Apr 30, 2004

What's golden?

A Colonel Sanders statue wearing a life jacket stands in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Niigata, northern Japan. In conjunction with the start of "Golden Week" holidays, the Japan Coast Guard started a campaign to promote the use of life jackets at sea.
(photo and caption from MDN)

Golden Week is a period in late April and early May in which several Japanese national holidays are clustered together - Green Day, Constitution Day, and Children's Day. This year two of the holidays (plus the freebie in between) fall right after a weekend, so most people get five continuous days off. We're not always that lucky. In fact, GW rarely equals a full week of vacation.

Rie and I will be Golden Weeking with her parents in Iiyama, Nagano. This probably means farmwork, going to bed early, and never putting the dog on her leash. And, even though Niigata prefecture is just a stone's throw away, there'll be a nice big mountain between us and the Japan Sea. So our life jackets stay at home.

----------------- later addition -----------------

It occurred to me that we spent our Green Day - appropriately - planting our annual garden, which promises to take over all but a couple square feet of back patio. For now, the patio is only occupied by the store-bought plants we transplanted - two basil, two oregano, two aojiso (green shiso), one spearmint, one chamomile, and one goya (or bitter gourd, or balsam pear). Then there are the seeds we planted - thyme, cilantro, goya, and rocket (or arugula) - that will eventually join the others. We've still got enough dried basil from last year's harvest to hold us, but sometimes there's just no substitute for fresh basil. Cilantro is where we might have problems... anyone have tips on raising this stuff?

Apr 28, 2004

Is no news good news?

Madman causes chaos at Haneda airport before drowning (Mainichi)

Policeman detained for kidnapping 3 school girls tries to escape (Mainichi)

Jobless trio die in bizarre car suicide pact (Mainichi)

Old mom admits mowing down daughter for insurance money (Mainichi)

Junkie housewife caught using bogus bills (Mainichi)

Okay, maybe this comes close:
Koizumi still popular as he marks third anniversary (Japan Times)
PM Koizumi's definitely had his ups and downs in the opinion polls, but with three years under his belt he's the 6th-longest serving Japanese prime minister since the war.

Apr 27, 2004

If you like bobbing heads...

You just might love flapping sprouts!

At least, that's what toy and game maker TOMY is betting on. They have followed up their successful Hidamari no Tami line of relaxing head-bobbers with the April 22 launch in Japan of the Flip Flap.

Flip Flap image from TOMY's Japanese corporate website

The Flip Flap, like the Hidamari no Tami, is solar-powered and the speed of its movement depends on the amount of light available. It comes in a variety of colors, like the Tami, to coordinate with your interior decor. Also similar to the Tami, which fit neatly into the "iyashi-kei" (relaxing) goods category, the Flip Flap appears to be marketed as a low-maintenance substitute for nature, to provide a place of mental respite and happiness for the busy modern person.

Unlike the Tami, the Flip Flap is clearly supposed to represent a plant.

Apr 23, 2004

How low can you go?

Counterfeit goods continue to be a problem in China, and this is the latest:
China babies die 'from fake milk' [BBC]

Reuters makes the not-so-difficult connection to "China's race to get rich quick," and the Hindustan Times cites a pattern of "shoddy products in China, where everything from fake rice to fake medicine are sold to unsuspecting consumers."

Apr 21, 2004


Temps have been in the 70s for a few days running. At last... the season for mugi-cha has begun! In English, mugi-cha is known as barley tea. Doesn't sound as yummy, but it's the same no-caffeine, barley-riffic thirst quencher.

Apr 19, 2004

Return of aluminum can oba-san*

Tuesday in our neighborhood is can and bottle day.

That is, trash and recyclables are collected by category: burnable refuse on Mondays and Thursdays; newspaper, magazines, and cardboard on Wednesdays; and non-burnables on Fridays. Tuesday is when we deposit our cans and glass bottles in the corner recycling bin.
(If you've got anything big to dispose of - a countertop gas stove or bed frame, for example - these are collected by appointment and for a separate fee.)

Anyway, this little old woman with the elderly Japanese agrarian hunchback has been making the Tuesday rounds lately. The clanking of her can-rustling a block away gives me time to mosey to the window. There I watch her top off the first of her two garbage bags and begin filling the second with empty cans.

What is she doing with all these empties?

I'll admit I don't know the ultimate fate of our recyclables once the truck collects them. But I haven't heard of any can-redemption-for-cash system for ordinary citizens, either. Never even seen a Golden Goat or other machine of that ilk around these parts.

Maybe she's planning to assemble an Earthship. (Nod to Safety Neal, whose post on Earthbags
primed the connection to environmentally friendly building. More on Earthships can be found at earthship.org.)

*oba-san in this case means 'lady'. Can lady.

Apr 18, 2004

Monday Morning Peek into Google-consciousness

Top 10 results for today's search - "pants"

1. & 2. mister pants: feels good all over - "Mister Pants is an unlicensed caregiver." Lots of silliness to be had here, including this. I think I'll be a regular visitor.

3. No Pants Day 2004 is May 7th - The Knighthood of BUH advocates leaving your pants behind on this day. Austin folks, take notice!

4. Mr. Smarty Pants Knows - He apparently doesn't know much. "Looking for a factoid? Do a single keyword search from Mr. Smarty Pants' subtotal of knowledge about accordions, dinosaurs, flan (the dessert), language, religion, superstitions, sex, sports, Texas, washaterias, and the world of business." But if you ask him about superstitions or washaterias, he comes up empty.

5. Dockers.com

6. Daring Fireball Projects: SmartyPants - "a free web publishing plug-in... that easily translates plain ASCII punctuation characters into “smart” typographic punctuation HTML entities."

7. Where's My Pants??? - Aliens are allegedly abducting our pants, out of anxiety over the acceleration of the universe. I think I need another cup of coffee.

8. The Star Wars Pants Page - "A long time ago, in pants far, far away..." If you've been waiting for a website devoted to inserting the word 'pants' in Star Wars quotes, this is the answer to your dreams.

9. soldiersliced - www.ledpants.com. Freelance illustrator and animator has worked for clients including Microsoft, Disney, and Nickelodeon. Browsing the site might take some time.

10. General Pants Co, Australia

clear skies at last, then to 35.73N, 139.65E

April 5 - Last day in Okinawa, and the Makishi public market was the only thing on our agenda. So we took our time with breakfast and didn't leave the hotel until around 9:30. Other markets we've seen in Japan - especially those selling fresh seafood - typically open in the wee hours of the morning. And since Makishi was only a 5-minute walk away, we figured it'd be bustling well before we arrived. But this is Okinawa, where people operate on a clock that is more Mexico than Tokyo. Fewer than half the shops along Chuo-dori had opened for business, and it seemed like the shopkeepers of many of those were chatting with neighbors two or three doors down. By this time, Rie and I are realizing just how uptight living in megalopolis has made us. We could get used to this, we agree, were it not for the humid 6-month summers. A few hours remained before our rental car was due back - enough time to drive around the perimeter of Kadena Air Base and swing by Jef for a goya burger. Then it was off to the airport, for a 7 pm flight that would return us to an 8 degree (C) cooler Tokyo.

26.12N, 127.67E, scattered showers

April 4 - After wolfing down a pretty decent "complimentary" buffet breakfast at our hotel, our next stop was Shurijo Castle, center of the Ryukyu kingdom that formerly ruled over Japan's southwestern islands. The castle and surrounding walls were demolished during World War II. Restoration of the Seiden (main hall) and other central buildings was only completed in 1992, and much of the park's outer area is still under construction. From Shurijo, we headed southeast to make a loop around the main island's southern tip. When it wasn't raining, the sun kindly shone to reveal aquamarine-to-sapphire waters off the eastern coast. A brief mid-afternoon jog inland took us to Okinawa World (Japanese only), where we visited something like a reenactment village. Nice diversion if you've got time, but I wouldn't put it on a sightseeing A-list. Might be more interesting if one visited the Habu snake museum, which we didn't. Next we mistakenly paid 800 yen admission to the Himeyuri Park - a park filled with nothing but cacti and a few banyans - thinking that it contained the Himeyuri Memorial. The memorial, which we found later, is dedicated to a group of young wartime nursing students who died while hiding in a hole in the ground. We also dropped by the Okinawa Peace Memorial in time to see the outdoor monuments before sundown. The museum had closed an hour earlier, but this was a "while we're in the neighborhood" stop for us anyway. We drove back to Naha for dinner, which included a taste of pig ear and other local treats. Service was slow - even for Sunday night? - so we swung by an izakaya (Japanese version of a tapas bar), where Rie had aloe sashimi and the owner told us about his younger sister in Utah.

