Saturday, November 25, 2006

Yorii Beach and Megumi Yokota

This sign, posted by the Niigata Prefectural Police at the entrance to Gokoku Shrine, instructs anyone with information regarding the kidnapping of Megumi Yokota to notify the authorities. Abducted by North Korean agents on her way home from school, early in the evening of November 15, 1977, Megumi is believed by many Japanese to be alive in North Korea. While admitting that its agents carried out the kidnapping, North Korea claims that Ms. Yokota succumbed to illness many years ago. To substantiate this claim, North Korea has provided amateurishly forged "evidence", at the same time asserting that Ms. Yokota's remains were washed away by floods. It is believed that the agents landed on Yorii Beach, their submarine lying some distance offshore. Furthermore, it is thought that their instructions were to abduct whomsoever should come along first that November evening. Megumi, who had moved to Niigata City with her family a few months before, lived not far from the beach and would have been one of the few pedestrians about in the area where she was last seen, on her way home from school badminton practice after 5:00. As the sun sets at 4:30 in mid-November, the abductors would have been emboldened by the cover of darkness. Megumi Yokota is not the only Japanese known to have been abducted by North Korea- officially, there are 17 others-, but her case receives the most publicity, due in part to the tireless efforts of her parents and supporters. A recently released, critically acclaimed U.S. documentary about Ms. Yokota's abduction may prompt the Japanese public to demand tougher sanctions against the North Korean regime, unless there is progress toward resolving all outstanding abduction cases.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Few Points of Interest

I shall take a brief recess from my description of a typical day at Kido Junior High School to introduce a few points of interest in Niigata City. After being designated one of Japan's five treaty ports, in 1868, Niigata City embarked on an ambitious program to modernize itself in anticipation of its first foreign visitors. A Custom House was built to facilitate foreign commerce. This lovely structure, in use until the 1970's, is the only one of the original five remaining today. Located near the mouth of the Shinano River, Japan's longest waterway, the Old Custom House is one of three facilities comprising the Historical Niigata Complex, or Minatopia. Additional improvements included the building and widening of roads, as well as the cleaning of the city's extensive network of canals. The canals connected to the Shinano River, permitting the delivery of riverborne freight to the city center. Once lending Niigata a distinctive character and charm, the canals have long since been filled in and paved over. The changes Niigata underwent were not limited to infrastructure or administration, however. A delegation from the Imperial government, touring Niigata City to observe first-hand the progress of its "internationalization", concluded that the city would not be properly "finished" without a large public park. Thus, in 1873, Hakusan Park was established as one of the first public parks in all of Japan. The orange gate, or torii, stands at the downtown entrance to Hakusan Shrine and Park. The etymology of the term torii is somewhat uncertain, but the 2 Chinese characters comprising the word mean, literally, "birds' roost". A traditional Shinto rite, now fallen into disuse, summoned the devout believer to morning prayer, a reverential salute to the rising sun. Shinto shrines therefore raised fowl for the purpose of announcing the coming of dawn, and of rousing the priests from their slumber. From their lofty perch atop the shrine gate, the cocks would herald the day's approach.

Friday, November 10, 2006

School Lunch, Second Course

The previously posted comments regarding school lunch describe a school nutrition program introduced only a few years ago. When I began teaching in Niigata City six years ago, fewer than five of the city's 31 public junior high schools provided school lunch. Instead, parents (usually mothers) prepared a lunch box for their children to take to school. However, as the number of parents either unable or unwilling to prepare a lunch increased, and as the number of students eating junk food rather than a nutritious meal grew, school authorities developed the current lunch program. Schools were required to constuct lunchrooms and to purchase ordering machines such as the one shown above- all at considerable expense.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

School Lunch

The 50 min. lunch period at Kido Junior High starts at 12:40. When the bell announcing the end of 4th. period sounds, the students return to their homerooms. If they are scheduled to eat in the school lunchroom , the students proceed downstairs with their homeroom classmates, meal ticket in hand. Alternatively, if the students are eating box lunches in their homeroom, they make their way to the box lunch serving-line located in one of the ground floor hallways.
Lunch for any given day must be ordered no less than a week in advance. Each student who eats school lunch is issued a bar coded meal card. The card permits the student to order as many meals as his account balance permits. Lunch costs 260 yen, or about $2.25. There are 4 menu items each day: 2 box lunches, and 2 meal choices available only to students eating in the lunchroom that day.
The color menu at right shows the box lunch selections for the month of October. Caloric information is given as well. The menu is taped to the side of the computer terminal used to place meal orders. For a better view, see photo, above right.