s famous prurience and this apparent use of the lowest form of link bait.

Queer theory researcher Akiko Shimizu, however, thought the furore about the article may have been an overreaction:  “…this rebuttal—”Yes, they are having sex”—is necessary in order to set the record straight. But it’s starting to look like a straight-up defense of sex itself. Does sex really need defending in the first place?”

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

October 23 2013

Minamata Convention on Mercury Adopted

More than 50 years after the residents of Minamata, Japan suffered an outbreak of mercury poisoning due to contaminated local seafood from highly toxic waste water, 92 countries have adopted a United Nations treaty designed to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global legally binding instrument on mercury was adopted in Minamata, Japan, during the convention held in October 7 to 11. 2013.

The treaty is named after Minamata city where its resident suffered mercury poisoning from 1950′s. In online version of a journal Environmental Health Perspectives, science and environmental journalist Rebecca Kessler writes about a story of Minamata disease victims:

In July 1956, in a fishing village near the city of Minamata on Japan’s Shiranui Sea, a baby girl named Shinobu Sakamoto was born. Her parents soon realized something was wrong. At 3 months old, when healthy babies can hold up their heads, Sakamoto could not. She grew slowly and began crawling unusually late. At age 3 years, she drooled excessively and still couldn't walk. Her parents sent her to live at a local hospital, where she spent four years in therapy to learn to walk, use her hands, and perform other basic functions. Early on, several physicians agreed on a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

Yet there were signs that Sakamoto’s condition was part of something much bigger. A few years before her birth, dead fish and other sea creatures had begun appearing in Minamata Bay. Seabirds were losing their ability to fly. And cats were dying off, many from convulsions that locals called “dancing disease.” Then, two months before Sakamoto’s birth, an outbreak of an unknown neurological illness was first reported among the area’s fishing families. Sakamoto’s older sister, Mayumi, and several of the family’s neighbors were diagnosed with the mysterious ailment, which was attributed to contaminated seafood. In 1957 scientists gave the ailment a name: Minamata disease.

That baby girl, Shinobu Sakamoto is now Minamata Disease Victims Group leader. Aside from diplomatic conference, international NGOs and citizen groups also got together and exchanged information. The International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) co-hosted symposium with Citizens Against Chemicals Pollution (CACP) on October 8, 2013 and presented Minamata Declaration on Toxic Metals with Shinobu. 

International Minamata Symposium

Minamata Disease Victims Group leader Shinobu Sakamoto holds declaration presented by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN)
Photo taken by Minori OKUDA

IPEN’s senior science and technical adviser Joe DiGangi, said:

The Mercury Treaty is particularly connected to Minamata because it specifically calls on governments around the world to learn and apply the lessons from the Minamata tragedy to prevent mercury poisoning in the future. Unfortunately, the original tragedy is still not resolved.

With the Minamata name comes a special responsibility – and an opportunity to take actions so that the name Minamata is not only associated with a tragedy, but becomes a positive model in the resolution of the world’s worst case of mass mercury poisoning.

October 18 2013

Japan: OpenStreetMap Aggregates Typhoon Info

Typhoon Wipha in Izu Oshima island

A screenshot of OpenStreetMap for Izu Oshima island. 

OpenStreetMap users volunteered their time to create a crisis map of Izu Oshima island [ja], a small island to the south of Tokyo where more than a dozen of people were killed by mudslides triggered by this week's deadly Typhoon Wipha. The red dots on the map represent reports submitted by users, which give information on things such as disaster relief, blocked roads, and water supply.

October 16 2013

Is Japan Ready to Host the Paralymics?

For this year’s Blog Action Day, contributors from Global Voices Japan got together online to write about human rights for the disabled in Japan. Is Japan really an accommodating place for people with disabilities? Ayako Yokota and Ryan Ball co-authored this post.

Braille block floor in Japan

Braille block floor in Japan helps guide the visually impaired. By Miki Yoshihito on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Preparations have begun for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The construction of beautiful new architectural structures and facilities is an important part of this preparation, not least to accommodate very diverse visitors to Japan from around the world.

Tokyo is often criticized for poor wheelchair access and for not developing enough facilities for handicapped people. The scarceness of land in a city known for being “compact” may sometimes fall short of offering universal access for people with disabilities.

Kazuko Itoh, the editor of Challengers.tv [ja], a sports news website by non-profit organization STAND, says they no longer present disabled athletes a in a category of its own. Partly this it to help prepare the local sports community to host the Paralympics, but also because there appears to be genuine interest. Japan is a hyper-aging society, and this is likely a contributing factor for expanding the idea of universal design to larger public.

Kazuko Itoh writes [ja] in a recent column article:

私は、オリンピックの開催に何の不安もありません。日本、そして東京は、十分にその力があるからです。しかし、パラリンピックはどうでしょう。現状では一般の人たちの理解・興味は、オリンピックには及びません。これからの7年間で、すべきことはここにあると考えています。さらにオリンピック・パラリンピックは決してゴールではありません。より良い社会をつくるスタートです。それができてこそ、真の「平和の祭典」となるのです。パラリンピックを含めた、日本らしい、そして日本にしかできない「2020東京」の開催をしっかり準備していく必要があります。

I am not worried at all about Japan hosting the Olympics. This is because, I am sure that Japan and Tokyo are capable enough of doing so. However, how about the Paralympics? At this moment, most of people are not that interested in nor have a good understanding of the Paralympics compared to the Olympics. This is something I think we should work on changing over the next seven years. In the first place, the Olympics or Paralympics are not the final goal. It is a step towards creating a better society. Only when this is accomplished, can the Olympics and Paralympics realize their true meaning as a “Festival of Peace”. Therefore, Japan has to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics & Paralympics with full attention to detail and create an event that is unique and authentic to Japan.

She quotes Mr. Junichi Kawai, a blind swimmer who has competed in the Paralympics 6 consecutive times and has won a total of 21 medals (5 gold medals, 9 silver and 7 bronze):

誰だって年を取れば、目も悪くなるし、体のいろいろなところにガタがくる。そう思えば、僕たち障害者を“人生の先輩”と思ってもらってもいいんじゃないかな。自分たちが高齢者になった時に僕たちと同じような状況になるかもしれない。だから既にそれを経験している僕たちの意見を聞いてもらえたら、高齢者にも住みやすい社会ができるんじゃないかと思うんです

Everyone finds something wrong in your body when you get old, for example your eyes. Knowing that, how about considering us challenged people as “your life teachers”? When you become old, maybe you will be involved in a situation that is similar to ours. If you listen to those of us who are already ahead of everyone and know what everyone will experience in the future, maybe a society in which elderly people can easily live in will be realized.

Kazuko adds in her post that the benefit of the impaired is equally beneficial to general public, especially when the country faces with a hyper-aging society.

つまり、多くのパラリンピアンや、国内外から観戦に訪れた障害のある人が長期間快適に過ごすことができるまちづくりは、ひいては私たちが直面している超高齢社会のまちづくりに直接つながるということです障害のある人が暮らしやすい日本を見て、高齢になったら、日本で豊かに暮らしたい、と世界中の人に思わせる社会をつくることができるのです。

In other words, creating a city where Paralympic athletes and visitors with disabilities can stay comfortably will directly lead to a city that is better prepared to cater to a hyper-aging society. Once you can make the city comfortable for persons with disabilities, people around the world will nod and say they too want to live a happy life in Japan once they get old.

History of Providing Solutions for the Disabled

In fact, Japan has made efforts to accommodate the disabled since long before becoming the host of the Olympics. It was in Japan that braille block, bumpy tiles set in public areas to mark the path for the blind were first invented.

The braille block was first implemented 46 years ago in Okayama city by a hotelier and inventor named Seiichi Miyake [ja]. After witnessing in person how a visually impaired person was almost hit by a car, Seiichi came up with the idea of braille blocks through discussion with a visually impaired friend, Hideyuki Iwahashi.