Apr 16, 2004

26.58N, 127.98E, overcast/rain

April 3 - Woke up early and headed to Nago, where we had a 10am glass-blowing appointment. Ryukyu glass is one of the crafts Okinawa is known for, and there are several studios on the main island that offer hands-on experiences. We were a little disappointed to discover our role in the process was limited to (1) blowing the glass to fit a mold, and (2) widening the red-hot mouth of the glass. But that didn't stop us from doing some glassware shopping at the attached outlet store. Next we stopped by the Nago Pineapple Park (they have a website, but the English doesn't appear to be functional), almost on a whim. This place turned out to be a pretty decent touristy deal for the money. The 500 yen admission got us a pineapplemobile-guided tour of their (pineapple and) tropical gardens, admission to some attached seashell museum (I have yet to fathom the connection), and all-you-can-consume pineapple wine and pineapple snack samples. The catch is they get you drunk on the tasty pineapple wine samples and then set you loose in the souvenir shop. And you get sick of pineapple. After that place... let's see... we drove back down to Naha, the capital of Okinawa and our home for the next two nights. We had a late lunch of Okinawa soba, and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening shopping leisurely along Kokusai-dori (international street). Rie bought some jewelry, we both got some t-shirts, and I picked up a couple of cool shirts at Mango House.

I lied. Castles and pig heads are tomorrow.

Apr 15, 2004

26.65N, 127.89E, overcast

April 2 - We arrived at the Naha airport around 11 am, after a 2.5 hour flight from Tokyo's Haneda airport. Cloudy but balmy in Naha. We picked up our Mazda rental and hit the toll highway north, worried about getting to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Motobu with enough time to catch all the exhibits before closing time. Between the highway exit and the aquarium, we spared a moment to fill our empty bellies and grab a frosty mug at one of Okinawa's famous A&W All American Food joints. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a creamy root beer so much. After the aquarium, we realized there wasn't much else to do on that peninsula-like chunk of the island. So we found our hotel - the Bel Paraiso - and checked in. This place must have been a kickin' resort during Japan's bubble years, but there's a reason we got it cheap. It's way out of the way, the drive is more pothole than not, and dinner was a so-so buffet at 5-star prices. To be fair, we caught them in their off season. The Bel Paraiso is geared for marine sports, which action probably doesn't really pick up until next month. One thing I'm sure has not changed over the years, though - the view. Even without much in the way of sunshine, the crystal clear ocean was stunning.

Tomorrow - pineapples, castles, and pig heads

Apr 14, 2004

okinawa pics up

A handful of pics from our Okinawa trip are viewable now.

Look for them in three small galleries, starting here.

Tomorrow morning I'll sit down and actually write a little something about our trip.

Apr 8, 2004

Creating democracy with the big dogs

80% of today's Yomiuri Shimbun front page is devoted to this story:
3 Japanese Abducted in Iraq

The three hostages - two free-lance writers and a volunteer worker helping Iraqi children - are being held by the "Mujahedeen Brigades," who offer Japan an ultimatum: remove the Self-Defense Forces from Iraq or the hostages will be burned alive.

At a press conference late Thursday in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda called the act of terror "unforgivable," but stated that the SDF are in Iraq for "humanitarian reconstruction efforts, and therefore there is no reason to call them back." Fukuda declined to comment on what Japan's response would be if the three were hurt.

Nothing new

We made it safely to Okinawa and back, and I promise a page of photos is coming soon.

Until then... well, I've been distracted. First it was refusal to accept that our long weekend had ended. Then it was more of the same sad news of American deaths in Iraq, and Iraqis killed in the Fallujah mosque bombing. And then last night - just as I was ready to switch on my iMac - Condi shows up on our dissemination terminal, repeating keywords like "no silver bullet" and "structural problems" and "systemic" and "strategic" and "heaven and earth" and "historical information"... all phrases I'm sure Bush is able to articulate.

The one thing I didn't quite catch is how, with admitted knowledge of al Qaeda cells in the US and that August 6 "historical" 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" PDB in hand, the administration still felt the domestic situation was peachy enough to let sleeper cells lie. And did they ever define "historical" - i.e. historical from an April 2004 or August 2001 perspective?

But I seem to have lost myself.

My point was supposed to be that I have this mental image from a mid-80's HBO special on Nostradamus that I just can't shake. Tall man in turban strolling arrogantly through a high-tech underground control center, from which he is waging the Third World War. A quick Google search for "nostradamus" and "ww3" gave me nothing but pages about a prediction hoax in which lines were inserted to indicate the 9/11 attacks. But I know this cable show was no hoax, because when I saw it - around age 10 or so - people around Omaha were still worried that SAC would be a primary target if some freedom-hating commie hit the red button. I remember wondering if the Soviets might wear turbans instead of those fuzzy hats to disguise themselves.

But the Google result was consoling. No matter what mood I'm in, and no matter what odd thought strikes me, a Web search will reveal the topic already explored to a degree of insanity that makes me feel normal in comparison. The Chinese got it right ages ago with their 10,000 things.

Apr 2, 2004

Left the Island... Maybe

We've gone to Okinawa for the weekend. Or maybe we haven't. We might really be holed up in our 12-tatami apartment, protecting all our valuable possessions.

Assuming we went to Okinawa, we might visit this place tomorrow. Or the next day. At any rate, you won't hear from us again until Tuesday.

Apr 1, 2004

Thursday scrapbook

Asian Open-source Dept. - Japan, China, and South Korea expect to sign an agreement this weekend for the joint development of a Linux-based OS to compete with Microsoft Windows. Reasons cited are increased competitiveness of IT industries and protection of networks against "viruses and other factors."

Big Brother May I? Dept. - A California representative said Tuesday that, in exchange for Japan providing Self Defense Forces (and an appearance of international support) in Iraq, the Bush administration "allowed Japan to invest in a major oil field project in Iran." Now that was mighty big of Mr. Bush.

Homeland Security Dept. - Following accusations of racism and spreading anti-foreigner sentiment, the Ministry of Justice's Immigration Bureau was forced to revise their website for reporting visa-less foreigners. Originally, those filing reports were given mulitple choice options such as "foreigners make me anxious" and "foreigners are a nuisance to the neighborhood." These options have been removed and now the response is free-form.
Also - More bureaucracy to cut through police red tape?

Jail/Bird Dept. - Kyoto chicken farm executive arrested for allegedly selling live birds and eggs for a week after thousands of chickens had died at his farm.

New Math Dept. - A nationwide tax-inclusive price display law went into effect today, requiring retailers to display all prices with sales tax included. What started as a hamburger buying tip has become a hassle for retailers. And kiss goodbye to that psychological benefit of paying only 99 yen. This because Japanese accounting methods round all fractions down.

Refusal To Study Dept. - "Karaoke boxes smoky dens of juvenile delinquency." So what's new? Turns out the real culprit here may be those cigarette vending machines someone left sitting around - everywhere.

What Goes Around Dept. - Building owners throughout Japan are suspending revolving door use following last friday's accident. Meanwhile, questions are being raised as to why these doors caught on in the first place. "'Everyone who has watched Hollywood movies from the 1950s or 1960s is familiar with [revolving doors] and feels excited to see them,' an architectural expert said."