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Friday, February 22, 2019

Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team

Here's an interesting bit of history about Canadian baseball on the west coast, as well as a bit of Canada's inglorious past.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, February 21, 2019

World's Shortest Escalator

Above, is the world's shortest escalator... five steps. 33-inches. 83.82 centimeters.

Located in the basement of the More’s Department Store in the city of Kawasaki, it takes just under five seconds to ride down it - close to what it might take you to walk down the stairs located immediately to the side.

Granted, you can't ride up, if the escalator is set to go down, so the stairs are still a necessary evil.

And it's not like the steps of the escalator are deep enough for a wheelchair or a baby stroller... it's just five seconds of wonderment.

Why? Why put such a contraption in for such a short travel? It seems like a waste of money... but perhaps that is what More's Department Store was after - a talking point. If so, it worked.

The escalator is listed in the Guinness World Records.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Woman Riding A Fish

Above is a drawing by ukiyo-e artist Kitagawa Utamaro I (1753-1806).

I've seen some weird art, but considering I don't think this is sexual, I can only assume it is what it looks like... a woman riding a fish... a carp, I think, to journey somewhere.

If anyone has any information on this, I'd love to hear about it. I'm snookered.

Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

We Need More Ninja

There's a place called Iga (伊賀市, Iga-shi), a city located in central Kii Peninsula, in the mountainous western Mie Prefecture, Japan. It is also the birthplace of the famous Iga Ninja.

The Iga-ryū (伊賀流, "the Iga School") is one of the two most well-known ninja traditions in Japan, along with the Kōga-ryū.br />
A long time ago, during the Nara era (奈良時代,Nara jidai) of 710 to 794AD, the area of Iga was a forestry economy, supplying lumber for the construction of temples and shrines. But during the Kamakura era (鎌倉時代, Kamakura jidai) of 1185–1333AD, the demand for timber decreased as so-called shugo (governors) and landowners - jitō (manor administrators) - gained power.

But, in Iga, it also saw a growth in bushi (warriors/soldiers), and led to much infighting in the region.

Seeking an advantage, these Iga warriors developed their own special guerrilla warfare tactics.

This struggle for power in the region continued to the Muromachia era (室町時代, Muromachi jidai) - also known as the Ashikaga era - from 1336 - 1573AD, at which point the people of Iga managed to establish their own independent republic without the feudal overlords having control. It was a warrior-based control - kind of a precursor to what the shōgun would bring between 1603-1868AD.

This mini pseudo-republic was called the Iga Sokoku Ikki (伊賀惣国一揆), first becoming a well-known entity in an around 1487AD, when the shōgun Ashikaga Yoshihisa attacked Rokkaku Takayori, the daimyō of southern Ōmi Province.

The daimyō was from the Rokkaku clan, and both the Iga and Koga ninja fought on the side of Rokkaku, helping him to successfully repel the shōgun's attack.

We all have some preconceived notion as to what ninja were/are... stealthy sneak attackers with shuriken throwing stars, but as mentioned they were simply an elite guerilla warfare team, trained in disguise, escape, concealment, explosives, medicine and poisons, as well the more conventional forms of warfare such as unarmed combat and various forms of weaponry.

Stealth was certainly a weapon, as they would use scaling hooks to climb walls in the dead of night, or ladders and lock picks to get where they needed to go to do what they needed to do.

It wasn't merely silent assassination... no, it was to quietly enter a place and then cause havoc with their skills to get the job done. You might consider them to be highly trained spies... like James Bond, if he was a real person.

The Iga ninja also created something called a mizu gumo (水蜘蛛, "water spider") that would allow the ninja to walk across water. There are two descriptions: 1) a device worn like a harness around the hips and had small air pockets made of animal hide to keep the ninja afloat; 2) two were used and worn like shoes.

However, one of my all-time favorite television shows, Mythbusters (there's a Mythbusters Jr. on now, and a new version of Mythbusters with a new crew), said the mizu gumo was "busted", that it could not allow ninja to walk on water, but it might be effective for low-water level areas such as rice paddies or marshes.

Because this is Japan and not pure communism, there are three levels of ninja based on skill level: jonin (upper ninja); chūnin (middle ninja); and genin (lower ninja).

Some other claims to fame for the Iga ninja occurred during 1581AD, when famous warrior Oda Nobunaga had a huge army of some 40-60,000 men. With a 10-1 advantage, Oda's army slaughtered them... it's tough to be stealthy when YOU are the one being attacked.

One year later in 1582AD, when Oda Nobunaga death there was turmoil in Japan, with other warlords vying for control, including Hattori Hanzō and Tokugawa Ieyasu told Toktugawa to flee to Mikawa via the Kōga and Iga regions.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616) would become the founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa shōgunate, which displaced the Emperor in power (the Emperor became a figurehead) from 1600 when he seize power, was appointed shōgun in 1603, before abdicating in 1605, but still having power until is death in 1616.

