Tagged: Japan

World’s 1st bullet train celebrates 50th Anniversary


Click to enlargeThe original Series 0

Zipping cross-country in a super-high-speed train has become commonplace in many countries these days, but it was unheard of when Japan launched its bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka 50 years ago Wednesday.

The Shinkansen, as it’s called in Japan, gave a boost to train travel in Europe and Asia at a time when the rise of the automobile and the airplane threated to eclipse it. It also was a symbol of pride for Japan, less than two decades after the end of World War II, and a precursor of the economic “miracle” to come.

The Oct. 1, 1964, inauguration ceremony was re-enacted at Tokyo Station on Wednesday at 6 a.m., complete with ribbon cutting. The first bullet train, with its almost cute bulbous round nose, traveled from Tokyo to Osaka in four hours, shaving two and a half hours off the 513-kilometer (319-mile) journey. The latest model, with a space-age-like elongated nose, takes just two hours and 25 minutes…

The Shinkansen renewed interest in high-speed rail elsewhere, notably in Europe. France and Spain are among the leaders in Europe, and Turkey last year became the ninth country to operate a train at an average speed of 200 kph, according to Railway Gazette. South Korea and Taiwan also operate high-speed systems in Asia…The fastest train in the U.S., Amtrak’s Acela Express, averages 169 kph (105 mph) on a short stretch between Baltimore and Wilmington, Delaware…

Cripes.

Here’s a look at the rest of the modern world. Which really doesn’t include the United States.

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Remembering absent friends and more…

30 seconds over Tokyo

It’s been a tough morning.

Up early as usual. Because of my wife’s work routine, we’re usually up before 5AM. Habit runs right through the weekend.

I figured to watch the start of the German Gran Prix. Had it set to record so I could check back through the race after it was over. But, I started to look around to see what else was on TV this early. I certainly wasn’t going to watch the news. Guaranteed it would be them dangerous furriners killing each other in Ukraine; brave little Israel killing Arabs in self-defense at a rate of 200 to 1; crowds of white Americans demonstrating our freedom by massing to keep children fleeing North towards our border from crossing into the Land of Liberty.

I don’t recall the channel; but, there was 30 SECONDS OVER TOKYO…the story of the shock raid by a few American bombers that took off from an aircraft carrier in 1942 to bring the war started by Japan – home to the Japanese nation. You can read about the raid any number of places. The movie is pretty accurate.

It became harder to watch than I thought. I saw the movie when it came out in the autumn of 1944 at our neighborhood movie theater. My sister and me, mom and dad. Four of my uncles were still overseas in the war. One of my older cousins was missing in the Pacific.

I didn’t remember General Doolittle’s speech to the pilots and crew before they lifted their B-25 Mitchell bombers off the flight deck of the Hornet. So, it took me by surprise when he finished by explaining to the airmen this would be the first time American pilots bombed a city. Yes, these were military targets; but, innocent civilians were inevitably going to be killed and injured. Anyone who didn’t want to take part in what some would feel was murder of the innocents could step aside and no one would think the worse of them.

And I had to cry.

First and foremost, all the emotions of those days of war flooded back into my heart and mind. People I loved, people I didn’t even know. Tens of thousands dying horrible deaths around the globe from England to Asia and the Pacific. Then, I couldn’t help but reflect on what our nation has become; how hardened and distorted our culture has become – we now only describe the murder of innocent civilians as “collateral damage”. We can send in pilotless drones to fire missiles at our enemy du jour and maybe only kill a few members of their families. Guilty of being kin to evil men. What have we become?

I couldn’t finish watching the movie. I got as far as the Ruptured Duck, one of the B-25s crash-landing in the ocean just off the coast of China – as did all the planes after the mission. Running out of fuel near China or the Soviet Union. Crashing into the sea or just inland. Most of those who flew the attack survived the mission.

In what was called one of the worst war crimes of the century, Japan executed 250,000 Chinese civilians along the coast because some had aided our airmen to survival and eventual safety.

Japanese artist jailed for kayak replicating her vagina


Click to enlarge

A Japanese artist who made figures of Lady Gaga and a kayak modeled on her vagina said on Wednesday from jail she was “outraged” by her arrest and vowed a court fight against obscenity charges.

Megumi Igarashi, 42, says she was challenging a culture of “discrimination” against discussion of the vagina in Japanese society.

Igarashi, who worked under the alias Rokudenashiko, which means “good-for-nothing girl” in Japanese, built a yellow kayak with a top shaped like her vagina after raising about $10,000 through crowdfunding.

Igarashi sent 3D printer data of her scanned vagina – the digital basis for her kayak project – as a thanks to a number of donors.

She was arrested for distributing indecent material on Saturday and faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Igarashi said about 10 police officers had arrived at her house on Saturday and initially, she thought they were only interested in confiscating work she has said is meant as a pop-art exploration of the “manko”, vulgar Japanese slang for vagina.

“I couldn’t stop myself from laughing a little as I explained to the grim-looking officers, ‘This is the Lady Gaga ‘manko’ figure’,” Igarashi told Reuters from across a plastic security divide in a central Tokyo jail.

“I did not expect to get arrested at all. Even as they were confiscating my works, I thought to myself, ‘This will be a good story’. Then they handcuffed and arrested me. Now, I just feel outraged…”

Igarashi has touched off a debate on both women’s rights and the freedom of artistic expression, said Kazuyuki Minami, her lead defense lawyer.

The legal definition of what counts as obscenity is vague in Japan, and the key point of debate will be deciding whether the vagina itself can be considered obscene, said Minami…

A 1951 Supreme Court case broadly defined obscenity as something that stimulates desire and violates an ordinary person’s sense of sexual shame and morality.

Just like political idjits, bigoted idjits, even musical idjits – every nation seems to have its share of sensual and sexual idjits. Japan, obviously, is no exception.

Geiger counters not discovering any terrorist dirty bombs – just radioactive goods from Japan!


300 radioactive Japanese cars stopped at Russian border

The Customs Department had detected radiation emanating from motor spare parts imported from Japan and the consignment was sent back to Japan.

Customs Media Spokesperson Leslie Gamini said that the radioactive chemical Caesium 137 was detected in the consignment at the Colombo [Sri Lanka] port…He said that equipment installed at the port to detect radiation materiel had detected the chemical emanating from the consignment.

The Customs spokesman said that residue of the chemical had been found from the spare parts and so the consignment was detained at the port and sent back.

He said the consignment had originated from a company operating from close proximity to the Fukushima nuclear power plant which was damaged in a massive earth quake in 2011.

The Customs Department said that while only a small amount of residue was found in the consignment, a major disaster was averted by ensuring the items did not enter the local market.

If you think this is a rare and unique happening, read on:

It certainly won’t be the first thing on the minds of Caribbean people when they wake up every day but there is clear evidence that radioactive material from the area in Japan where a nuclear power plant failed after a 2011 tsunami and earthquake is beginning to turn up among commercial imports to the region.

Last month, customs and other enforcement authorities in Jamaica intercepted and quarantined a 40-foot container of vehicle parts destined for the Caribbean trade bloc headquarter nation of Guyana after tests had shown elevated levels of contamination.

That the levels startled authorities into quarantining the container and preparing plans to return it forthwith to Japan is slowly beginning to bring regional customs officials to the reality that other contaminated imports might have slipped through their monitoring net in earlier months.

But that should not have been the case. In late 2012, Jamaican authorities also discovered a passenger mini bus with similarly high levels of radioactive material on a city pier and impounded it as well but that very incident has only now come to light after the transiting Guyana container made news headlines.

Health and customs officials in Guyana say they were only alerted to the fact that Jamaica had saved Guyanese car dealers and owners from actually and unknowingly handling contaminated parts when local Jamaican newspapers exposed the story in the past week.

That country has no Geiger Counter to measure or test imports from Japan or any other affected country for acceptable radiation levels…

Reflect upon the fact that paranoia over terrorists with imaginary superpowers convinced customs agencies around the world to raise capabilities for radiation detection. Those fearfilled delusions are now turning up real threats otherwise undetected because governments consider commercial goods free of danger.

Wonder how much radioactive crap from Chernobyl and other radioactive screw-ups ever crossed into the United States before Islamophobia prompted an upgrade in safety concerns?

Thanks, Mike

Science museum opens exhibit with singing toilets

A toilet exhibition featuring a giant slide and singing toilet seats opens at the Miraikan science museum in Tokyo.

The exhibit aims to make people more comfortable discussing their bowel movements, says staff. ‘Toilets and faeces are normally thought of as very unclean topics, but I would like for people to actively talk about them instead of just thinking that they’re dirty,’ says museum staff member Tami Sakamaki.

Um, OK.

Fiery protest against militarist revision of Japan’s constitution

self-immolation Shinjuku

A man burned himself at crowded Shinjuku train station in Japan’s capital Tokyo in a move allegedly to protest against the Japanese government’s attempt to exercise the rights to collective self-defense…

The man, according to pictures, was in his 50s and reportedly had a speech opposing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration and its efforts to lift the country’s self-imposed ban on collective self-defense rights before burning himself on a bridge connecting buildings at around 2:00 p.m. local time…

Local police has blocked the site and declined to provide details to Xinhua through a telephone interview, and the man’s condition after the suicidal attempt remains unknown.

The incident came after the Japanese government on Friday submitted the final version of the resolutions of exercising the “defense” rights to the ruling coalition…

The collective self-defense rights allow the Japanese Self- Defense Forces engage battles overseas, which run contrary against Japan’s war-renouncing pacifist constitution which bans the SDF to combat outside Japan.

According to the latest survey on the controversial issue by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, about 67 percent of Japanese opposed lifting the ban through constitution reinterpretation and 56 percent of Japanese oppose relaxing the ban through any means.

One of the most amazing feats of self-contradiction happened when the United States forced Japan to renounce any use of their military abroad to implement political policy. Quite reasonable in light of decades of Japan’s imperial ambitions, invasions.

Of course, we went ahead and did exactly what we forbade to the Japanese. At present, we still maintain hundreds of thousands of American troops in over 150 countries. We still suffer the effects of the wars we promoted around the world, small or large, Granada or Vietnam, Kuwait or Iraq, Americans try to recover the lives wasted in national-aggrandizement.

Godzilla endureth forever!


There have been hundreds of monster movies over the years, but only a handful of enduringly great movie monsters. Of those, only two were created for the screen: King Kong, the giant ape atop the Empire State Building, and his Japanese heir, Godzilla, the city-flattening sea monster who’s a genuinely terrific pop icon. He not only stars in movies — Hollywood is bringing out a new Godzilla on May 16 — but he’s even played basketball with Charles Barkley in a commercial for Nike.

It’s been six decades since Godzilla first hit the screen, and to celebrate the big guy’s birthday, Rialto Pictures is releasing Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original — in a restored, 60th-anniversary edition — in theaters. I’ve seen Godzilla many times since I was a kid, but watching it again, I was struck that it might be the best single film about the terrors of the nuclear age…

That said, Godzilla’s real strength lies not in its effects — impressive for the time — but in its underlying emotional and cultural seriousness. It’s not simply that the music is often doleful rather than exciting or that we see doomed children set off Geiger counters. The movie has a gravity that comes from being created in a Japan that knew what it was to have children die from radiation poisoning and to see its capital city in flames. Both drawn to and terrified of the monster’s power, the movie is steeped in Japan’s traumatic historical experience. It has weight. It means something.

Godzilla’s resonance is also inseparable from something else that once defined the best monster movies — a sense of compassion for the monster. Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein may have been scary, but we also felt his frailty and fear at being hunted. King Kong was dangerous, sure, but his eyes were charged with almost human feeling when he gazed at Fay Wray. The same is true of Godzilla, who starts out wreaking havoc but, by the film’s end, takes on a melancholy, sad-faced grandeur.

These monsters always seem to become part of that noble savage myth Westerners love to believe in. You don’t mind him destroying all of contemporary society in a quest to return to natural glory. Contradictions which all too often reappear in populist politics.

Just in case you thought I might skip the parallel. :)

Thanks, Mike

Sweden turns its economy Japanese

Three years ago Sweden was widely regarded as a role model in how to deal with a global crisis. The nation’s exports were hit hard by slumping world trade but snapped back; its well-regulated banks rode out the financial storm; its strong social insurance programs supported consumer demand; and unlike much of Europe, it still had its own currency, giving it much-needed flexibility. By mid-2010 output was surging, and unemployment was falling fast. Sweden, declared The Washington Post, was “the rock star of the recovery.”

Then the sadomonetarists moved in.

The story so far: In 2010 Sweden’s economy was doing much better than those of most other advanced countries. But unemployment was still high, and inflation was low. Nonetheless, the Riksbank — Sweden’s equivalent of the Federal Reserve — decided to start raising interest rates.

There was some dissent within the Riksbank over this decision. Lars Svensson, a deputy governor at the time — and a former Princeton colleague of mine — vociferously opposed the rate hikes. Mr. Svensson, one of the world’s leading experts on Japanese-style deflationary traps, warned that raising interest rates in a still-depressed economy put Sweden at risk of a similar outcome. But he found himself isolated, and left the Riksbank in 2013.

Sure enough, Swedish unemployment stopped falling soon after the rate hikes began. Deflation took a little longer, but it eventually arrived. The rock star of the recovery has turned itself into Japan.

So why did the Riksbank make such a terrible mistake? That’s a hard question to answer, because officials changed their story over time. At first the bank’s governor declared that it was all about heading off inflation: “If the interest rate isn’t raised now, we’ll run the risk of too much inflation further ahead … Our most important task is to ensure that we meet our inflation target of 2 percent.” But as inflation slid toward zero, falling ever further below that supposedly crucial target, the Riksbank offered a new rationale: tight money was about curbing a housing bubble, to avert financial instability. That is, as the situation changed, officials invented new rationales for an unchanging policy.

More details in the rest of Paul Krugman’s opinion piece. You will know what it sounds like if you read the WALL STREET JOURNAL, FORBES Magazine or watch FOX Business Channel.

Cripes, add all of that up and we’re talking about as much wasted time and energy as Congress. And Congressional Republicans in all their wisdom would love to have the kind of power to introduce even more regressive powers like their bubba Abe in Japan.

Like increase the national sales tax 60%. No need to tax the wealthy and Zaibatsu corporate barons. Take it from the hides of ordinary working people.

The public health crisis added to our food

IF you have high blood pressure, you’re in good company. Hypertension afflicts 67 million Americans, including nearly two-thirds of people over age 60. But it isn’t an inevitable part of the aging process. It’s better to think of it as chronic sodium intoxication. And, as an important new study from Britain shows, there’s a way to prevent the problem — and to save many, many lives.

A lifetime of consuming too much sodium (mostly in the form of sodium chloride, or table salt) raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure kills and disables people by triggering strokes and heart attacks. In the United States, according to best estimates, excess sodium is killing between 40,000 and 90,000 people and running up to $20 billion in medical costs a year…

The reason that nearly everyone eats way too much sodium is that our food is loaded with it, and often where we don’t taste or expect it…A blueberry muffin can have more than double the salt of a serving of potato chips. Even healthy-sounding food can pack heavy sodium loads. Two slices of whole wheat bread can have nearly 400 milligrams of sodium, as can two tablespoons of fat-free salad dressing…

We all like the taste of salt, but there is much that food companies can do without driving away customers. Often they add sodium for leavening or food texture rather than taste, when replacement ingredients are available. And sodium levels in similar popular foods made by different manufacturers often vary two- or threefold (for example, a slice of pizza can pack anywhere from between 370 and 730 milligrams), which suggests that many manufacturers can cut sodium levels in their foods sharply without hurting taste. When salt levels in food drop, people’s preference for salt also shifts down, so no one would notice a gradual reduction in sodium across all foods.

That’s exactly what Britain’s Food Standards Agency has done. It divided processed food into different categories, set salt-reduction targets in each category and then asked companies to meet those targets over time. And as they did that, from 2001 to 2011, sodium consumption by the British fell 15 percent.

The new study shows that this drop in salt intake has been accompanied by a substantial reduction in average blood pressure, a 40 percent drop in deaths from heart attacks and a 42 percent decline in deaths from stroke…

There is absolutely no reason we can’t do an initiative similar to Britain’s on this side of the Atlantic now…A proposal as important to human life as this needs the stature and resources of the federal government to bring…the food industry along. The F.D.A. has been developing a new plan for a voluntary, coordinated, national initiative. Unfortunately, even though it is voluntary, the food industry is fighting it, and the plan is stalled.

Per usual, bought-and-paid-for politicians are as much part of the problem as bureaucrats and behemoth corporate budgets. As a side issue, one more reason to adopt an election model that allows NO private or PAC donations and probably includes a short regulated electioneering season. Take the money out of elections and you take most of the money out of political graft.

That still leaves us with libertarian silliness over the government stepping in on the side of medicine and science. But, fools can still add as much salt as they wish to their beer and onion dip.