Mar 31, 2004

Roppongi Hills Death Trap Spurs Police Raids

The facts, as understood at present:
6-year-old Ryo Mizokawa died last Friday after his head was crushed by an automatic revolving door at the Roppongi Hills residential and commercio-tainment complex in Tokyo. The 2.7-ton door, manufactured by a subsidiary of Sanwa Shutter Corp., was not equipped with a safety system to halt or release upon contact. Instead, it could rotate another 25 centimeters. Not only that, a safety sensor originally set to detect objects 80cm or taller was reset to ignore anything below 135cm following a December 7 accident. Roppongi Hills has had 32 revolving door accidents since last April (10 resulting in transfer to a hospital), but this was the first reported.

Confusion in the unfolding story:
Initial reports quoted Sanwa as stating the door only moves 5cm before stopping. At a press conference Saturday, Sanwa officials said they "did not develop a countermeasure for when a person becomes sandwiched and the door does not stop." Investigations at the time also concluded the sensor detects an object 80cm or taller.

Mori representatives, meanwhile, stated at a March 26 press conference that only 2 revolving door accidents had occurred since Roppongi Hill's opening. When the number was later corrected to 32, a Mori Building managing director explained the discrepancy, stating, "This is the first time we've put [those kind of statistics] together." According to the article, Mori asked Sanwa to reduce the sensor blind spots after the December accident involving a 6-year-old girl, but that Sanwa advised against this adjustment as it would lead to an increase in false alarms. The blind spots were increased instead.

Apparently not convinced by this hemming and hawing, police searched seven locations yesterday, including the headquarters of both Sanwa and Mori Building, in an unusually prompt effort to collect evidence of professional negligence.

I wouldn't usually say this, but "go, cops!" Fight the good fight. A safety-disabled 2.7-ton automatic door with gaping one-meter blind spots - in a family-oriented complex, no less - has got to be somebody's bad decision. (Not to mention striving conscientiously to cram every aspect of people's lives into Verdant, Vertical Cities composed of a few mega-highrises build on formerly "small, individually held lots of land." Minoru Mori has been given the virtual run of Tokyo.)

As a side note, the Bloomberg article cites a release on the Mori Building website in which President Minoru Mori "deeply apologizes" for the boy's death. This release has ceased to exist. The most recent English release is from November 2003, and last Japanese release is from March 10 of this year. The Sanwa and Roppongi Hills sites don't mention the incident, either. Typical evasive Japanese PR.

Mar 30, 2004

Spring Done Sprung

Which means it's cherry blossom viewing season, at least in this corner of Japan.

The northern regions still have to wait. But for Tokyoites, the time is ripe for a cherished national pastime. O-hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, is a big deal for many people - big enough indeed that they stake out their hanami claims well in advance. That's what's going on in the pic to the right. In the more popular hanami sites, groups will typically send out at least one representative who remains stationed until others can join.

Once the festivities begin, hanami grounds resemble the party zone on the left. Groups bring food, drink, sometimes music, and occasionally even their own power sources and electric cooking and heating devices. But vendors may be on hand too, just to ensure a steady supply of tasty grub and blossom-worthy booze. Revelries can last well into the night, and customarily a handful of aesthetes in each park will toast the blossoms with... well, they lose their lunch.

On a certain level, I can understand the sakura craze. I mean, the blossoms are beautiful. There are many different types of cherry trees (pics with unrelated Washington article here), and their flowers can range in color from white to pink/flecked to hot pink. And in Japan, the view of a cherry tree can often be obscured - or enhanced - by juxtaposition between old and new.

But to truly grok the cherry blossom phenomenon, sadly, you must be full-blooded Japanese. From what I gather, the flowers are admired for their vibrant transience - blooms last about 10 days at any given spot - as much as for their beauty. For many people I've met, the sakura ranks up there with the cicada in this respect.

With a viewing season this short, you're bound to miss something important unless you know precisely when it starts. Enter this poor guy at the Tokyo District Meteorological Observatory, and other official inspectors like him throughout the country, whose assignment is to verify that the "benchmark" trees are in bloom before the Meteorogical Agency can make its official announcement. You may think you see cherry blossoms before then... but they're brushed off as being in some fractional state of bloom.

Incidentally, the article states that this year's blossoms arrived in Tokyo 10 days earlier than average, and the second earliest in history, after 2002.

How's that climate change coming along?

Mar 29, 2004

Please excuse our mess, etc.

So, it's been a week since the last dailysoy. I trust you've all been playing nicely in the meantime.

The main cause for the downtime here was a much-needed OS upgrade on my trusty laptop computing machine. This is something I should have done aeons ago, but I was either too lazy or in the middle of a translation project. Last week I had nothing better to do (i.e. work) and had just read .jasonblog.'s praises of OS X v.10.3.3.

So I did it. Now my little iBook thinks it's brand spankin' new all over again. Web pages appear in my browser more life-like than ever. And I realize that, to the rest of you, Ambassador Baker's picture probably always did show the full 3/3 of his face. Stupid Internet Explorer.

Anyway, dailysoy is back up to speed. And with a new mission statement, to boot. Unfortunately, the blog-in-blog "soy of the day" can't shake it's blogger bar at the top. Any suggestions?

Side note: last week we also filed our initial batch of immigrant visa application forms with the embassy.

Stay tuned...

blog, blog, blog, blog, no blog, no blog, no blog, no blog, blog.

Mar 21, 2004

Gothic Lolita Update

Just admit it... you crave the latest information on Gothic Lolitas, Elegant Gothic Lolitas, Elegant Gothic Aristocrats, plain and simple Goths, and events catering to the sharp-dressed members of these oft-misundertood subcultures.

Without drawing attention to yourself, quietly click here for the story.

If you don't have the attention span or the patience to read the whole article, and you really want to see pictures NOW, then click here or here.

By the way, it's shaping up to... just maybe... snow in Tokyo today. This late in March. Absurd!

Mar 18, 2004

Start the Inanity!

To offset the below rambling, I have introduced a new linkchunk in the sidebar on the right.

"Spammy T's Phunlinx" brings you the latest in distractions from the tri-state's foremost spam-being. Linx will be hand-picked from whatever he deposits on our windowsill, meaning possibly everything will make the initial cut, although space and content considerations may eventually cause us to invoke an upper limit and cap the amount of silliness he contributes to this otherwise serious forum. Enjoy!

Pakistan a "Major non-NATO ally"??

We will be making a notification to our Congress that will designate Pakistan as a 'major non-NATO ally' - Colin Powell

Since when? This was news to me.

With all the extant punditry in the blogosphere, I promised myself to try and steer away from topics like this.

But I'm angry, and saddened. That Rie and I will return to the US to find a more paranoid police state than when we left almost three years ago. That America, in confused national adolescence, isn't yet ready to stop thinking 'manifest destiny' and Monroe Doctrine and start playing a more responsible grown-up role in international society. That - worst of all - our elected and court-appointed leaders are doing a slipshod job of maintaining relations with old allies and accurately identifying new friends and enemies. (The Real War on Terror is in Pakistan, not Iraq)

More than anything, I just have questions:
  Why are we getting into bed with a major supporter of terrorism?
  Why invade Iraq but not Pakistan?
  Is this because of the nuclear arsenal we know they already have?
  Is this just to get India's goat?
  What's the catch?

Mar 17, 2004

You say linguistic diversity, I say gairaigo

Japanese have a love-hate relationship with gairaigo, or foreign loan words. In a sense, the Japanese language wouldn't exist without them. All three "native" writing systems - kanji, hiragana, and katakana - are derived from Chinese characters imported around the 6th century A.D. From this perspective, the Japanese now speak an almost entirely borrowed language. Historically speaking.

But Japan is famous for its ability to adopt and adapt, if nothing else... and language is far from an exception. The kanji taken from Chinese evolved, the hiragana and katakana syllabaries were introduced (enter The Tale of Genji), and literacy spread to a much broader population. The People had their Language. And any subsequent intrusions on the language would be clearly labelled as such.

Which brings us to today's article: Who's Who in Japanese, from the International Herald Tribune.

A somewhat related story from, about a boy with tainted blood in Fukuoka.

And here's an interesting blog entry that illustrates the official schizo stance toward gairaigo. (I like the author's emphasis on the Latinate "per se.")

Happy St. Patty's!

We celebrated a day early, since Rie passed her final CCNP exam yesterday, and is attending a late meeting today. Our venue of choice would have been the Dubliners' in Shinjuku, for pints of Guinness, Kilkenny, and Blackthorn cider. But Shinjuku was one train stop out of the way, so we settled for Guinness and Bass at The Hub in Takadanobaba instead. Then some ramen at a little place not far from our apartment.

When I went to Shinjuku today to return some rented CDs, I found a whitey lying in the street. More precisely, the left half of his body was perched on the curb and the right half was lolling into the street. This was about 3pm. When I came back 15 minutes later he hadn't budged, so I checked to see if he was alive.

"You alright?" Nothing. A little louder, "You alright?"
This time his eyes opened vacantly and he managed a real deliberate "Awright."
Good enough for me. I went and had a coffee.

How about you? Any other speedbump drunks out there?

Mar 16, 2004

Just like those wacko Nucks

Yesterday was tax day. Of course, I filed my return at the last minute, in keeping with long-held tradition. Knowing how much this country enjoys paperwork and arcane forms, the relative practicality and simplicity of the process surprised me. What I earned, divided by four, times 3.2, minus some number and then rounded down gave me my "income." This minus the health insurance premium I paid last year and a standard deduction equalled my "taxable income." After that, one more proportional reduction, subtract withholdings at source, and voila - tax owed or refundable. I get a refund.

(Rie's filing was even easier, because employers often do a "year-end adjustment," in which they take care of the tax calculation for you.)

Having already biked 30 minutes to the tax office out west, and about 25 back home, I figured I'd go ahead and make another 30-minute bike ride in the opposite direction to take care of my other lingering piece of official business, at the Nerima ward office.

You see, I've been without health insurance for the past month and a half. And in Japan that is a big official no-no. The Japanese, like the Canadians, are of the strange opinion that all residents - not only citizens - are entitled to affordable healthcare. And not merely entitled, but obligated to participate in a medical insurance program, either national or through an employer (looky here). Given that, it was really no shock that they're going to collect premium for the month and a half I was "without coverage." For I am now retroactively covered back to February 1.

The American in me wanted to argue, but my brain said to keep quiet and thank the nice insurance people.

During the ride home, I tried to recall the horrible things I heard about socialized medicine about 10 years back, but couldn't remember the exact arguments. Doctors would become lazy... the quality of medical care would drop... no one would have a choice of physician anymore?

I dunno... is Japan's system considered socialized medicine? Because the doctors here don't appear all that lazy, the quality of care I've received has been no worse - and less Big Pharma-dependent - than that in the US, and my choice of practitioner has not been restricted, so far. In fact, the options are even greater - insurance also covers treatments like moxibustion and chiropractic care. Overall, I'd say I'm quite satisfied with my health care experiences in Japan.

Not that I'm trying to suggest one system is better than the other. The insurance environment here is just different from that in the US. People generally eat well, exercise regularly, and, aside from the salarymen, live into their 80s. There are still a considerable number cigarette smokers, but a lot less obesity. (Toss up? Maybe not.) And I'd wager that malpractice and repayment of med school loans have a much smaller impact on healthcare pricing in Japan.

So maybe something like this wouldn't work on Planet America. But then at least everyone would have access to both a lawyer and a doctor.

Mar 10, 2004

I know what you saw two years ago

Fox Japan (Japanese only) is two seasons behind in airing Simpsons episodes, so we were finally treated to "Sweets and Sour Marge" last night. Great episode, reminded me of my first sensation upon disembarking in San Francisco in 1998 - the bouquet of deep fryer oil, jumbo-sized goopy cinnamon rolls, and roast beef.

New links have been added and reshuffled in the sidebar, if you're interested.

How much to bury a chicken?

About $23, it seems.

600 million yen is needed to cover "costs related to" destroying 240,000 chickens, according to this article from the Japan Times, and Kyoto is asking the national government to foot part of the bill because, "We are very much cash-strapped among the big reductions in central government subsidies..."

The Environment Ministry, meanwhile, is probing South Korea to trace the avian flu vector. Apparently researchers know that 11 types of migratory birds fly from Japan to Korea, but aren't certain how the birds return. A national study of wild birds will also be "enhanced." One Environment Ministry official was quoted as saying, "Our ministry has started a study of wild birds through such means as collecting crow droppings."

Gee... I can't wait to see how they enhance this.

------- News Flash -------
Kobe Schoolboy Killer Freed

Remember this guy? As a 14-year-old, he cut off a fellow student's head and displayed it on the school gate. Today, just a little over six years later, he is a free man, known only as "Youth A." The article really should be read in its entirety, for the bad translations of vague official statements, if nothing else. But here's a snippet:

Sources close to the board said Youth A has matured and calmed down, fitting into a life shared with others.

Tendencies toward sexual sadism that he displayed shortly after his killings have weakened and he is not suffering from any mental illnesses many feared he would succumb to.

... Youth A has promised never to fall into the same state.

Youth A has progressed well in occupational therapy, apparently promising never to forget the victims of his slaughter and promising to work hard to get money to compensate their bereaved families.

I don't know how US law treats privacy of juvenile convicts once they've come of age, but I'm not convinced that's the only consideration in concealing Youth A's identity. Not that any alternatives come to mind, but I remember reading Japanese news reports in which adult criminal suspects were left unidentified "for legal reasons."

And I'm not sure this is entirely bad, either. It certainly seems to be in the spirit of "innocent until proven guilty."

But if he is only known as "Youth A," how does it follow that "It would have been harmful to the man's rehabilitation had his release not been publicized and society's anxiety maintained"?

Mar 9, 2004

Japan sees two (human) deaths from avian flu

This is great... now we have to worry about where our chicken comes from, too. Japan had already seen two outbreaks of avian flu this year - the first in Yamaguchi in January, and then in Oita, Kyushu, in February.

The most recent outbreak - in Kyoto - has been the most spectacular so far, involving crows (die, crows, die!), mass graves for tens of thousands of chickens, and now two human fatalities.

Actually, Japanese executive suicides are not all that uncommon. I can recall a handfull during the past couple of years. But when their spouses get in on the act...

Woo Hoo!

That's right, I said woo hoo! Translation of book one is complete, although parts are still in draft form. Serious posting to resume tomorrow.

Until then, here's a quick bite to stave off your hunger, courtesy of the Mainichi Daily News' tawdry "WaiWai" section. Don't forget to gargle.

Mar 5, 2004

7 minutes from the station, by foot

Safety-Neal asked for pictures of our apartment or building, and here they are:


Our place is upstairs, on the visible corner. We've got the balcony and the bay window next to it. The left pic shows a better view of the Bohn compound, the drink vending machines just down the stairs, and the name of our apartment building - White House - in katakana outside the stairwell. Also note our attractive and healthy specimen of the ubiquitous utility tree, and the fact that people on the second floor hang their laundry outside, but people at ground level do not, for obvious reasons. The right pic showcases our deluxe sheltered bicycle parking. You can also see just how close we are to the street, and how narrow the street is. It's a one-laner, although usually two cars will squeeze by each other. Why do you think they have those convex mirrors up there?

Soy of the Day - lunch, leftover mabodofu.

Mar 3, 2004

Eye Candy as Retaliation

The idea was that I would accomplish more by working at home. No commute, no meetings, no wait for jobs to trickle down to the grunt translator. Nice how I conveniently failed to consider that at home there are... distractions. Galore. The dog wants to play, plants need watering, the music in the CD changer was morning music and now it's afternoon, I forgot to hang the laundry, time for fresh tea leaves, and I'm working on an iMac that is always connected to the Internet.

The Internet, and its denizens like Zwichenzug, who seem to think that wonks need help having fun and procrastinating. Thanks, don't mind if I do.

Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Now if you're looking for a more visual amusement, I offer you - from the designers of the Ween website - this Honest link. Click the red button, then click the blue button, and you're on the Road to Nowhere.

Soy of the Day - dinner, tofu, soy sauce and toubanjan in mabodofu.
Forgotten Soy of the Day for 01.03.2004 - dinner, soy sauce and aburaage (deep-fried soybean curd) in udon.

Mar 2, 2004

Mission Accomplished

The big headline on the paper version of today's Yomiuri Shinbun (the website uses frames, so I can't link a story) reads Iraq Doji Tahatsu Tero. I think you get the Iraq part, and the rest translates roughly to "simultaneous terrorist attacks."

The last time I saw the words "Doji Tahatsu Tero" in print this large was... well, almost exactly two and a half years ago. By the way, in Japanese it looks something like this headline (although this one is preceded by "Bei-de" - "in America"). Anyway, the fact that at least one Japanese paper is giving this story similar treatment up-front just served to remind me of what a wonderful success the War on Terrorism has been.

Well, at least we can all relax now, with the bad boys in custody and terrorist activities occurring safely outside US borders.

Huh? What's an Usama?