Anyhow, when Tokugawa officially was named shōgun, he hired the ninja from the Iga area to protect his Edo-jo (Edo castle) (now Tokyo), which was his headquarters, and to supply intelligence. He took 200 Iga-ryū men and put them in Yotsuya (now part of Shinjuku) area of Edo.

The Iga were commanded by Hattori Masanari, the son of Hattori Hanzō's, but in 1606 the Iga-ryū rebelled against his harsh treatment.

Still loyal to the shōgunate, the Iga-ryū then only acted as a musketeer unit and as policemen, soon forgetting the ways of their ninja training as the generations progressed.

Proof of that can be found in one of the last recorded ninja treks recorded, when an Iga ninja by the name of Sawamura Jinzaburo got aboard one of the black ships in 1853 commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry and climbed aboard. Sawamura did at least use his ninja training to disguise himself as one of the official Japanese delegation. Using his military background (such as it was) he was able to learn more about the invading Americans than what a typical Japanese diplomat might.

However, he reportedly blew his mission of ninja stealth when he asked one of the American crewmen to write a short note for him to prove that he had actually been aboard the ship.

Despite awesome Netflix shows like Daredevil, the plethora of video games and Japanese movies, the myth that ninja are still in action today is laughable. There are no more real ninja - at least not the stealthy assassinating kind.

Unless they are so good at their job, that we simply don't know that they are still doing it. Hmmm.

Actually, there are still, apparently a few of the ninja masters who have had the knowledge of ninjutsu passed down and taught to them... still possessing of that knowledge from the golden age of the ninja from 500 years ago. 

Some ninja weapons - from
Regardless, if you travel to Iga in Mie-ken, stop by the Ninja Museum of Igaryu (伊賀流忍者博物館, Iga-ryū Ninja Hakubutsukan) where you can check out all sorts of neat stuff related to ninja and their profession of ninjutsu. Established in 1964, within its walls you can see audiovisuals, models and extensive static displays of the weaponry and techniques employed by ninja - some 400 ninja tools, including original shuriken used when the ninja were a feared tactical force.

Andrew Joseph
PS: I'd show a photo of a ninja, but the real ones are impossible to photograph. Above is LEGO ninjago Cole. Yeah, I watch Ninjago on TV, and have purchased many a set - but have used them to help build my Japan dioramas.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Plants Don't Just Smell - They Can Smell

While some people still don't believe that plants nurtured with soft music grow better, the University of Tokyo has taken things a step further with their contention that plants smell.

Sure, we all know that plants have an aroma, some more subtle than others and some with a heady stench, but sure... plants smell... but that's not what the University of Tokyo means.

They mean that plants smelllllllllll-uh. While most critters on the planet use a variation of a nose to smell scents, a University of Tokyo research team has discovered that the ability for plants to smell resides in their genes.

Within a plant, are odor detection systems, with the scientists say may be manipulated and thus influence a plant's behavior.

The discovery was 18-years in the making.

"We started this project in 2000. Part of the difficulty was designing the new tools to do odor-related research in plants," explains University of Tokyo professor Touhara Kazushige (surname first).

According to the research paper entitled Transcription regulators involved in responses to volatile organic compounds in plants within the February 15, 2019 edition of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, plants detect a class of odor molecules known as volatile organic compounds.

These compounds are necessary for some plant survival strategies, such as the ability to attract birds and bees, deterring pests, and reacting to disease in nearby plants.

As well, the compounds provide the scents to essential oils.

If you were there when the photo was taken for the Beatles cover for it's 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, you would only smell the flowers, and not marijuana. There was no marijuana on the cover as alleged (just above the floral Beatles). They are peperomia plants. The scene was created by Jane Haworth and her husband Peter Blake and photographed by Michael Cooper.
Using exposed tobacco cells and four-week-old tobacco plants to different volatile organic compounds, the research team found that odor molecules change its gene expression by binding to other molecules known as transcriptional co-repressors that can turn genes on or off as required.

In plants, the odor molecules must move into the cell and accumulate before they affect plant behavior.

In animals, odor molecules are recognized by receptors on the outside of cells in the nose and immediately trigger a signaling pathway to recognize the odor and change behavior.

I don't know what minerals do. Nothing... LOL.

"Plants can't run away, so of course they react to odors more slowly than animals. If plants can prepare for environmental change within the same day, that is probably fast enough for them," states  Touhara.

Touhara and his team postulate that plants may have a much larger recognition of odor molecules than animals.

"Humans have about 400 odor receptors. Elephants have about 2,000 - the largest number in animals. But based on how many transcription factor genes are in plants, plants may be able to detect many more odors than animals," says Touhara.

The benefits of this discovery of being able to manipulate plants could one day lead to changes in crop quality, or to GMO a plant without actually editing the gene (which could also be done via pesticide spraying, if even slightly because it's then no longer organic).

Touhara says that with his team's discovery, a farmer could use an odor that makes the plant change the taste of its leaves to prevent insects.

Yes... with a simple manipulation, farmers could change a plant's genes to make itself safe against attack. Maybe even against too much heat or too much water. 

"All creatures communicate with odor. So far, our lab has studied within-species communication: insect to insect, mouse to mouse, human to human," relates Touhara. "This understanding of how plants communicate using odor will open up opportunities to study ‘olfactory' communication between all creatures."

Next... other research times will have to validate or invalidate Touhara's University of Tokyo team's findings. But he remains steadfast in his confidence.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Prince And The Unknown Korean

Japan's Kongō Gumi Co. was the world's oldest continuously operating company in the world, founded in 578AD... no, I'm not missing a "1" in front of that date... making it a 1,441-year-old business.

Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd (株式会社金剛組, Kabushiki Gaisha Kongō Gumi) was a construction company that was the oldest independent company in the world until it became a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction Group Co. in 2006.

I wrote about this back in 2016, which can can read HERE.

As a subsidiary, Takamatsu renamed the company Kongogumi Engineering Co. Ltd. in January of 2006... so technically, it's still a company, only because it is also now a subsidiary, it lost its 1,441-year-old status.

Now... is this actually a hafu (half) Japanese company? After all, it was founded by a Korean immigrant, 
Shigemitsu Kongo, whom Japan's Prince Shōtoku invited from Baekje (one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea) to come and build the Buddhist temple Shitennō-ji.

Shitennō-ji (四天王寺; also Arahaka-ji, Nanba-ji, or Mitsu-ji) is located in Ōsaka, and is regarded as the first Buddhist and oldest officially administered temple in Japan. It's still around, though much of it has been built and rebuilt over the ensuing centuries.

The Shitennō are believed to be four heavenly kings, and the temple was built to honor them, with four institutions, each to help the Japanese attain a higher level of civilization.

Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子, Shōtoku Taishi, February 7, 574AD – April 8, 622AD) was the son of Emperor Yōmei (the 31st Emperor of Japan).

According to tradition, Prince Shōtoku was appointed regent (Sesshō) in 593 by his aunt, the Empress Suiko (554–628). Prince Shōtoku, inspired by the Buddha's teachings, succeeded in establishing a centralized government during his reign. In 603, he established the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System at the court, and is credited with promulgating a Seventeen-article constitution.

The Prince was very much a Buddhist--though he also respected Shintoism--and is believed to have authored the Sangyō Gisho or "Annotated Commentaries on the Three Sutras" (the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, and the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra). The first of these commentaries, Hokke Gisho, is traditionally dated to 615, which makes it the first "official Japanese text", which therefore makes Prince Shōtoku the first Japanese writer.

Prince Shōtoku was called upon to defeat the powerful Mononobe clan, and did so by summoning the Shitennō (heavenly kings) - which is why he built the temple to honor them. There is much about
Prince Shōtoku's life which appears "legendary" or even mythical, but he does appear to have been a real person. 
As for Kongō Gumi founder
Shigemitsu Kongo, he was just a man who decided to stay in Japan and start his own construction company after being one of the skilled paid workers that the Prince asked to come over and build the temple.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, February 16, 2019

It's Saturday

Sure - it's Saturday... Saturday afternoon to be exact, and I'm well over 18 hours late in posting this blog.

Anyhow, today I had to go out and buy a pair of jeans, as I had developed a small tear in my left knee of the fabric, which quickly became full-on skin as I knelt down to do a couple of pair of skate laces for one of the hockey teams I coach.

When I was in Japan... and this is the truth as always, any imperfection in my clothing seen by the Japanese - well... it would spread through the local grapevine of my rural city of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken, and I would then find a gift in a bag either in my mail box or outside my door.

It was very nice of the people, if not a tad creepy. But I didn't really see it as creepy. The people in the city - not all mind you - looked out for me. They often bought new tee shirts for me (never pants), when I had a slight tear in them.

I think they just assumed I was a single guy who didn't know how to take care of himself - and to some extent, they were correct.

But, what I never learned, was where the hell they actually found shirts in my size?! I tried to go shopping for clothing in Japan and found it a largely fruitless exercise as stores in town never had my size.

Did they travel down to the capital city of Utsunomiya? Did they take the car, or the train. It was a 40 minute train ride. Did they do it JUST for me, or were they going down there anyway?

So many questions...

Pity that I never knew just who was doing this for me. I would have liked to have thanked them.

But that's Japan for you... especially in the closed-knit rural parts... always looking out for their neighbor... or their friendly neighborhood gaijin man.

Andrew Joseph