Twitter user E-Ken who describes himself as 3D-CAD data architect commented [ja]:

So braille tiles are a Japanese creation!? It’s normal to see them now but I guess it took them a long time to catch on. The people who first spread the word are really great.

Another user, Whisky, also commented [ja]:

Braille tile history… I knew completely nothing about that.  Waiting for the government to act won’t make society a kinder, easier place for people to live; it  takes the strength one person’s heart. I’m moved.

Japan's Ice Sledge Hockey Captain Takayuki Endo with Silver Medal

Japan's Ice Sledge Hockey Captain Takayuki Endo with Silver Medal (March 2010). By Leanne Scherp © Copyright Demotix

Blogger Teevtee, who blogs about amusement parks at Parkeology.com, writes about the myth of Japan being inhospitable for people with disabilities.

In fact Japan has many aids for people with different disabilities. One will find not only the standard Braille in elevators and so on, but also audible beeps at cross sections alerting people when the walk sign is on, and tactile paving throughout most public streets and train stations that guide those without sight where to walk and warn them of intersections. The tactile paving was invented in Japan in the 1960’s and is now ubiquitous throughout the country, not just at crosswalks but throughout huge swaths of cities and public spaces.

New Challenges for Solutions

Japan’s effort to achieve barrier-free, universal access are also seen among technology inventions.

Japan's Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Japan, and the National Printing Bureau is putting together a smartphone app [ja] for the visually impaired to recognize paper money bills.

There is also an iPad app for remote translation of signs implemented by Japanese Railways East [ja] for both foreigners and the visually impaired.

But technology may not be enough. It will take real human awareness to further enable universal design among the Japanese.

The Paralympics Ice Sledge hockey athlete Daisuke Uehara writes in his blog [ja]:

先日練習に行くときに私の目の前で中学生くらいの子供を連れたお母さんが

平気で障がい者駐車場に車を駐車しました。

親が子にモラルの無さを教える今。

パラリンピックも行われるわけですから、

アスリートが「ドリーム」に「チャレンジ」していくように

世界のアスリートを迎える上でこのような恥ずかしい事が平気で出来る人達も

「チェンジ」していく「チャレンジ」が必要ですね。

On my way to practice, I saw a mother with her child in junior high school parking her car at section for a disabled person. [where she shouldn’t be parking her car unless she has a disability]

That’s like teaching her child the exact opposite of morality.

As a country that will host the Paralympics,

we need to change these people who conduct such shameful activities,

and be courageous to challenge just like the athletes challenge their dreams.

October 15 2013

Massive Anti-Nuclear Protests Held in Tokyo

Protesters hold signs against nuclear power on the streets of Tokyo. The population's concerns over nuclear power in Japan have increased after the radioactive spill in Fukushima.<br /> Photo by KAZUMAC, copyright (c) Demotix (October 13, 2013)

Protesters hold signs against nuclear power on the streets of Tokyo. The population's concerns over nuclear power in Japan have increased after the radioactive spill in Fukushima.
Photo by KAZUMAC, copyright (c) Demotix (October 13, 2013)

On October 13, 2013, thousands of people marched down the streets of Tokyo to protest against nuclear power. In a rally dubbed Goodbye Genpatsu [ja], Japanese people demanded the end of nuclear power plants and the use of more environmentally friendly sources of energy.

Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, spoke [ja] in front of a 2000-strong crowd gathered in Hibiya Public Hall.

3.11で多くの日本人は原発をなくすことを決意した。しかし、今、多くの政治家にはその決意がない。私たちは、子ども達が明日の世界を生きていけない場所を原子力によって作り出してしまった。その責任を自覚し、人間が本質的に生きていける世界を取り戻す必要がある

After the earthquake on March 11, 2011, Japanese people have strived to diminish nuclear power plants. However, no politicians have the determination today. Through nuclear power, we have made a very uncomfortable place for our children to live in the future. We have to admit responsibility for that and go back to a world where humans can live essentially [naturally].

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl