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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Golf Lesson Comic

CNN has finally caught on.

Me? I didn’t care so much.

But since U.S. president Donald Trump says he doesn’t pay attention to media broadcaster CNN (except when he does), I thought I’d see what he’s missing or not missing.

First off, thank-you to my buddy Matthew who tweeted out a link to a CNN story about how there’s a Japanese manga (comic book) devoted to golf… but not merely depicting comedy or drama… instead depicting scenes showing real life golf issues, and how to correct them.

Yes… some 100,000 people a month get their golf fix from Golf Lesson Comic.

I have played mini-golf as a youngster... putting left... and being okay, I suppose... but only played a real golf course once.

Apparently I drive right... putt left...

I can drive a ball like nobody's business... hammering that thing better than most people.

In fact, on my very first Par 3 hole, I drove the ball right onto the green and had a three-foot putt for a Birdie and a One Under Par score.

I thought, and I quote: "This sport is easy!"

Over the next 17 holes, I lost 14 balls somewhere. I even hit an eagle - a real one, and ended up at some ridiculous 50 over par or whatever...

It was humbling. Humiliating. Haunting.

As noted, I never played again, and to be honest, no big whoop.... except for that first hole.

Golf... not my cup or tee. That's a pun.

So… what was my dig at CNN? Well… Golf Lesson Comic actually started up in 1990 - 27 years ago when I first showed up in Japan.

It’s not new news… which I suppose is kind of cool. Look what I have in common with CNN

Back in 1990 when the Golf Lesson Comic first debuted, it was a pretty boring book, simply having comic strips revealing golf tips to its readership.

A few years later, it tried to become less dull and began offering golf-themed stories—along with comic strips providing golf tips.

There was something called The Hole-in-One Murders - a detective strip that still provided golf tips; and Golfman - a comedy strip with sexist elements in it as well as golf tips.

I don't know how bawdy or sexist it could have actually been considering a few years earlier, Japan published the manga adventures of a character called Rapeman, which is exactly as it sounds. Er, not in THIS comic book, though.

Nowadays, the strips continue in Golf Lesson Comic, but are once again, less about entertaining and more about teaching.

It is, after all, Golf Lesson Comic.
Golf Lesson Comic artist Tamura Takanobu (surname first)
While I do not believe this, the word golf was once described as an anagram: gentlemen only-ladies forbidden (each letter of a particular word, is short for an actual word—like NASA, but not U.F.O. or CIA).

But I’m pretty sure that that etymology of the word “golf” is pure BS.

What’s with Japan and golf?
In the late 1980s, with Japan’s bubble economy still growing and rich Japanese sought other ways to amuse themselves without resorting to booze and women, sought the relaxing confines of a golf course.

By the early 1990s, it is estimated that some 15-million Japanese played golf on a regular basis, with developers constructing course after course after course for what Japan assumed was a never ending growth of economic prosperous fun-loving Japanese.

Many comic books (manga) popped up to capitalize on the fact that younger-than-usual Japanese men could now afford to take up golf... a generation that actually appreciated comic books in manga form. 

POP!

When the bubble economy popped in dramatic fashion, the Japanese soon gave up golf… yes, it is a time-consuming sport… but that’s time that could be better spent working, to try and turn around individual economies of fortune… and plenty of golf courses closed…

And yet… it’s 2017… Japan’s economy is stuck in a sand trap… and yet it has 100,000 copies of Golf Lesson Comic sold monthly…. which is similar to what a copy of Amazing Spider-man was selling back in 2012…

Heck… I recall that back in the 1980s, Swamp Thing would print about 50,000 comics, but might only have about 34,000 in sales… and this was considered to be a very-well written and drawn book that had two recent movies done on it…

Keep in mind that back in the 1940s, Captain Marvel Adventures and Walt Disney Comics & Stories would sell over 1-million books a month. Sell… not just print.

So… 100,000 copies of Golf Lesson Comic sold monthly during a recession and during a time when fewer people are playing the sport… and as such, why would people not playing a sport need to read a manga telling them how to improve their game? They wouldn’t.

Still… my long-winded point is that 100,000 copies sold is an impressive monthly stat.

However… since we are talking about a fan base that liked comic books and golf that began in the late 1980s… a new rich… we are talking about a readership that is in its 60s, age-wise… nothing wrong with that, but it’s a non-sustainable readership…

People get older and die—even the Japanese—and since golf hasn’t been uber popular in Japan for awhile, they really need one of the professional players to win a tournament or something to drive readership and to increase golf club membership.

You can read the CNN article HERE.

Somewhere, it’s a Cinderella story,
Andrew Joseph
PS: The Cinderella story line... that's from the movie Caddyshack.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Modern Art Museum Made Of Giant Popsicle Sticks

Okay, it's not really made out of Popsicle sticks... can you imagine trying to get the red-stain off?

Still... if you look at the photo above, one would be hard-pressed to say that Japanese architect Kuma Kengo (surname first) aka Kengo Kuma & Associates wasn’t at least inspired from watching Cub Scouts and elementary school kids making model buildings out of Popsicle (craft) sticks when he designed the Odunpazari Modern Art Museum for Turkey.

Not yet a reality—this is just a design concept—the architecture of the museum would indeed be based on interlocking stacked wooden boxes.

The museum—whatever its final design will be—is to be built in Eskisehir in Turkey, in the new suburban part called Odunpazari.

Apparently the Turkish word Odunpazari means “wood” in English according to the architectural firm, but Google Translate just spits the word back as is. I saw another website describe Odunpazari as “wood market”… so take it all with a wood grain of salt.

Where will people park, when they visit the museum that is literally right on top of the local houses?
I did glance at the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) website on Odunpazari, because there is one… so I can only assume that the new area where the museum is to be built is only “near” the more original historical site of Odunpazari. 

The original Odunpazari historical site has its origins all the way back to 1097AD (1,000+ years ago). It has, according to UNESCO: historical indications from the periods of Seljuk, Ottoman and Turkish Republic; such as Alaaddin Mosque (1271), Kursunlu Mosque Complex (1525), Haci Hasan Mosque (13th century) etc. Being one of the few religious centers of Anatolia, the Kursunlu Mosque Complex located at the centre of the site and built by Palace Architect Acem Ali has a basic characteristic of Ottoman architecture. The complex today includes Eskisehir Handicraft Center where almost extinct traditional handicrafts -such as hand writing, gilding, marbling, miniature and reed flute- are performed through master-apprentice system. The complex also includes the world’s only Meerschaum Museum where the most beautiful examples of Turkish and foreign meerschaum artists are exhibited.

During the Ottoman—1299AD - 1922/23AD - the people lived in wooden houses featuring a cantilevering design that is utilized within the Kuma-designed concept for the Odunpazari Modern Art Museum.


As you can see from the image above, the building’s design uses stacked wooden box-like constructs of differing sizes, the interior of each can house different exhibits and exhibit sizes, to avoid the staid designs of the Victorian era museums—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If a museum’s design is the focal point of a museum, it has clearly missed the mark in providing entertainment and information for visitors. The architecture should provide the best-possible means for the audience to view the contents.

This Odunpazari Modern Art Museum design by Kengo Kuma and Associates certainly knows its proposed audience.
I don't know if that 'car-in-the-floor' will be an actual exhibit at the museum, but that is cool. So too is the exhibit of the little girl kneeling. Gotta love modern art!
Natural light flows into the building via the skylight, while the gaps between the wooden slats (not stated, but I assume either a glass or plexiglass-plate covering here) also allows light in.

Proposed floorspace of the design is 3,582 square meters (38,556 square feet).

Again, if this frozen-in-place cascading waterfall of paper is an exhibit, that is awesome! Seems to me, however, that if you are the artist creating this, you are limited in where you can exhibit it, as well as prospective buyers... needing a rich multi-millionaire who has at least 10-stories of floorspace to really give your artwork the space it deserves... but, regardless... I really like the Popsicle stick construction method.
As I have stated repeatedly here, this is just a design concept from one architectural design firm (a Japanese one) bidding on the future Odunpazari Modern Art Museum in Turkey.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

http://kkaa.co.jp/works/architecture/the-odunpazari-modern-art-museum/

Friday, April 28, 2017

New Anne of Green Gables Movie Set For May 6 2017 Release

Look out Japan, there’s a new live-action Anne of Green Gables movie set to open on May 6, 2017.

It’s an English-language flick with Japanese sub-titles… which I’m sure is fine, because Buddha knows the Japanese sure do love anything to do with Anne.

My first day at a Japanese junior high school class back in 1990 (yeah, I’m old), I was confused when a female student stood up and asked in perfect English: “Andoryu-sensei, do you know Anne?”

Now, my first thought was holy crap - the Japanese kids already speak perfect English, this job is a snap!

My next thought was: Anne? Anne who? Despite having never slept with a woman at that point in my life, and having minimal dating experience, five women (one girlfriend, the rest just girl friends), I did know quite a few women - just no Anne’s. Strangely, I really did know three Heather’s. All were very nice.

Anyhow… the student was asking if I knew about Anne… as in Anne of Green Gables, because I was from Canada, the same place Anne's creator Lucy Maud Montgomery had set the story in. Different province, and far, far away, but the same country.

At that time of my life, I had heard of Anne of Green Gables, but associated it as a “girl’s book” and never had any inclination to read it.

After the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) explained who Anne was, I understood.

I sit here now (2017) wondering if my inability to pick up on what that perfectly simple English question was about in any way shape or form affected that student’s ability to further learn English.

I hope she simply thought I was ignorant because I wasn’t expecting that sort of question, and not that there was anything wrong with her own English-language abilities.

Anyhow, I did answer that I did know about Anne… which made all of the female students smile and say yata (yay)!

I knew about Anne, but I didn’t know anything about Anne.

I am proud to say that overcoming such immature prejudices re: “girl’s book” was easy, as I have read Anne of Green Gables—and enjoyed it.

By the way, my favorite book is a coming of age story (essentially) called Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and one of my favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz - also about a girl's journey... which sounds weird when I write this out, but there was no ulterior motive for me. I simply love the thrill of the journey and the adventure... which is what my three years in Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme was all about.

I’m not sure what all the hubbub in Japan is about for this Anne book about an orphaned girl at the turn of the 20th century in rural Canada… it’s a fine story, sure… but why is this something that strikes a chord with the Japanese, in particular the female Japanese?

Hmm… a thought just hit me… all of those famed Japanese anime flicks by Ghibli Studios - they all have that same feel as an Anne of Green Gables adventure… I wonder if that was on purpose or me just clutching at straws.

By the way... Japan's Anne of Green Gables theme park seems to have fallen on hard times... a virtual ghost town (see HERE)... perhaps because it's 1,000 kilometers north of Tokyo on the north Canadian climate-like island of Hokkaido.   

Anyhow… here’s a trailer (with Japanese subtitles) for the upcoming Anne movie.


In two days… more Anne from me, with a proper Canadian connection.

Kanpai,
Anne-drew Joseph

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Smell The Glove

While everyone of a certain vintage has heard of Mister Miyagi teaching his Karate Kid protege Daniel-san all about wax-on wax-off, few have ever heard of the Mister Miyagi of baseball glove artistry.

You might even call him the Japanese version of Mister Miyagi, except that Mister Miyagi is Japanese, so the point is moot. Ha.

To the uneducated, one could assume that a baseball glove is a baseball glove is a baseball glove, with the key difference being that catchers use a different glove from everyone else.

True, but nowadays, there are pitcher’s gloves, middle infielder gloves, 1st baseman gloves, 3rd basemen gloves and outfielder models in addition to ye olde catcher’s mitt.

While many might assume there are few variations within each type of glove, there are in fact a plethora of them, and all, save the least expensive seem to serve a purpose for the baseball player using them.

Just like everyone’s hands are not created equal, the same could then be said for the ballplayer’s glove, necessitating the search for the perfect glove.

Yes, in non-reference to that famous 1990s utterance - if the glove don’t fit, you can’t commit.

Okay… maybe I changed the last word away from ‘convict’ in reference to the OJ Simpson murder trial in my paraphrasing...
OJ and murder - not just for breakfast anymore.
At the lead of the change in thinking about how the glove makes the fielding baseball player is a now-70-year-old Japanese man named Aso Shigeaki (surname first).

Born in Toride-shi, just north of Tokyo in 1945, Aso works for Wilson, and has been a designer of baseball gloves for over 30 years, with over 20-designs to his credit—though the Wilson 1786 model is considered by himself and major league ball players as his masterpiece.

Still manufactured today, the Wilson 1786 middle infielder (2nd Base & Shortstop) is a small glove preferred by those who play the position.

I played 3B and preferred a much larger pocket, and have what is considered an illegal glove for its length, but since I’m only coaching kids, there’s no urgency.

All I know is that I went to a shop, the glove caught my eye, tried it on, and it well, fit like a glove. Literally.

It felt like it was a part of my hand and I knew I had to buy it. So I saved up my nickels and dimes and bought it a few weeks later.

I still use it every day, but of course, I only bought it four years ago. I’m not a rich man, except in the things that count - which sucks.

I had made the mistake of letting my then seven-year-old son Hudson take my old—and I mean 30+ year-old glove to school, where it was destroyed. I still can’t get rid of it, though.

I know, I have a problem. 

Anyhow, to read the wonderful article on Aso Shigeaki, please click on the SportsNet article written by David Singh HERE.  

My only complaint of the article, is that there’s no commentary from Aso himself.

By the way, a 1786 Wilson ball glove can set you back anywhere from US$250 to $300.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above is from Wilson, showing Aso “breaking” in a glove with a wooden mallet  to remove its stiffness to make it easier for a ball player to cradle the ball. Shaving cream, lanolin, Vaseline, Mink oil, tanner’s glove oil, saddle soap, and more, including the glove manufacturer’s own oil brand… which doesn’t seem to be enough for the persnickety Aso.
PPS: The headline of this article—Smell The Glove—is, of course, taken from the fictional album by the mockumentary heavy metal rock group Spın̈al Tap from the movie This Is Spın̈al Tap.
PPPS: I have no idea why that nugget of information resides in my brain. But I'm glad it does.
PPPPS: How about that, not only did this blog feature a Karate Kid reference, an OJ Simpson reference—sports in both re: karate and football—but I even managed to not actually write about the actual topic myself. For the record, Spinal Tap played in Japan. And... the judge in the OJ Simpson murder trial was Lance Ito, a Japanese-American whose family was interned in an American camp during WWII. No... I don't plan these things. Just lucky I guess... again, not in the things that count.   

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Allergic To Editing

Sometimes the worst thing a writer can do is revisit the past.

Whether it's re-reading old stories I've written spotting typos or grammatical mistakes, or actually looking up a fact I thought was canon only to discover it was wrong, rendering me a complete idiot for the past 27 years.

While looking for a topic to wax poetically on such as National Treasures of Japan - too many and it's all right there on Wikipedia; Japanese guardian lion dogs called Komainu (aka Korean Lion Dogs) - I've kind of already done that in individual blogs; or look up types of allergies in Japan.

It was that last one that made me want to check up on a story I wrote back in December of 2010 entitled "Cover Of The Rolling Stone" on a weird allergic reaction I had to something in the environment. It was based on something hitting me back in 1991.

Now, in 2017, I remember that the pollen was supposed to be from a Japanese Black Spruce... so I decided to look it up to learn more about a pollen that made me feel like I was physically sick over a two day period... enough to ensure that I would never teach at a particular school where the tree was rampant during pollination time.

Try as I might, I could not find anything on the Japanese Black Spruce.

Avoiding "Japanese", I looked up Black Spruce and checked out its habitat... no Japan.

But back in 1991, a teacher told me that I was allergic to a Japanese Black Spruce pollen - a pollen that often hits the Japanese pretty hard... and that since I had no natural resistance to it, I felt it heavily.

So... what the heck was that tree pollen I was allergic to if there was no such thing as a Japanese Black Spruce.

Using my powers of deduction and a handy website that offered up tree pollen types in Japan, I determined that I was affected heavily by the Japanese Cedar Sugi or Japanese Red Cedar.

Although I have never been affected by an allergy like I had with this tree pollen--I'm allergic to cats, golden rod and mold... two things in my house, and one outside it--I just get a bit of an itchy eye (the right one) and maybe a bit of a runny nose. No biggie. The problem, not my nose. My nose could be considered big, but the folks at the C-Pap offices continually sell me a medium mask because that's what my nose is.

... anyhow... as I was saying.... even though I have never been affected by an allergy like I had with this tree pollen, I have only just discovered it affected me for the past 26+ years until today.

I have corrected my blog - an amusing story - which you can read HERE.

Sorry if I misled anyone. My goal here has always been to provide you with correct information, or at the very least an explanation as to why I think my information is more correct than anyone else's.

Typos and grammatical errors aside--I really must learn to type, because I sure ain't gonna learn grammar gooder than what I knows now--I really want to thank my good friend and blog reader Vinnie, who writes to me everyday to help me correct such mistakes.

I hate editing. I prefer the research, the search, and the writing. I'm no longer in what order.

But do you know what really irks me the most? It's that Japanese teacher giving me the wrong information.

Stupid language barrier.  

Banzai,
Andrew "I should have learned the lingo" Joseph 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mining In Japan

After writing about the Hanaoka Mine incident of WWII (see HERE), I should note that I only found it after doing minor research on mining in Japan.

I still didn’t know what sort of elements were being mined.

As you might suspect, Japan isn’t rich in mining resources, but it does have small amounts of plenty of things that have enabled to have a “mining industry”—just nothing on the same scale as what Canada, China, Russia or the U.S., just to name a few examples.

Coal was a decent-sized industry, but depending on which coal source one was mining, the quality was either good or it was bad.

Over in Kyūshū - Japan’s southern part of the main islands—coal makes up about 40 percent of Japan’s industry, but it is of inferior quality, difficult to extract , but it continues because it is close to multiple Japanese ports.

Hokkaidō up in the north, is the other locale for the mining of coal. It’s operation yields about 45 percent of Japan’s coal resources, and it’s coal is of a good quality. Also in its favor is the fact that since the veins are wide, it can be mined mechanically. It’s drawback is that the majority of the mines are located well inland meaning it’s a bugger to transport out, or at least more cost prohibitive.

Nowadays, coal is used to burn and create steam to move turbines that create electrical power… something that has increased lately owing to Japan’s declining involvement in nuclear power generation after a check of facilities found Japan’s nuclear safety programs to be a sham.

This was was begun after a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011 caused a super high tsuanmi to crash over and into a nuclear powered electrical generation facility in Fukushima. After power was lost to the six reactor facility, three of the reactors almost went into full-scale nuclear meltdown.

This led the country to perform an in-depth investigation into the protocols of all its nuclear reactors, eventually leading to the full-scale shutdown of them while the safety checks were performed. Six years after the initial concern, almost all Japanese reactors remain shuttered, meaning Japan has to get its electricity generated somehow. 

Coal, oil and gas are the solution, while the country struggles to determine if geothermal, wind or other energy sources might prove a more viable alternative.   

The burning of coal is, of course, is a heavy pollutant of the air.

I would have thought that one of the more plentiful metals available for mining in Japan would be iron, because iron and carbon makes steel… something every good samurai’s sword should be made from.

Samurai swords are more often than not, produced from tamaganane (玉鋼) - steel produced from iron sand, a form of iron ore.

However… outside of Hokkaidō and the northern parts of the Honshu island of Japan, iron is generally not found.

Iron pyrite, the slightly more technical name for Fool’s Gold, has been discovered in Honshū, Shikoku and Karafuto.

Perhaps surprising only to me, it is used in the commercial production of sulfur dioxide, which is used in the paper industry, as well as the manufacture of sulfuric acid.

Gold and copper are also found in fair amounts around Honshū, Hokkaidō and Karafuto.

This might blow your mind considering that silver used to be a huge mining industry in Japan, but there are currently no silver mines in operation… unless they are some small private concerns.

Even so, there were only four silver mines in Japan: Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, Konomai Gold Mine, Sado Mine, and Toi Gold Mine…  

At one point in time, silver from the Iwami Ginzan was considered to be of such high-quality that merchants around the world would place a monetary premium for it. Ill do a write-up on this one soon enough.   

Gold… because Japan had gold mines in Korea, getting a handle on just how much gold it produced over the centuries is tricky at best.

Oil. There were oil reserves in Akita-ken, Niigata-ken and Gunma-ken, but not enough to make anyone think they should join OPEC…

Mined Japanese Metals:
Common
Cobalt, Copper, Gold, Iron, Lead, Manganese, Silver, Tin, Tungsten and Zinc.

Uncommon
Barium, Berillium, Bismuth, Cadmium, Chromium, Indium, Lithium, Mercury, Molybdenum, Nickel, Titanium, Uranium and Vanadium.

Mined Japanese Non-Metals:
Antimony, Arsenic, Boron, Germanium, Graphite and Sulphur.

Mined Minerals
Hard stone
Granite, Granodiorite, Diorite, Feldspar, Quartz (Silica stone), Sand (including silica sand), Petuntse (pottery stone), and Dunite.

Carbonate
Dolomite and Limestone.

Clay
Kaolinite, Sericite, Bentonite, Fuller's earth.

Soft Stone and Insulating Stone
 Pyrophyllite, Talc, Asbestos, Diatomaceous earth (it’s sharp edges have been used to kill bedbugs) and Perlite.

Other
Emery (rock), Calcite, Gypsum, Fluorite, Zeolite, and Phosphorite.

I admit to taking the bulk of this information from Wikipedia, but I have at least tried to re-write the data where I could to simplify it.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above, is of course the Seven Dwarfs of Disney's Snow White fame. Shouldn't it be the Seven Dwarves? Or Seven Little People?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hanami In Toronto

After spending the beautiful Sunday afternoon inside working on transcribing an interview I did last week, I finished and dragged my lazy son out to the batting cages for some baseball swings.

Last year, his batting let him down... but after a course at a hitting clinic this past winter where everything just clicked, the hitting has come around.

I just wanted to watch him this time. While the pitching machine was only tossing 55 MPH balls - pitches most adults ahead of him were swinging and missing at, he was cranking those bad boys for what would definitely be home runs in his Peewee Select league... I'm coaching his team this year, so I admit I have more than a standard hope my kid does well investment.

On the way to the batting cage here in the west end of Toronto, we passed by scores of Asian (and other) folk perched under the 10-foot tall cherry trees in full bloom.

Mama mia! Hanami in Toronto? In April?

Hanami is flower watching (hana = flower, mi = eye/to watch) in Japanese... and it was kindda cool to see it happening here in Toronto.

I know it's not as spectacular as what Japan had two months ago, or Washington with all of the cherry trees gifted to it by Japan decades ago... but... whatever... it's the first time I have observed it personally since I left Japan in 1993.

I stopped the car and snapped a few shots after our batting practice... no room to park and walk over unless we spent 20 minutes walking... and I didn't want to do that to Hudson.

Anyhow... I know Toronto has a main cherry blossom viewing area in the High Park area, but I have to admit that I never got the whole hanami thing.

Yeah, okay, the Japanese work too hard and any excuse to commune with nature is a good excuse.

Me? I spend enough time outside during the spring and summer - cutting grass, did I mention 28 bags of yard waste over the past two weeks, and now coaching kid's baseball... three games a week and a practice... scouting other baseball teams looking for possible call-ups... writing blogs... so... screw sitting under a bunch of bug-infested blossoming trees munching on sandwiches and sucking back alcohol.

Man... I have changed... I really don't drink much anymore.
I don't know how anyone could sit down under these trees and have a beer next to the road - especially with Toronto's drinking laws.
Anyhow... how do people outside of Japan justify hanami? It's not a much needed break. It's just another excuse to do nothing.

I like nothing, but I don't have the time.

It's also why I didn't really get into hanami in Japan... like I said, the Japanese have an excuse... but me, as the visiting foreigner... I didn't work as hard as the natives. I only went to hanami because it was an excuse to get free drinks... no wait... I had to pay my own way when I went with the Ohtawara Board of Education office... team bonding... I get it... but since only two people spoke enough English... how much of that was there...

Oh well... for the people doing hanami in Toronto... I suppose it's a taste of Japan they miss, or simply have heard about and want to take part in.

Me? I'd rather hit a few balls with my son.

But for that one brief moment seeing people posing for pics under the trees... I almost felt transported back in time. Almost.

Go sit outside when you can.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, April 23, 2017

No Man Is A Mountain

There’s a certain absurdity of life that I seem to embrace on a regular basis:

I am a weirdness magnet.

Over the years I have been doing this blog, I took about 5+ years to write about my entire three-year stay in Japan between 1990-1993.

One of my frequent topics—because it was a real part of my life—was the fact that no matter how close I seemingly was, at no time could I see Mt. Fuji… perhaps the most iconic representation of Japan.

I’d march up a volcanic mountain to the north of my home in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken… drop a coin in to the slot of some high-powered binoculars, swivel the damn thing around to the south west and try and spot Mt. Fuji some 100 kilometers away

Clear, blue skies overhead, but where I looked all I saw was a grey cover of mist as the mystic mountain was enshrouded by a rain storm.

Rain, snow, fog, mist, smog… it didn’t matter which, something would rear its ugly head to obscure my vision.

Now… this wasn’t such an obsession for me that I would try and spot the mountain every single day I was in Japan. It didn’t dominate my thoughts until such time as I was in an opportunity to supposedly see it.

I had traveled by it numerous times on the shinkansen bullet train… but I couldn’t see it thanks to the grey misty rainy clouds that hung low to the ground.

I even got off the train once at a town supposedly two or three kilometers south of Mt. Fuji… but no… mist… rain… and some stupid luck where the black and white film I had shot around the area was accidentally processed as color because who the hell had any black and white film?

I had friends visit from Canada, stay at my place and then travel down to Tokyo and over to where Mt. Fuji was supposedly hiding, climb the damn thing...

I had friends on the JET Programme do the same... and yet, every time I bothered to look, my white whale was nowhere to be seen.

I had actually given up in seeing Mt. Fuji in the flesh, so to speak, when it came time for me to go home at the end of my three, one-year contracts...

I flew home without a thought for the misty mountain, and instead made plans to return to see my girlfriend Noboko, flying back to Japan after a month's respite back in Toronto.

I stayed another month of fun and frivolous activity with Noboko, and pain and aggravation with Noboko as I unsuccessfully tried to convince her that a life would me would better than one under her powerful father.

During my three years in Japan, I had been on what any casual observer would have described as one helluva lucky or winning streak... but I knew it was all a house of cards.

Unlucky at cards, unlucky at love.

So I flew back home from Japan that last time... staring out the window from 20,000 feet up in the air, hoping I could still see Noboko--I really did think like that--staring back at Japan... my life that was, and realizing that the life that could have been had been crushed under the weight of the world.

And there... there out the damn window was Mt. Fuji... rising through the clouds like some magnificent giant's finger... giving it to me one more time.

It would have been funny if I hadn't already been in one of those moods knowing I would never see Noboko again...

Hey Andrew... looking for me?

Fug you.

That's what I thought.

But then I took it as another sign... just when I thought I was out, it dragged me back again... it was like it was telling me to never give up... everything comes to those who wait... just maybe not how you thought it would be... but there... see?

I whipped out my camera and tried to snap a photo of Mt. Fuji to prove I hadn't imagined the whole thing... that life was not just a dream...

I looked at the camera... I was already at 36 shots on my roll of 36 film... but I knew that if I had loaded it just right I could get 37 images.

I snapped one shot... the one at the top of this blog...

To me it was like Japan was telling me just one last time, kid, that you were lucky.

When I arrived home, I had culture shock like you wouldn't believe... still bowing on the phone, accidentally driving into the wrong side of the road... unbelieving that no one wanted to hear me talk about how great Japan had been for me, or about all the neat things about the country that would blow my mind...

Because I continued to lust after Noboko for one more year until my mother died the day before Noboko's birthday... or ON her birthday considering the time difference... I still had Japan on the brain.

But...

When no one cares but you, a smart guy kindda gets the picture... and my momma didn't raise no fools.

I stopped talking about it.

I stopped thinking about it.

I certainly never wrote about it.

Bored with an endless stream of women working in jobs of questionable moral character (because that is what I had become), and going to the gym six times a week, two hours a day, taking supplements both legal and of questionable moral character, I had become someone I didn't recognize anymore.

And there was still this fledgling thing called the Internet that had been out for six years... and I had all these wonderful stories of my rife in Japan that I had written for various JET Programme newsletters... maybe I could create a blog (biographical log) of my time in Japan.

The thing with a blog, that I saw back in 1999, was that while there were a lot of blogs about Japan, they were all about a current stay... with almost all writing 100 words to describe something... with few delving within themselves to describe WHY something was, or how they really felt about Japan.

So I wrote this blog starting in 2009... to be true to myself and thus to Japan.... but still initially as a means to get those old stories out for someone to read.

Now eight years in... now nearly three times as long as my stay in Japan... now writing stuff about nothing and everything every single day sine February of 2011.

Fulfilling whatever prophecy Mt. Fuji had developed for me... to never get close enough to touch it... but just close enough to know it's there... and that I got to experience it.

Okay... I'm 13 hours late with this blog... too many things on the go...

Thanks for indulging me.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Jackie Robinson Comic Book From Japan

Because I was doing two baseball coaching courses on Saturday, I thought I would do a search for what is Japan’s rarest comic books.

Yeah, I know the two don’t have anything in common, except for the fact that it’s something I’m interested in.

I could not find any information on what is considered Japan’s rarest comic book, except that the country may actually have started comic book production back in the 1700s.

During my search, I found the above comic book… a Japanese version of a 1950 Jackie Robinson  Fawcett Comics (a division of Fawcett Publications) comic book originally produced in English for American audiences… I’m not sure, but I doubt it made its way to Canada.

Jackie Robinson is considered to be a pioneer in MLB (Major League Baseball) in North America, becoming the first Black ball player to play in the league since owners conspired together to keep out Blacks from the Major Leagues back in the 1800s.

It was pure and simple racism.

There was never any written rule that prohibited teams from employing a Black ball player in the MLB, but for 60 years - until 1947 - the unwritten rule was followed.

I’m not going to detail all of the hardships Robinson endured on his way to breaking (again) the MLB color barrier, suffice to say that he broke it first in the minor leagues, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple A International League affiliate team the Montreal Royals back in 1946, where he was warmly received by the local community.

There are plenty of books, films and documentaries out there that do a decent enough job of describing what things were like for him.

By the way… in 1936… at the Berlin Olympics… we all know that Jesse Owens—a Black athlete, helped humiliate Germany’s Chancellor, der Fuehrer, Adolph Hitler—when he won the 100 meter race.

Jesse Owens also took the Olympic Gold in the 200 meter race, but what’s not as well known is the fact that Jackie Robinson’s older brother Mack (Matthew Mackenzie) Robinson took home the Silver Medal in that race.

Mack Robinson ran the 200 meters in 21.1 seconds, while Jesse Ownes set a world record at the rime running it in 20.7 seconds.

It’s a less known result because no Germans were involved in the final: After Owens and Robinson, Timus Osendarp of the Netherlands captured the Bronze, with Pail Hanni of Switzerland, Lee Orr of Canada and Will van Beveren of the Netherlands following in that order.
This panel is from the Jackie Robinson comic book. Note that the time of 20.7 seconds is the same, but it is for 220 yards, not 200 meters as run in the Olympics.
Back to Jackie Robinson.

As a successful Black athlete for the MLB Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson paved the way for a whole slew of other great Black ball players to play in the MLB.

The negative side effect, however, is that the Black baseball players were being plucked from the Negro leagues - leagues which also included Latinos, which caused their eventual demise.

The Negro American League officially closed down after 1951…

Jackie Robinson was popular - as evidenced by the fact that Fawcett (the same comic book company that brought us Captain Marvel - that SHAZAM! guy known as the Big Red Cheese to those of us nerds in the know0 chose to put out a comic book on him. In fact, they put out six issue during 1950!

Because of Captain Marvel’s “passing resemblance” to Superman, National Periodicals (aka DC Comics) sued Fawcett comics for copyright infringement.

I had long thought that DC Comics had won the lawsuit, which is why the company stopped producing Captain Marvel material—we’re talking about a character that had in the 1940s actually outsold Superman!

However, by 1941, the case was dismissed when it was learned that National Periodicals had failed to secure a copyright on Superman for his appearances in the national newspaper strip.

In an appeal, it was 1951 when it was found that Captain Marvel was a copyright infringement of National Periodical’s Superman.

Now, I did know this - but didn’t put two and two together - but by the time the 1950s had begun, superhero comic books were on the major decline… even National Periodicals was close to halting production of Superman and Batman! Which is why Fawcett closed its doors on all its superhero books in 1953.
Reverse of the Japanese version of the Jackie Robinson comic book (above) maintained the same "autograph" message as the American one. Too bad, I would have enjoyed seeing it written in kanji, hiragana and katakana.
Fawcett allowed the copyright on the Captain Marvel name to run out… and it was grabbed by Marvel Comics, who created a cosmic character called Captain Marvel… whom we may see soon in one of these upcoming movies (one of my favorite characters).

DC Comics (the former National Periodicals) bought the rights to the old Fawcett superhero characters in the 1970s, but could not use the Captain Marvel as the titular character, instead having to call the books SHAZAM! with the subhead: The ORIGINAL Captain Marvel under it.

But I digress… the point is… we were talking about a 1951… when Fawcett was getting close to shutting its doors - it still thought it could make money by selling the popular English Jackie Robinson comic book as a translated version to Japan.

The Jackie Robinson comic book was printed in June 1950 and was distributed as an insert (furoku) within an issue of Chugakusei no Tomo (Middle School Friend) magazine.

The Japanese version is identical to the American version in that it has 32 pages and the same artwork—BUT the book opens in the traditional Japanese manner on the left (rather than the right)…

Hey  - at least Fawcett did a decent job with the reverse artwork... if they siomply flipped the film negative around for the photo cover shot, that Brooklyn "B" on the cap would have been backwards. 

It shows they were thinking.... 

This Japanese version appears to be a very rare comic book—not as many made for the Japanese market—and few surviving the 60+ years.

I don't know who did the original artwork or did the Japanese translation, but the English version was written by sportswriter Charles Dexter.
 
This year—2017—is the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson re-breaking the color barrier in the MLB.

You can read the ENGLISH version of the comic book by clicking HERE to
go to the www.comicbookplus.com website.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph 

Friday, April 21, 2017

My Ding-a-Ling

I can guarantee to you that the story I am about to impart is 100% true. 

While blasting along the roads the other day in my new Nisan Micra SV, my son asked me if some cars had something on their engine that limited their speed.

I said “wife” and “cops”, and then smartly added that some cars had limiters on their engines that would not allow them to exceed a maximum pre-set speed.

I explained that these limiters were usually found on transport trucks, and set at 110 kph… it’s why, when you are on a two-lane highway and are about to pass a truck as you approach a hill, that truck will pull over to the passing lane and attempt to pass a slower truck in front of it.

As the hill begins, and now both lanes are trapped by one truck doing 109 kilometers per hour and the other doing 110 kilometers per hour, a long line of impatient car drivers piles up behind them - wondering, why, why dear god would that a-hole driver decide to make a pass just as he’s approaching a hill?

We all agree you can pass when you need to… just not a truck passing another truck on a hill when everyone involved has a governor/limiter.

It reminded me of a time back when I was in Japan between 1990-1993, and here’s tale I told my son, Hudson.

Mister Kanmaru - one of my bosses at the Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE) had invited me to join himself, his wife and youngest son on a car trip up the mountains to do some sight seeing.

Seeing as how I wasn’t sleeping with anyone that week—so I’m guessing this was in my first year on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme in April-ish of 1991, as my girlfriend Ashley would break up with me for some reason every few weeks - just to keep me on my toes, I fear—I graciously accepted the kind offer of the Kanemaru family.

Kanemaru-san doesn’t speak  much English, and the same for his wife and son, which was fine, because I hardly spoke any Japanese—just enough to get my face slapped nine out of 10 times… ahhh, but that tenth time… it was magic.

I didn’t mention any of the last two paragraphs to my son.

Anyhow… we drove in some direction for about three hours… driving at the speed of OMG, which I can tell you was 110 kilometers per hour.

I know, because I keep staring at the speedometer every 10 seconds.

The speed limit on the Japanese highways was a respectable 100 kph - same as in the Toronto area where I am from.

However, Kanearu-san… he decided he would drive 110 kph.

No big deal to me… I’ve driven at speeds that make me question why I am still alive.

The thing is, is that the car had a warning alarm built in to it… an alarm that would go off if the driver hit 110 kph or higher.

dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding

Ahhh… thank goodness we were just cut off…

dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-

Five hours there… and then two hours for a look-around

I have no problem with him wanting to speed, and could have put up with the bell ringing… but only 110kph?!

Speed-up, man! Speed-up!

I don’t know what is wrong with Japan, but at no time did Kanemaru-san’s wife, Kanemaru-san, say anything to her husband to cause him to drop to 109kph and thereby shut that annoying alarm up, or to pick up the speed so we can get the dumb, sweaty gaijin out of my front seat…

I actually talked to Kanemaru-san about it (not his wife) and asked if we could pull out the wire attached to the alarm… (we went through my English-Japanese dictionary word-by-word to get to my point)…

And Kanemaru-san (he not she) used his Japanese-English dictionary to say that if he could, he would, because it was driving him crazy.

Okay…

So it bothered him too… and now he’s aware that it bothers me also.

After our three-hour look-around, broken down to 20 minutes to stand in line to get food, one hour to eat it, five minutes to pee—I think I was the only one who went, and then while I looked around with the missus and the boy, the Mister took a 20 minute nap! We had about an hour to look around.

Then we got back in the car, and headed home.  

dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-
 
110 kph for the next three hours.

And if you think that is pretty amazing, consider that we just drove 110 kilometers every hour for 10 hours… and we didn’t stop for gas.

What the hell were we driving?

Was that 110kph the optimum speed to drive for six hours without needing to stop for fuel?

Or, could Kanemaru-san (dad, not mom) have taken it out at some point while we thought he was sleeping and gone and got some gas?

dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-dINng-ding-

Andrew Joseph
PS: Do you think my son was subtly asking me to slow down? I wasn’t speeding. I haven’t sped since the nine months and two weeks before he was born. 
PPS: "My Ding-a-Ling" was my first exposure to Chuck Berry. I still have that 45RPM my dad bought all those years ago.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Hanaoka Mine Incident

The first time I saw the words “Hanaoka Mine Incident”, I wondered if it was some horrible Japanese mine disaster… but no.

It was a disaster, just not in the conventional sense.

Our story begins in 1885… and is still going on today.

Opened in 1885, the Hanaoka Mine (花岡鉱山, Hanaoka Kōzan) was an open-pit mine with major deposits of “black ore” (sphalerite and galena - a mixture of zinc, lead, gold, silver, and other precious metals), located in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan in the village of Hanaoka, Akita-ken (Akita Prefecture) - an area that is now part of the city of Ōdate.

It was controlled by a company called Kajima Gumi, a company that later became the giant construction company known as Kajima Corporation.

Wait… let’s get this whole company thing done correctly:
  • 1840 - Iwakichi Kajima starts as a carpentry business in Edo (Tokyo). Company founder is Kajima Iwakichi (surname first);
  • 1880 - Iwakichi Kajima establishes Kajima Gumi, a railroad construction and tunneling company - eventually expanding into other fields like hydroelectric;
  • 1885 - Hanaoka Mine opens - god help me, I don’t know who owned it;
  • 1915 - Fujita Gumi—the forerunner to DOWA Holdings—purchased the Hanaoka Mine in Akita-ken, but still operated the Mine under the Kajima Gumi nameplate;
  • 1945 - Fujita Gumi changed its company name to DOWA Mining Co., Ltd.;
  • 1947 - Because of commercial laws under WWII Allied-controlled Japan, Kajima Gumi was reorganized and renamed as the Kajima Construction Company. It is owned by DOWA, who still own Hanaoka Mine.
All of this information was gleaned and combined from both the DOWA corporate website AND the Kaijima corporate website. It is therefore considered correct and official.

It’s what happens between after 1915 that is very important.

First of, there is the Hanaoka Mine Incident and the Hanaoka POW (Prisoner of war) Camp story.

No disrespect to anyone interested in the Hanaoka POW story, but I’m just going to look at the Hanaoka Mine Incident at this time.

Japan being Japan in the years before and during WWII, felt it was the superior nation and race of Asia, and everyone else were simply tools to be exploited. Not everyone felt that way, of course, but that was the political attitude.

Japan of the 1930s was a hot-bed of extreme right-wing politics within the military, who exerted control over the country to create a neo-mercantile economy and a hawkish colonial domination over East Asia and the western Pacific.

During the 1930s through the end of WWII, Japan undertook large industrial projects to help with its initial war-making in China and then the rest of the Pacific theater.

Whether Fujita Gumi was all in on the Japanese militarism or not (it was), it became involved in the Japanese war machine and greatly profited from it.

At the Hanaoka Mine, Fujita Gumi used local Japanese miners and peasants to work it, paying them poorly and feeding them worse. To top it off, Mine foremen would beat poor performers.

After a May 1944 rock fall buried many Japanese workers alive—and the Mine staff refused to perform a rescue, correctly figuring that there were more peasants around—the Fujita Gumi and the Japanese Imperial Army conspired to work together to bring over laborers from Korea and China. You know... other expendables... as you can be sure that talk went around about how the Fujita Gumi were treating locals.

While I can’t get a number on the Koreans brought over, I do know that in August of 1944, the Japanese Imperial Army brought 986 Chinese laborers to the Hanaoka Mine to construct a water canal, as well as do other mining details.

These laborers were forcibly conscripted, but were promised monetary payment… and while you think this would be something to have already been in the Geneva Convention rules re: conduct during a war, it was not actually added until the Fourth Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949.

According to the revised Geneva Convention: International humanitarian law prohibits an occupying power from forcibly recruiting persons in areas it controls, and limits voluntary recruitment. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, meant to protect citizens who find themselves under the control of an enemy state, an "Occupying Power may not compel protected persons to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces." Moreover, "[n]o pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment is permitted." The convention further prohibits such actions as corporal punishment, torture, and "any other measures of brutality" (article 32). (see HERE)

So… as despicable as it may seem to use civilians in this manner, it wasn’t illegal. It was illegal to use POWs, as slave labor, however. (I'm sure, dear reader, you can see all of the rabbit holes I traklled down to get all the little bits of information scattered throughout this whole Inerweb thing 0 it'll never last.)

These Chinese “workers” were forced to work in what were said to be inhumane conditions, given little food, and certainly no money… and, as such, on June 30, 1945, they revolted.

During the uprising, five Japanese Fujita Gumi supervisors were killed, but 113 of the Chinese were also killed.

You might think that was the end of it… that no one who survived it would be believed later on when the war Japan surrendered just two months later… but… there were Allied POWs at the site consisting of lots of Australians and Americans.

Sigh… okay… the POW camp was established in December of 1944, and was liberated on September 15, 1945 freeing 245 U.S. and 45 Australian POWs.

During the freeing of prisoners from the POW camp, the Allies found mass graves, unburied dead bodies, and a labor camp known as Chūsan Dormitory, with starving, rail-thin Chinese laborers.
Yeah - it's blurry, but this is a photo taken near the Hanaoka mine showing the piles of disrespected skulls and skeletons of the deceased.
So… in October of 1945, a formal investigation was established into the entire Hanaoka Mine treatment of Chinese workers.

Including the 113 workers who died during the uprising, a total of 418 Chinese workers died at Hanaoka… a higher percentage of deaths than at any other Japanese forced labor camps.

NOTE: Japan’s Foreign Ministry has reported that some 38,900 Chinese were brought to Japan for slave-like work and about 6,800 of them died. This is not a Hanaoka total, but a Japan-wide total.

As a result, three Hanaoka Mine supervisors paid by Fujita Gumi—were found guilty of Class B and C war crimes and sentenced to death.

Another Fujita Gumi supervisor was sentenced to life imprisonment, and two Japanese policemen were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. I'm unsure if they mean real policemen or Military policemen.

NOW here is where things get confusing for me, owing to the convoluted writings of others that seem to contradict one another. They also contradicted one another on pre-war ownership or failed to mention it at all as they were probably also as confused as I was.

Repeating myself:
  • 1945 - Fujita Gumi changed its company name to DOWA Mining Co., Ltd.;
  • 1947 - Because of commercial laws under WWII Allied-controlled Japan, Kajima Gumi was reorganized and renamed as the Kajima Construction Company. It is owned by DOWA, who still own Hanaoka Mine.
I repeat: according to the information gathered from the DOWA corporate website AND the Kaijima corporate website, the above information is correct and official.

Now... considering the Hanaoka Mine Incident is a black-eye on Japanese corporate society (to say the least), it is not surprising that both websites are not as complete as they could be.  

But, according to the information from the two websites, DOWA owns the Fujita Gumi company, and thus the Hanaoka Mine.

So why do all the articles I read say that the owner of the Hanaoka Mine is the Kajima Construction Company? What the hell does the old Kajima Gumi company have to do with this?

It's important because what happens 30 years later is directed at Kajima, not DOWA.

People much smarter than me (and I'm sure there are a few of you) are welcome to point out where my error is, and I'll amend if proof is proven.

According to some websites, Fujita Gumi aka DOWA Mining after a restructuring in 1947, erected a memorial October of 1949 to the Chinese workers who died at the facility. I can't find photographic evidence of it.


That may be true, but it wasn't until 1966 that a five-meter tall monument was erected near Hanaoka (see image at very top of this article).

The inscription on the back of the Hanaoka Memorial reads:

With the support of caring people from both Japan and China, we have erected this monument to friendship and never again to allow war between Japan and China. In 1944–1945, 993 Chinese, who had been brought here illegally under Japanese militarism, lived here in the Chusan Dormitory at the foot of this mud-filled dam, abused and forbidden to speak their native language. On 30 June 1945, these laborers as well as those who wanted to protect the honor of their fatherland rose up as a group to at last oppose Japanese imperialism heroically. Here lie the remains of 418 people who gave their lives patriotically to this cause. We will forever remember this incident, our prayers never again to allow war between Japan and China chiseled into stone for the grandchildren of both countries.

As well,between 1953-1964 Japan repatriated the remains of the Chinese workers.

I wonder why it took so long… so many years… but I assume those poor buggers weren’t interned in any one spot…

So… that’s that, right? Another sordid tale from Japan’s WWII past…

Except… it seems as though the past wasn’t quite forgive and forget for the survivors of the Hanaoka Mine, no matter how much Japan refuses to look at that dark spot on its soul.

Really… Japan is embarrassed by the stuff it was accused of doing during WWII - along with the national shame it felt in losing the war - it really hoped that what happened in the Pacific theater would stay buried (no pun intended).

A whole “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that was the complete opposite of what Germany did, who seemed to have fully embraced the atrocities committed by its military and political leadership during WWII.

While I can state that Japan was forced to and did pay compensation as a nation to other nations affected during WWII in the decade or so after Japan’s surrender (I have newspapers from the mid-1950s detailing some of those payments), the individual citizens hold deeper feelings on things.

While living in Japan during the 1990s, and vacationing in various Asian countries when I could, I visited many a WWII memorial… and quickly discovered that the locals - even then 50-years removed - maintained a passionate hate for the Japanese… even those who weren’t yet born when the war occurred… even those who were children in the 1990s. Pure, unadulterated hate.

Obviously I can’t comment on the state of affairs now, but a hate and distrust of the Japanese has more than likely been passed along the generations… but to what extent, I can not personally say.

So… back in the 1980s… December 22, 1984 to be exact, a group of Chinese survivors of the Hanaoka Mine “work” released an open letter demanding a public apology from Kajima Corporation, the establishment of a memorial museum, and financial compensation.

Keep in mind that the company being sued is the Kajima Corporation… a company that did NOT own or operate the Hanaoka Mine during the 1940s. At least if one pays attention to the date on the Kajima and DOWA websites.

Believe it or don't, I have also seen websites stating that the company that ran the Mine was known as Kashima (not Kajima)... but that is easily explained at the kanji (Chinese letter) used to represent "Shima' or "island" in English can also be written as "Jima". Kagoshima (Kago Island) or Iwo Jima (Iwo Island).

So... a lawsuit started up in 1984... Hmmm... we know that a memorial was set up in 1966, so it's not like Japan was shirking its role of responsibility in this horrible event at Hanaoka Mine.

So... let's assume, that despite information, people decided to ask for more from Kajima Construction Company who are owned by DOWA.... and that DOWA currently (2017) owns the Hanaoka Mine/

So why aren't they suing DOWA? Can anyone out there please help me out here?

Now... after hearing the demands of the Hanaoka survivors and their next-of-kin, we know that Kajims had absolutely NO problem in creating a memorial museum or in issuing a public apology.

Why not? The memorial may have been long overdue, and the apology is certainly a goodwill gesture.

But negotiations did hit the crapper over money.

Money is the root of all evil. But money makes the world go ‘round. Therefore the world is evil.

I’ve had that mantra in my head for decades after seeing the absurdity of those two adages.

The Chinese survivors, survivor next-of-kin and Japanese activist lawyers banded together to sue Kajima Corporation for ¥60.5 million on June 28, 1995…. which is about US$500,000 now.

Note that this is 10 years AFTER the initial public demand for an apology, museum and compensation was made.

Ten years.

Anyone (both sides) involved at the Hanaoka mine would be a minimum of 68 years old in 1995.

Only $500,000… in total? Or for each victim?

We know that there were 418 Chinese people who died at Hanaoka, but only 113 during the actual uprising. But… how many people survived the Hanaoka Mine during its length of operation as a forced labor camp2,000? 1,000?

Let’s take the low number and round up the dead and arrive at 1,500 “claimants”… that would be US $750-million or over ¥82-billion.

That’s a lot of money, if this was a case of seeking that much money PER person… again… I am just spit balling actual numbers… but that much money could bankrupt a company… and in doing do “ain’t no one gonna get paid.”

The Tokyo District Court - seeing as how the suit was filed two days before the 50th anniversary of the uprising occurred - denied the claim saying the statute of limitations had long since passed.

This was based upon a 1972 statement about normalized relations between Japan and China denies all rights to seek reparations for wartime offenses. But Chinese legal experts believe that individuals' rights to pursue legal action were not renounced by the statement.

An appeal was made to the Tokyo High Court on December 12, 1995…

Needless to say… picking at old wounds not only upset Japan, but raised the ire of much more powerful China (than it was in 1945). 

Finally, on May 31, 2000 an offer was made by the Tokyo High Court and accepted by the Red Cross Society of China on behalf of the defendants and the Kajima Corporation…

A total of ¥500,000,000 (~US$4,500,000) was to be given to the plaintiffs by the Kajima Corporation, a monetary amount to be shared amongst the next-of-kin and the survivors.

Okay… from that monetary number, we can assume that the initial compensation request was made as a per person deal, and the final and accepted offer is for ¥500,000,000 for everyone to be divided… sadly 16 years passed since the initial request for an apology and museum et al… so the minimum age for survivors would be about 74 (based on an 18-year-old minimum at the time of the incident in 1945).

Fewer survivors get compensated, though their next-of-kin are.

The amount of money given to each survivor plaintiff and survivor next-of-kin, depends on their "closeness" to the incident.... meaning a grandchild as the lone survivor next-of-kin will NOT get nearly as much as a survivor.

Here are the Provisions Of The Settlement:

Section 1. The both parties concerned reconfirm the joint statement issued on July 5, 1990. However, the defendant insisted that the joint statement does not acknowledge the legal responsibility of the defendant and the appellants took note this claim.

Section 2. In order to settle the problem described in Section 2 of the aforementioned joint statement, and to commemorate those who underwent ordeals at the work site of the Hanaoka branch office (We call them "the victims" from now on.), the defendant will entrust a 500 million yen fund to the Chinese Red Cross (From now on, we call it "the interested party.").
The interested party will receive and manage this fund, and the appellants will accept this entrustment.

Section 3. The defendant will deposit the total amount for the trust fund concerning this case to the bank account that will be designated by the attorney for the interested party, Takashi Niimi, by December 11th, 2000.

Section 4. The interested party (From now on, we will call it "the entrusted party" in this document.) will manage this fund entitled as the "Hanaoka Peace and Goodwill Foundation," and use it in the following ways:

  1. The entrusted party will establish the managing committee for the Hanaoka Peace and Goodwill Foundation (From now on, we call it as "the managing committee.") for the purpose of the proper management and use of this fund.
  2. The managing committee will consist no more than nine members. The committee chair who will be appointed from the members by a selection by these members themselves will represent the committee. However, the defendant may appoint one of the members if so desires. The members will establish the details of the organization of the managing committee and the clerical procedures for the operation of the trust fund.
  3. In the spirit of promoting friendship between China and Japan, the fund will be used for providing memorial services for the victims, the self-help efforts and care of the victims and their families, and education of their children.
  4. As the beneficiary of the trust fund, the victims and their families will receive payment, amount of which will be determined by the managing committee.
  5. When it makes the aforementioned payment to the victims and their families, the entrusted party will describe the fact that the fund was provided by the defendant as well as the provisions of this settlement. In addition, the entrusted party should obtain from the recipient of the payment two copies of a written document that demonstrates that s/he approves this settlement (with a signature or a seal bearing her/his name), and provide one of the copies to the defendant.
  6. The managing committee will determine the range of the family members who will receive the payment by reviewing the situation of each family.
  7. The managing committee will make the utmost efforts for investigating the victims and their families by procuring other agencies and organizations that have understood the provisions of this settlement.
  8. The trust will be dissolved after having achieved its purposes by the decision of the managing committee. The committee will determine how to use the remaining fund.
Section 5. This settlement aims at resolving all the issues concerning the Hanaoka Incident, and comprises the acknowledgment on the part of the victims, including the appellants, that all the issues have been resolved, and that they will relinquish the right to claim any other reparations in Japan and any other countries and regions outside it.

In the case in which others than the appellants requested reparations to the defendant, regardless of whether they were the ones who provided the document as specified in Article 5 of Section 4 or not, the interested party and the appellants must resolve this problem and prevent the defendant from bearing a burden.

Section 6. Through a mutual acknowledgment, it has been confirmed that there is no other legal claim or liability between the appellants and the interested party, and the defendant.

Section 7. The appellants and the defendant will pay legal and settlement fees on their own both for the first and second trials.

Section 8. The official document of this settlement is written in Japanese.
-30-

From what I can tell, there were only 11 true plaintiffs, and that these 11 plaintiffs will receive 30 percent of the ¥500 million, with the remaining 70 percent to be distributed by the Chinese Red Cross Society to any surviving victims and their next-of-kin.

How does it affect the world today?

It actually sets quite the precedent.

Japan, with this ruling, has set itself up for other compensation claims against other Japanese companies during WWII…

And still... it continues....  

87-year-old Zhang Guangxun (right), a survivor of the Hanaoka Incident, asks for apology and compensation from Japanese government during a press conference in Osaka, Japan, June 26, 2015. (Xinhua/Ma Xinghua)
See the image directly above... this was taken from HERE, a New China web media business... it is dated June 26, 2015... which begs the question... WTF?

I thought everything was settled in 2000???!!! 

Where they never paid? Did the apology never get sent?Actually... they were... and the Memorial Museum was built.

What is going on, however, is that after suing and winning their lawsuit against Kajima, the Chinese plaintiffs are now suing the Japanese government.

Kajima Corporation, now owned by parent company Dowa Holdings, was a major construction firm - here’s a few highlights using proper labor:

  • 1957: constructed Japan’s first nuclear reactor;
  • 1959: construction of the Tokaido Shinkansen begins;
  • 1963: construction of facilities for 1964 Tokyo Olympics;
  • 1968: Kasumigaseki building completed, Japan’s first high-rise construct;
  • 1988: completed Seikan Tunnel - world’s longest tunnel; 
  • 1994: Kansai International Airport completed;
  • 2001: Suez Canal Bridge completed;
  • 2010: Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore completed;
  • 2011: Dubai Metro train system completed.
Hmmm… I’m guessing they can afford the compensation payments.And, as you can see, the "spoils of war"  - are in evidence in Japan and around the world even today. 

As for the Hanaoka Mine itself? In 1994 it was declared to be no longer profitable, and was closed down.

I can see the reasons behind suing both Kajima (as the Hanaoka Mine owner), and The Japanese Government for being in charge (hardly) during WWII for the Japanese Imperial Army - both conspiring to bring in forced labor...

But, if Zhang Guangxun is still alive at 89 (in 2017), does he need another pay-off?

Given that Japan and China are currently having a peeing contest and squabbling over so many military things, the latest lawsuit smacks of gamesmanship... as a means to further embarrass Japan.

Since the Kajima court case was won in 2000AD, instead of waiting until 2015 - why did the Chinese group not immediately file a lawsuit against the Government of Japan?

It doesn't mean that the lawsuit wasn't the correct thing to do... it's just that the timing of it seems less about forced labor victims, and more about politics.  

It's 70+ years later... the Japanese business was successfully sued... but can you sue a country for damages after so many years?

It doesn't matter if things weren't discovered  until later or weeks after the fact, if it wasn't in the terms of surrender and the subsequent peace treaties, then I don'[t see how any country, let alone private citizen has a leg to stand on for anything.

The Chinese workers successfully played upon the conscience of the offending Japanese company... but the country has already done "it's time".

I mean, where would it stop? Can Koreans or Vietnamese sue countries that left behind land mines from the 1950s-'70s? Could surviving next-of-kin sue manufacturers of weapons or ammunition, citing that their relative would not have died if they were not creating a supply for warring countries or warring factions to purchase?

If we are talking about relatives of victims, do the Jews get to sue the Germans for the Holocaust... sue companies for making the gas in the chambers?

Do grandkids who lost time with their grandpa get to sue countris and weapons manufacturers from the Boer War - citing that it made life difficult for a parent, grandkid... and that subsequently made like difficult for the great-grand-kid?

Let me postulate this one... but using WWI as an example.

Johnny from Canada goes marching off to war - hurrah-hurrah.
Johnny gets a lungful of poisonous mustard gas, survives, goes home, dies in his late 20s from a weak set of lungs - caused by the gas.
Johnny has a 2-year-old son... grows up w/o a dad... dirt poor because mom was the sole provider.
Johnny is picked on by peers, physically smacked around by an angry mother because the kid is a further drain on her sparse resources...
Johnny's kid learns all about violent behavior.
When he grows up, he applies his violent behavior to his wife and kids. Let's say it gets him into trouble with the law...
Johnny's kid is in jail because he didn't have the proper role-model. Johnny's grand kids are now without a father to provide for them... having a crookm or violent offender for a dad doesn't help them...
And it continues... Johnny's grandkids aren't stupid, but the emotional impact is enough for dropouts, drug and alcohol abuse as teens and higher... the grand kids don't have money because Johhny's son is an ex-con who doesn't care about anything...
This could take us to the 1960s... with the cycle continuing... maybe Johnny's great grandkids are not trouble-makers, but still suffer from financial inequity... can't go to university or college... life is a struggle... and their kids... the same...

Can the great-great-grand kids sue the manufacturers of the mustard gas that could be pointed to as the downfall of the family line? Could you sue the Germans who used the gas? Could you sue the Canadian government for sending him over without the proper training or gasmask equipment? 


You can't.

There has to be a statute of limitations...

I know my above scenario is ridiculous, but as ridiculous as it seems, I am sure variations of such chaining of events did occur... how can you say it didn't.

Stepping outside again... people talk about how mental illness is a terrible thing to have - and it is... but few talk about those who have to live with people with mental illness and how much stress (financial, emotional, physical) it also places on people... some of which you won't see for another generation... I'm not laying blame here, the point is that aside from being killed by a bullet, there are much deeper side effects to people to any event...

In the case of the Hanaoka Mine Incident, I am sure that has looooooong since past - regardless if there are still survivors of the horrible event still alive today.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: This took a lot of time to research and write... and I'm burnt out from the topic. I don't even want to tell you how many times I had to rewrite content as I kept finding  conflicting documents. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Okinawan Mythology and Godzilla

At first glance, the creature in the photo above is a pretty funny-looking kaiju (Japanese movie monster). But like some kaiju, this one has an interesting back story that I have dug up for you.

Known as King Caesar in English, but as Kingu Shisa (キングシーサー - shisa supposedly sounds like caesar when spoken in katakana Japanese) in katakana Japanese, this kaiju first appeared in the 1974 Godzilla movie Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, which is exactly as it sounds…

Isn't "caesar" supposed to be a title in the same way "king" is? It's Julius Caesar... Caesar Augustus, etc... I guess it's like being the Duke of Earl, only not as cool, because there's no harmony... unlike King Caesar, Mechagodzilla and Godzilla taking part in an air band contest.

(From left): King Caesar, Mechagodzilla, Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, 1974. It's actually a pretty decent movie.
The kaiju is based upon a mythological creature known as a shisa, a combination of lion and dog that is part of Okinawa mythology. Okinawa is part of the former Ryukyuan Kingdom long since absorbed into Japan… though anyone from that area would continue to insist that they are Okinawan first, Japanese second.

The shisa are similar to the Japanese komainu (lion dogs) and Chinese Fu dogs (guardian lions) - with slight variations existing between all three.

In Okinawan tradition, the shisa are guardians… wards to fend off or protect people from evil—as such, they are often placed upon gateways to homes or upon house rooftops.

These guardian lion dogs only work in tandem with another… meaning you need to have two for it to work effectively.If you believe in that sort of thing.

I had a 200-year-old ivory netsuke statue of a komainu that I sent back from Japan to my grandfather to act as a protector (I told him). I only sent one... he died a week after receiving it.

I get that he was old, and I don't believe in curses or luck, except for what one manufactures for themselves, but it was an eerie coincidence. 

Just as well, when shisa are manufactured, they are made in two styles: one with an open mouth, and one with a closed mouth.

Open mouthed shisa on a tiled roof in Okinawa.
The open-mouthed shisa is always placed on the right… so when you face the home, it is on the right side. The open-mouthed shisa, with its teeth bared, is meant to scare away evil spirits.

The close-mouthed shisa is on the left. This shisa is meant to keep good spirits in.
Closed mouth shisa keeping all the good mojo inside the building in Okinawa.
Believe it or don’t, gender is also imparted to the shisa, but there is much confusion as to which one is female, and which is male.

There is actually an origin story of how the shisa came to be viewed as a guardian in Okinawan culture.

However, like all old myths, specific names of individuals involved, dates and times are always left out.

First, there is a record of people living on Okinawa (a part of the Ryukyuan Islands) as far back as 32,000 years ago. Are they real Ryukyuans? We do suspect that earliest inhabitants of Okinawa were travelers from China…

While there have been visitors and inhabitants to the island since anywhere from 30,000 BCE, it wasn’t until about 1000 BCE that it seems to have been inhabited by a permanent hunter-gatherer tribe.

Still, as an organized kingdom… there’s guesswork involved. The first history of Ryukyu was written by Shō Shōken (向象賢?, 1617-1675), who also served as sessei… a sort of prime minister between 1666 - 1673AD.

So… a best-guess scenario would be Shō Shōken having written the history known as Haneji Ōji Chōshū (羽地王子朝秀) between 1673-1675 when he died.

I am sure the history is based upon oral tales passed down from generation to generation, as at best, it can be taken with large grains of salt.

There is a story about a Japanese warrior going to Okinawa in and around 1156AD, fighting the locals and setting up shop as a leader, but I think we can say that is Japanese revisionist history meant to make the Ryukyuan's a long time part of Japan.

In the late 1200s AD, Okinawa was trading with Japan, and imported the hiragana alphabet in 1265AD.

By the way… when you see the term Loo Choo (or spelling variations of same, like Lew Chew) Kingdom, it was a Chinese term to mean the Ryukyuan Kingdom.

So… at some point between 1322-1429AD, the Ryukyuans were in official contact with China.
This all makes sense when I get back to the origins of the shisa.


Once upon a time, a Chinese emissary returned from a voyage to the court at Shuri Castle (Shuri, Okinawa) and brought a gift for the king—a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa, though I would say it was a Fu dog, if it was coming from China.

The King was most pleased, and wore it under his robes.

At around the same time, Madanbashi village at the Bay of Naha (the capital of Okinawa), was being attacked by a sea dragon that would attack villagers, eat them and destroy their property, which is no big deal if you are one of the ones it ate.

One day, the King was visiting the village when one of these sea dragon attacks occurred… now hold on a minute.

What the heck was the King doing out in this village? Did everyone at Madanbashi know that the the King was out and about?

“Is that the King?”
“It must be!”
“How do you know?”
“He has got any sh!t on his clothes.”
“Right.”

Apparently the villagers had been previously instructed to run and hide, because a local noro(priestess) - Okinawa had female priests - had a dream whereby the visiting King would stand on the beach and hold up his Fu dog figurine necklace at the sea dragon to help defeat it.

The priestess sent a boy named Chiga to inform the King of the dream, which was why when everyone else ran, the King stood his ground, and held the figurine up at the sea dragon.

The shisa figurine then let out a roar that went all over the village (which I’m betting I could do given the size of a Japanese village in the - let’s say - 1100s).

The roar supposedly shook the dragon physically, but more importantly the roar was so loud that it caused a large boulder to fall from the heavens, landing and crushing the sea dragon’s tail.

Pinned, the sea dragon eventually died… the myth does not state if it died because of the wound, or from starvation… something that given the size of your standard sea dragon, would have taken months… something that would have greatly affected commerce in the area.

After the sea dragon died, it became covered in plants and surrounded by trees.

If you are ever in Okinawa, check out the Gana-mui woods near Naha Ohashi bridge.

The townspeople built a large stone shisa to protect it from the dragon's spirit and other threats.

And so… in the Godzilla movies, King Caesar is a guardian of Okinawa, sleeping in a mountain until he is called to action when people sing: "Shisa! Shisa! Shisa! Kill the dragon, Shisa!"

King Caesar is an ally of Godzilla fighting against Mechagodzilla.

Here are some stats I found over at www.kaiju.wikidot.com:

Height: 164 feet (50 meters);
Weight: 30,000 tons
Attributes: Bite, claws, leaper
Powers: Super durability and endurance, energy beam deflection, monster telepathy
Intelligence: Low;
Land Speed: Moderate
Kaiju Level: Three (light heavyweight);
Weakness(es): None revealed
Allies: Godzilla, humanity;
Enemies: Mechagodzilla, Black Hole Aliens

A slightly different version of King Caesar appeared in the 2004 flick Godzilla: Final Wars, with the following stats differing from the 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla movie:

Height: 328 feet (100 meters);
Weight: 50,000 tons
Allies: Anguirus, Rodan, Xilian aliens;
Enemies: Godzilla, humanity

King Caesar 2004 - different scales, ears and eyes.

This time he's against Godzilla and the humans... which, considering what King Caesar is based upon is a reason to discount it all.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph