Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thousands of US Infants Die from Fukushima Fallout

Earlier this month the peer-reviewed International Journal of Health Studies published a study by respected epidemiologists on the correlation between a spike in infant mortality across the US earlier this year and the arrival in mid-March of a radioactive plume from Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear facility. The authors suggest that a dramatic increase in infant deaths, totaling nearly 14,000, is attributable to the fallout from Fukushima and is strikingly similar to a rise in such deaths in Europe following Chernobyl. See here for the original report and here for a summary.

I remember dismissing as alarmist and uninformed the dire warnings of foreign observers on the severity of Fukushima back in  March.  Nuclear experts from around the world strongly suspected that meltdown was underway in one or more reactors in the hours and days following March 11 even as the Japanese government and the operator of the Fukushima facility strenuously rejected the very possibility of this, instead assuring the international community that the reactors' fuel rods were completely submerged at a safe temperature and that the situation was under control. 

The failure of government and nuclear industry to give careful consideration to historical evidence of massive tsunami in the past- geologic findings published a decade before 3/11 showed that waves easily capable of overtopping the Fukushima plant's defenses had been generated by powerful quakes in the region 1000 years earlier- coupled with the superstitious belief that to prepare for the worst was to invite it, established a pattern of complacency that was seen in the authorities' response to the catastrophe.

The Japanese nuclear establishment and regulatory agency were as unprepared for 3/11 as was the Japanese shogunate of yore for the massed hosts of Mongol invaders.  Unfortunately, this time there was no 'divine wind' to come to the rescue.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Tsugawa Fox Festival

Tsugawa, Niigata, holds it's "Fox Festival" every May to celebrate the nuptials of a local couple. For the event the faces of bride and groom are so painted as to resemble those of the stylized foxes seen at Shinto shrines dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, whose familiar is the fox.

By the by, it's unclear to me why Tsugawa, which is not located in one of Niigata's rice-growing regions, should have a prominent festival honoring Inari. I'll have to do a bit more research, evidently.

Incidentally, vinegared rice wrapped in fried tofu, the latter traditionally favored by foxes, is called inari zushi.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Shirone Kite Festival

One of the largest festivals of its kind in the world, the Shirone (Niigata City) kite festival is held in June every year.

The Nebuta Festival

The most famous nebuta matsuri is held the first week in August in Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on Honshu, Japan's main island. The event typically draws over 3 million visitors, making it one of Japan's top summer attractions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shukunegi, Sado Island

The Edo era village of Shukunegi, situated at Sado's extreme western end, is known for its narrow alleys, roof stones, and for the prow-shaped house in the bottom photo.  Shukunegi is sometimes used as a location for the filming of period dramas. Unfortunately I had only 15 min. to explore the village.  It's another "must-see" spot on the island.

Sado Shipbuilding Museum, Ogi

Pictured is a reconstruction of a sengokubune, a large Japanese sailing vessel (the mast is shown at bottom).  Gold mined on Sado was a major source of revenue for the Tokugawa shogunate, and sengokubune were used to transport the precious metal to the mainland for its final, overland ourney to Edo. This particular vessel, called the Hakusan Maru, is on display in Ogi at the shipbuilding museum, which is attached to a larger Sado folk culture museum housed in a former elementary school. I arrived late in the day and hadn't the time to do its exhibits justice.  If you ever visit Sado Island, make sure a stop is on your itinerary, and give yourself a couple of hours for the complete tour.   

Labor of Love

Retired carpenter Hiromichi Nakagawa makes these fantastic scale models at his workshop in Ogi, Sado Island. He doesn't use a kit but instead fashions every single piece himself.

Interesting Sado Sights

Hasakake, or reaped rice hung on bars for airing, at the entrance to a farmhouse on Sado.

Not sure how the fishing boat came to be here.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Issunboshi, or Little One-inch

Once upon a time there was an old man and an old woman. The couple had no children, so they prayed to god to give them a child. “Even a tiny little boy or girl no bigger than my pinky would be welcome”, said the old man in his prayer.

No sooner said than done, for the next instant a very small boy the size of the man’s little finger appeared. “We’ll call him ‘Little One-inch’” said the two.

One day Little One-inch announced, “I’d like to go to the town to look for work. Please help me to prepare for the journey." So the old man set about fashioning a sword just the boy's size out of a needle.  The woman in turn made from a miso soup bowl a little boat in which the boy could sail down to the town on a nearby stream.

When all was ready Little One-inch said, "Look, I'll carry this sword made from a needle.  Look, I'll use this chopstick to paddle the boat. Well then, I'm off." Expertly maneuvering the soup bowl into the current, Little One-inch set off for the town. 

On arriving Little One-inch went straight to the largest house in the town.  "You can rely on me, you can depend on me" he shouted repeatedly at the door, which was eventually opened far enough to admit the head and shoulders of one of the master's retainers.

The retainer's face wore a puzzled look as he inclined his head first to the right, then to the left. "Dear me, no one's here," he muttered.

"Over here! No, here!"

"If it isn't some kind of miniature child", said the retainer when he finally discerned Little One-inch under a wooden clog beside the entrance.

In due course Little One-inch became the attendant of the master's daughter, a girl famed throughout those parts for her beauty.

One day as Little One-inch was escorting his charge home from a visit to a temple, two ogres suddenly appeared ahead of them in the road.

"Such a beautiful girl, the likes of which we've never seen.  Let's get her," said one of the ogres.

Hearing this, Little One-inch drew his sword and flew at the attackers.

"What's this thing that looks like a tiny insect?  Come here, you!" said the other.

The ogre picked up the "insect" and swallowed it whole, whereupon he soon experienced acute pain in his stomach, as if some sharp object were pricking the inside of his belly.

"Ouch, ouch" he cried, spitting out Little One-inch.

"Let me at it, whatever it is, I'll grind it to nothing under my finger" said the second ogre, whose turn it now was to feel the keeness of the tiny sword, this time in the eye.

"Run away, run away" cried the two.

When the ogres had gone Little One-inch discovered a strange object lying in the road.  "It's a mallet of good fortune," explained the girl.  "If you make a wish and shake the mallet, your dream will come true."

"Pray that I may become the strongest and tallest boy in town, and shake the mallet for me,"  urged Little One-inch.  In a trice the little "insect" became a strapping lad.  And of course the two married and lived happily ever after.

* Translation by Brian S.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Trip to Sado: The Taraibune, or Tub Boat

The taraibune is used to fish for crustaceans and seaweed in shallow water.  The rectangular section in the boat's center has a transparent bottom, allowing the fisherman (or woman) to survey the bottom with ease.  The photos were taken in Ogi, Sado.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Soba Run

Shioya Soba,  located in a renovated 150-year-old dry-goods shop in Tsugawa, Niigata.  Lovely building, pleasant atmospehere, excellent soba.   

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Summer Lantern Festival

The paper lantern kit is free and is assembled and decorated at home or school for this annual festival.