Surrounded by Flowers

Life as an starving artist can be unyielding. Especially amidst the electric furor of a megalopolis like Tokyo.
However, scenes like this are what make it all worthwhile: being gawked at by sweaty geeks from all angles as you squat in your daisy dukes to switch prerecorded back tracks on your 2nd generation iPod mini. Godspeed. I for one believe you won't be lost in the aether of shitty wannabee musicians.


Great Kanto Earthquake Anniversary

Avid readers of this oft neglected blog may know that one of its writers resides in Tokyo and often runs through its many streets, alleys, parks and terraces. Anyone who has ever run in the 23-ku area will have been around the Imperial Palace at some point, but it's not likely that many know the lore around one of the trees there. It caught my eye to see a front page article on today's Sankei Shimbun about a tree in Otemachi. Then I remembered the 90th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake is coming up this weekend. Below is my abridged translation of the story.

The Forgotten Disaster Tree

90 years since the Great Kanto Earthquake: Lessons and preparations

"The lone surviving tree in the burnt remains of central Tokyo that gave people hope."

On a corner of the street in front of the palace in Tokyo's Otemachi 1-chome, there stands a large ginko tree with lush green branches. Runners around the palace pass just near the tree, but few notice the signboard about the tree that survived the inferno that ravaged Japan's capital in 1923.


There is still a black burn scar up the trunk of the tree that silently tells the story of the suffering from the disaster. According to the Chiyoda ward board of education, the tree is approximately 150 years old. Before the earthquake, it was located on the site of the old education ministry at Hitotsubashi 1-chome but was transferred to its current site as part of the reconstruction plan.

The burnt trunk

Like the lone "miracle pine" that survived the tsunami in 2011 in Iwate's Rikuzen-Takata, the ginko received much attention as a symbol of the imperial capital's reconstruction.

"I never noticed it. There are no other things in Tokyo that remind you of the 1923 quake," explains Kawasaki resident and once-a-week palace runner Kaori Kikuchi (38). For many, the happenings of 90 years past are now just distant memories.

The blaze caused many of the deaths in the Great Kanto Earthquake. Learning from the disaster, the national government created three large parks around Tokyo's shitamachi area―Sumida Koen, Kinshi Koen and Hamacho Koen―as part of the reconstruction effort.

Comparison of damage from past and future megaquakes 

However, the elevated metro expressway now runs above Sumida Koen, Japan's first riverside park. A public sports center was built at Hamacho Koen, changing the park's appearance from when it was built.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has designated both parks "evacuation areas from fires caused by earthquakes."

Ueno circa 1928

The parks were designed to allow one square meter for the estimated number of evacuees but a Tokyo official explained, "It is an unknown how well they will function in reality." It is undeniable that the parks are more about promoting public health and greening of the city, and the official admitted, "The top priority for Tokyo's parks has not been to protect against fires."

Hokkaido University graduate school professor Akira Koshizawa, an expert on the Imperial Reconstruction Plan had this to say about urban policy.

"The Tokyo metropolitan and ward governments that took over the parks from the national government did not fully understand the meaning of reconstruction, and redesigned the parks in their own ways. It's time we looked back on the Great Kanto Earthquake reconstruction to prepare for the next disaster."

September 1 marks the 90th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake. As the memory fades, the next megaquake draws nearer. The Tohoku earthquake of 2011 was an important reminder for us to learn from the past. Are we prepared for the future?


What Would Jesus Do?

Self-styled Japanese "politician" and thousand-yard stare master Matayoshi Mitsuo, a.k.a. The Only God Matayoshi Jesus has chimed in on Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto's comments that comfort women were "necessary" during WWII. 

The voice of reason??

Below is the comment from his official website, updated on May 15, 2013.

The Japan Restoration Party joint representative Toru Hashimoto's claim that the comfort women system was "necessary" and advice to the commander of Air Station Futenma to allow soldiers to frequent sex establishments (to help them satisfy their sexual urges) are intolerable. They do not take into consideration the circumstances and he doesn't understand the weight of his statements. They are ideas that spring out of an irrational, garbled mind. An irrational, garbled mind should not be allowed to spark controversy. This is not a party to "restore" Japan, it is a party that will cause Japan to rot.

[original text]
日本維新の会共同代表橋下徹の「慰安婦制度は必要であった。」「米軍普天間飛行場司令官への風俗業利用進言。」は内容がない、 状況を踏まえない、言葉の重さを知らない。それは彼の思慮分別のないゴチャゴチャ頭から出ている。 思慮分別のないゴチャゴチャ頭で物議を醸すのはやめるべきだ。それでは日本維新の会ではなく、日本を腐らす会だ。

http://www.matayoshi.org/comment/index.html#new (#274)


Fear and loathing the TPP

This little infographic was from an article entitled "Truths about the TPP that you won't hear on TV" (新婦人しんぶん 3月28日) . I'm inclined to think it's a lot of exaggeration with some basis in reality. So much fear of TPP in Japan these days.

Food safety 

- Standards on residual pesticides will loosen
- Imports of GMOs will increase
- Labeling of production area and GMO ingredients will disappear
- Food additives will increase from 800 to 3,000
- Customs procedures on imported foods will be streamlined
- The system and criteria for ensuring food safety will be lowered


A windfall for foreign health insurance companies! 
- Listed companies will run for-profit hospitals, only with cost-cutting in mind
- Through healthcare buyouts, local healthcare will be monopolized, companies will pull out of regions that are unprofitable
- High-priced healthcare not covered by health insurance will be accepted and grow
- Surgical procedures will be patented, resulting in higher prices
- Safe drugs with efficacy will become expensive and not covered by health insurance, generics will disappear


Unemployment will grow and labor conditions will worsen
- Prioritized usage of local business and foods will be prohibited for local governments and foreign companies will take all the jobs
- Free dismissal and no OT pay like the American system
- Numbers of foreign workers in low-pay positions such as nursing, healthcare and construction will increase and salaries will drop

Fear-mongering or informed journalism?