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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Miss Universe Japan 2012 Contestants

In anticipation of the Miss Universe Japan 2012 contest on Sunday, April 1, 2012 in Osaka, here's a photo of the contestants.

More details of the event can be found here...

And I'll post the winner here shortly!

Andrew Joseph

How Rob Jones Visited Japan

Today, March 31st, is the birthday of my very good friend, Rob Jones.

He lives in Toronto, Canada, and has never been to Japan.

However, he has followed this blog from Day 1, and reads it out loud to his boss while his boss, Chris, apparently is working. I don't understand that, but that's okay.

Chris, by the way, played on the same soccer team as Rob and myself about 30 years ago. Yeesh. But how's that for a cool coincidence?

Rob and I have been friends since we were about 14-years-old and in Grade 10 at Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute (our high school) in Etobicoke. We were the two youngest kids in our grade (as were were both ahead by a year).

Not only did we play soccer on the same team, and against each other, we also coached women's soccer together for at least seven years (he a lot, lot longer, as I quit to go to Japan).

Rob, much to my chagrin, wrote to me some 68 times while I was in Japan for three years. He and my friend Doug McIntosh share the same letter writing record, actually.

And, while Doug was my writing mentor, Rob was the real reason why this blog exists.

The Awesome Origin of Andrew Joseph, Creative Writer: 

You see... it was in the month of March back in 1991, when I realized his birthday was coming up... so I told him that for the entire month of March - during each week day - I would write a letter to him for his birthday.

(Seven months earlier, I began a once a month column of comedic adventures for the local JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme entitled It's A Wonderful Rife - so yeah, I did know how to write creatively, and prior to that, I was journalist for the Toronto Star).  

But... after about four days of "How are you? I'm fine thanks.", I got bored with that structure and decided I would write him a short story.

And the rest, as they say, is his story. History, too.

From that first time I wrote a short story, I felt good about myself.... that this is what I am supposed to do... do define who I am.

So... the next envelope contained two stories... then three... sometimes more... sometimes less.... and all inspired by my need to entertain Rob for his upcoming birthday. As such, my imagination kicked into over-drive. Or it was sleep deprivation and or boredom fueled by vast quantities of alcohol... though I have only written smashed maybe three times in my life.

I have no idea what happened, but from then on... whenever I wanted to, or needed to, or had to write a short story - whether it was comedic or dramatic, I could sit down in front of a computer or pull out a notepad and a pen, and simply write. It was not work. It was pure fun.

I would never have a clue as to what my topic would be. I would just write the first thing that popped into my head - a title - and off I would go. And... even then, I would have no concept of where the story was going or how it would end, and thus, like Rob, I would be surprised at the story. But I always needed to have that title first. Even now.

Simply thinking, made it so.

I've done that from time to time - even a few weeks ago for another friend of mine. I write on top of my day job as a magazine writer, and my fun job as the writer of this blog - often twice or three times daily... but I will say, that for that one month period, I wrote stories for my friend Rob and created over 30 short stories and have always felt since then, that I have never been as creative again in my life. 

You might think I am creative with this blog... I suppose I am, I don't know... but an idea will pop into my head regarding a topic, and then I will research it - which takes away some of the spontaneity, I think.

But, for 30 days or less in March 1991... I was like Ferris Bueller... everything I touched with a pen and paper was like gold.

You can read one of those stories HERE. It's weird, but fun.

Rob had kept all of my letters and stories (ya big lug) and gave it back to me a few years ago, because I didn't always make a copy for my own records.

I first posted the story on this blog - something about the Awesome Origin of Ralph Tochigi - back on June 10, 2010. You probably missed it then, because at that time this blog only had about 700 hits for the entire month. Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife now with more hits - gets about 1,100 a day.

And it's all because of Rob Jones' birthday. You can blame him. I do.

Thanks, buddy! And Happy birthday!

Somewhere writing this at 3AM, your pal,
Andrew Joseph  
PS: I think I may have also just missed the birthday of Alex, Matthew & Takako's son. Belated happy birthday, kiddo! It's a big cake, you and Rob can share.

Cherry Blossoms in Nishinasuno

Because the cherry blossoms are starting to appear in Tokyo, I thought I would sort of honor that event with the photo up above. 

It was taken in Nishinasuno-machi (Nichinasuno Town) back in 1992, 20 years ago.

It has my classic photographic elements - a real image across the middle, a reflection below, and an over-hanging branch in the foreground up above. What is odd, is that the sky is blue rather than filled with ominous, dark grey rain clouds.

After all of that, you may also have noticed that the photo is not quite in focus... that it's not as sharp as it should be. No... it's not your computer monitor. It's the photo (sigh).

For those who know (and those of you who don't), during this epic time if the year, one's office often sends a couple of representatives out to a park to stake out prime real estate under a cherry tree in bloom. They could be sitting out there all day until the mid- to late-afternoon when the rest of the office shows up to begin the hanami enkai (flower viewing party - though for the Japanese, it's usually cherry blossoms that are viewed). 

I'm unsure how much actual cherry blossom viewing goes on after the first few minutes upon arrival, because very quickly alcoholic beverages and a modicum of snacks and food are brought out.

After way too much drinking of wobbly pops (beer) and o-sake (Japanese rice wine), people get drunk. Bums get pinched. Promises get made. Friendships are cemented. And someone probably pees themselves in laughter after the gaijin (foreigner)  - let's say me - makes everyone laugh with some stupid Japanese line he picked up from watching Shimura Ken on television.

Like I said...  people are drinking... and drinking, and for a change of pace, there is more drinking.

Pretty soon, everybody's vision gets blurry.

And that is what this photo represents. Really.

Or... as is more than likely, I may indeed suffer from astigmatism, which means I have trouble completely focusing my eyes from time to time, and what I thought was a great photo, is really just a blur... much like the drinking party. Ahem.

Like I said... this photo was taken by myself in Nishinasuno... I live and work in the big city next door of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken. My OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) office party would not be held in Nishinasuno. It would be held, more than likely on the grounds of the ruins of Ohtawara-jo (Ohtawara Castle)... if there were any actual ruins. It's just a big park. I've been sitting on a blog about this place for a month now...

Anyhow... after my office party in Ohtawara - you should NEVER bring anything that takes a photograph to any sort of party where there may be drinking, by the way - the next day I rode my bicycle out to Nishinasuno and found this wonderful vista by getting lost - something I could do with remarkable ease in Japan. That's when I took the photo above. I need to get my eyes looked at.

Cheers (kanpai)
Andrew Joseph

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mental Health Advice From A Professional

Ask and you shall receive.

Help, that is.

On March 26, 2012, I wrote about mental health issues in Japan, postulating that there would be a heavy burden on mental health providers there dealing with the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 disasters.

You can catch up HERE.

At the end of it, I coyly asked:

"If anyone out there has any data on mental health in Japan or even more specifically on Japan after the March 11 disasters, please pass it along.

While numbers are fine, I am more interested in knowing just what it is that Japan is doing for those who suffer in quiet agony."

Well... someone did. Andrew Grimes of Tokyo Counseling Services wrote in with some thoughts on the subject. He originally sent it in as a letter of comment - and the damn thing got caught up as spam in the blog's spam filter.

Anyhow... I don't know how many of you read the comments' section, but I thought his information bore repeating in a larger forum - a blog of his own.

I have added a few bracketed explanations of acronyms, and amended the presentation of links to articles he provided, but I have not changed anything else, except to place his letter in italics. Oh... I did fix a couple of typos, though... it's always easier to edit someone else than yourself. 

Get informed:

Hope these few links, which are by no means a comprehensive representation of the psychosocial support and Japan mental health professional associations responses and mental health care programs and services put into effect in post 3.11 year 1, will be of some use to your readers. Thanks for caring about the mental health of the Japan 3D disasters survivors, displaced and evacuees. The year 2 and longer term work we so and the services we provide will need all the social, economic and media focus on suitable and culturally sensitive support for these wounded communities as well as individual and group mental health care for those individuals and families who have suffered the most and endured extreme stress and setbacks as they try to move on with their lives. Thank you for helping to keep the spotlights of these hundreds of thousands of people for whom the effects and stresses of the 3D disasters is unfortunately far from over.

In the past year, from the outset to now, a great number of the over 100,000 Japan licensed mental health care professionals (such as over 14,000 psychiatrists, over 52,000 Psychiatric Social Workers and over 21,000 JSCCP Clinical Psychologists and Nurses, among others, have been deeply involved working and providing psycho-social first aid, medical and counseling support to survivors and evacuees both in the East Japan (Tohoku) Region and here in Tokyo and the Kanto Region. Perhaps you would kindly consider giving them due credit in your press releases on the internet. For examples:

From the April 22, 2011
Japan Times: Giving voice to trauma-hit victims: TRAUMA

NHK World on October 27, 2011: Mental health center for children in disaster zone: CHILDREN

And from Tokyo Counseling's website, posted on October 10, 2011: Association of Japanese Clinical Psychology - International Symposium on Trauma Recovery and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Prevention - Tokyo University: PTSD

I would also like to suggest, with respect, that consideration could be given to making clear that in Japan on your website and all your NGOs (non-government organizations) and volunteers that in Japan only a Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour nationally licensed medical doctor/psychiatrist is allowed to assess the presence of symptoms of PTSD, diagnose and provide therapy and treat PTSD and it takes a trained, credentialed, supervised and experienced mental health professional in Japan to recognize symptoms of trauma and PTSD. If someone is diagnosed with PTSD then the medical treatment and prescription of medications to alleviate and treat PTSD can only be given by a psychiatrist or medical doctor. For an ordinary member of the public to do so is illegal in Japan. Thank you in advance for your kind consideration of these points.

Also your readers here may be interested to read the following article from the New Scientist that details the approach of mental health professionals in Japan to aid and assist the disasters survivors and evacuees psychological recovery from their traumatic experiences:

To avoid PTSD, no debrief for Japan's quake survivors: read this article from November 1, 2011

Kind regards from Tokyo,

Tokyo Counseling Services

And there you have it. I visited Andrew's Tokyo Counseling Services company website and took the following from there:

Tokyo Counseling Services mental health counseling professionals are qualified JSCCP Clinical Psychologists licensed to practice in Japan. Every Psychotherapist at TCS holds the Japanese Certificate for Psychotherapy and is qualified and legitimately registered as a Psychotherapist by The Japan Federation for Psychotherapy. Our counselors provide individual counseling, couples counseling, marriage counseling and family counseling. group therapy and psychotherapy services. Counseling and therapy services are available in English, French, German, Korean, Japanese and Portuguese for all residents living in the Tokyo Metropolis and Kanto region. Telephone Tokyo 5431-3096.

Thank you very much for kind and informative response, Andrew. Your comments and thoughts are always welcome here - spam filter notwithstanding.

Good mental health to all.
Andrew Joseph
The top photo shows a woman in the destroyed city of Natori, Japan after March 11, 2011.

I also found this radio report on The World Today website: HERE

Frank Lloyd Wright Gets Stoned

People are proud of the strangest things.

For example, I am proud of the fact that I can touch my tongue to the bottom of my nose. While this may not actually be a true testament to the length of my tongue, it may indeed be a truer testament to the size of my nose.

Oh well... you know that they say about a guy with a big nose? "Hey, Big Nose!" Yeah, that's pretty much it. Despite growing up thinking my nose was big, I've since discovered that, relatively speaking, it's not.

Anyhow... I suppose that's why I am proud of the tongue to nose thing.

I am also proud of the town of Ōya... just on the outskirts of Utsunomiya, the capital city of Tochigi-ken.

While I have never actually visited Ōya (I don't believe so, anyway), I did live in Ohtawara-shi (City of Ohtawara) in the Prefecture of Tochigi in Japan. Yes... I'm proud of Ōya which happens to be in the same prefecture/province/state as where I once lived for three years.

Like I said, people are proud about strange things.
So... what's so special about Ōya? Well, if you've been paying attention the past week or so, you will have seen Ōya mentioned in two separate blogs: one involving LEGO and the other involving U.S. architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The common denominator - building materials!

As a building material, Ōya-ishi was famously used by Wright for his special building material in nearly all of his Japanese-built projects - perhaps most famously used in the old Imperial Hotel in Tokyo’s Hibiya district.

During the celebrations honoring the completion of the hotel, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 struck. While much of Tokyo was decimated (including another Wright creation, the Arinobu Fukuhara House in Hakone, that was completed in 1918), the Imperial Hotel survived for another 40 years. Read the article I wrote on Frank Lloyd Wright for a better understanding of what he did for architecture in Japan and conversely, how Japan revived his then-flagging career as an architect. The link (again) is HERE.

What is Ōya-ishi?

Ōya-ishi (大谷石 or Ōya stone) a igneous rock, created from lava and ash and is known as tuff:

Ōya-ishi was produced when the Japanese landmass rifted from the continent to form the archipelago, beginning around 20 million years ago. The quarry at Ōya-machi (Town of Ōya) near Utsunomiya-shi (Utsunomiya City), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), is one of the best known sources of tuff building stone in Japan. The underground mine is now disused and has been transformed into a museum.

Back to Frank Lloyd Wright... the use of Ōya-ishi is what characterizes Wright architecture in Japan.

However... originally, Wright was going to use a rock called hachi-no-su ishi from Shimane-ken (Shimane Prefecture), but there simply wasn't enough of it in Wright's mind, so he used his second choice of Ōya-ishi.

While Wright utilized Ōya-ishi for building exteriors, interior pillars, stairs and more, but it wasn't merely used as a simple stone... nope... he used it to carve in - in places - sophisticated designs of local plants, as a motif.

A lantern from Wright's Imperial Hotel with Oya stone covering terra cotta.
It was the softness and ease of carving that Wright enjoyed for decoration. The rock's texture featuring an uneven surface, and its warm brown colors always matched well with a Wright-designed building's exterior. As an added bonus, since the tuff rock was formed by volcanic activity over 200,000 years ago, the rock often contains bits of wood and seashells, adding to the charm of the buildings.

It enabled Wright to show off nature with his architecture quite easily.

Of course, Wright was not the first nor only person to use Ōya-ishi. For centuries, locals had been using the tuff to construct storehouses, walls, and gateposts because, despite its ease of carving, it is a durable rock.

The stones of Ōya Stone Mining was already popular in year 741.

The stone tower of Kokubunji Temple was built with Ōya-ishi. In year 810, Ōya Kannon was created on the cliffs of the Ōya-ishi.

Because tuff is an easily worked stone, it was cut to form blocks for walls, foundations and pavements, or carved into stone lanterns for gardens and animal guardians for shrines. Not until the Meiji period (1868 - 1912) did whole buildings begin to be made of tuff.

Wright, however, was the first architect to use it as a true building material. In fact during Wright's time in Japan between 1917 - 1922 (during the Taisho-jidai or Taisho era), granite was the most popular stone for building, so Wright's decision to utilize Ōya-ishi showed true originality.

What can one say about Wright except that he made the town of Ōya famous and helped drive up the price of the tuff rock, ensuring the miners there would get a bit more money but that locals might no longer be able to afford the stone to create a gatepost. 
Oya Heiwa-Kannon

Anyhow... Ōya-ishi is only found in an area four kilometers east-west by six kilometers north-south around Ōya, but there are reserves of some 600 million tons.

At the main Ōya-ishi mine, the cavern was used during WWII as a military storehouse. It was also used as a secret underground factory for the Nakajima Aircraft Co. and Zero fighters were built there.

After WWII, it was used to build stone walls and housing complexes throughout Japan.

But it's not just one cave the gives the Ōya tuff - there are over 100 locations around Ōya.

In the 1970s, about 120 companies mined nearly 900,000 tons a year, but demand plummeted when concrete became an affordable and popular substitute. Nowadays only 12 companies mine about 24,000 tons a year.

"In the old days, night and day without ceasing, trucks went by loaded with Ōya stone," says Tomura Kazusuke (surname first), 68, director of a local stone industry association, speaking wistfully of the past.

The cavern is also now used for concerts and for making films, as it has excellent acoustics. But... if you are seeing a concert there - bring a sweater! It's cavernous and cold, averaging about 8C.

Should you wish to visit the Ōya Museum (大谷資料館), the mine's cave of the of the Ōya Stone Mining (大谷採石場) you can get there from Utsunomiya-eki (Utsunomiya train station).  
Access: From Utsunomiya Station, take the Kanto Bus to Shiryokaniriguchi (about a 30 minute ride), and then you have a three-minute walk to the site.

Rock(et) on fellow Rifers! Enjoy the Wright stuff!

Files by Andrew Joseph 

Spammers Gots No Shame

Ugh. I'm unsure if writing that grammatically incorrect headline was more painful or see a letter of comment awaiting my approval within this blog.

Okay... for once,'s spam filter actually caught a legitimate spam. is the free blog-hosting site this blog is created upon. I actually have no complaints about it.

But, as for the topic... I certainly hope the spam I received actually is legitimate spam (oxymoron). I'll show you what it is a few paragraphs later...

So... since spammers like attention, allow me to give you some. People should do their best to avoid buying whatever product this spammer is selling - something called the JunoWallet.

If the company wants to make thing better - show me  - contact me - explain why your company is involved with spam. Yes... I suppose you could be hacked... but considering what your product is....

Until then... Ugh.

I will soon post this on my other blog: You Know What I Hate - where you can read about things that piss me off. I'm sure the CIBC would appreciate the new entry... especially since I may have to hit them again with further banking charges. Ironic isn't it?

Anyhow... back to the spam.

The comment was posted towards an older blog entry of mine, in which I wrote about the 19th anniversary of the Hattori shooting - that's the one about a short Japanese exchange student shot by a large U.S. man who thought the kid who was dressed up in Halloween gear was going to hurt him. You can read about that story HERE.

Anyhow... someone added some spam via the Letters section. To be honest - since it is spam, it never actually got posted, but the fact that someone tried... that makes me want to puke.

Here's the comment sent to me on March 28, 2012:

What a tragedy. But you know what can make this better? Free gift cards. You can do this with JunoWallet. JunoWallet is a free app for the App Store or Android Market. You earn money (gift certificates) in JunoWallet by downloading (and opening) other developer's applications or by getting referrals from your coworkers, family, or friends with an iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone, or Android device. It's nice to check my JunoWallet balance increase every day with little work on my end. I won't lie, you WILL NOT get rich by using JunoWallet, but you can use it to make a little bit of tax free money on the side. Use JunoWallet invite code: AG696287 for a one time, $.25 sign up bonus. All codes provide the exact same bonus. Sign up now and earn those gift cards!

The real tragedy here is this spam. 

The creator of the above comment is: MWeiss... who has been a part of the blogging hemisphere since March 2012.

Weisssssssss.  Of course, this may not be anyone's real name. It may be a computer program generating inane comments and ads if it spots a key phrase... whatever it is, it's spam.  

Anyhow... JunoWallet... which is a real's the list of people involved in that company - as pulled from their website...  I shall not provide you with the website address here, but you can Google it, if you must.

From the home page:

Every company at its inception has certain people who made financial, time, and other sacrifices in getting that company off the ground and past failure. These sacrifices are greatest in the beginning of every company and key to the company's survival and success. The following individuals have put their fingerprint on the future growth and success of JunoWallet:

The Founders

  • Dr. Raghu Sastry
  • Dr. Jae Hoon Kim
  • Christopher Sweis

The Core 100 Team

  • Shannon Corrigan
  • Akira Doi
  • Laura Wappner
  • Duke Begy
  • Claude Jewell
  • Maureen Cutler (Ireland)
  • Todor Krecu
  • Mike J. Cacicio
  • Randy Sweis
  • Mike Nanay
  • Michelle Hillaert
  • Rohit Sherma

The Security Team

  • Skeeter Boy
  • Buddy

I'm not saying you guys are directly involved with sending spam... but if you are and even if you aren't, you need to get involved to stop it. Do you want to be known as a SPAM company - especially knowing what company your APP is for?

Really, people? Getting a JunoWallet will help you feel better about a miscarriage of justice? About a loss of life? About a family forever grieving?

That's the problem with computer spam. It just gets sent out without thought or consequence.

JunoWallet - Tsk, tsk.

By Andrew Joseph
As for the image at the top? Hormel's Spam? I actually really like to eat Spam! I do. Hormel is a great company... and I apologize for linking their product with the bad type of spam... but it had a Monty Python motif, and I love Monty Python as much as I love Spam. I just hate spam and spammers.  

Hokusai Manga

Welcome to another blog featuring something from Andrew's (Hey! That's me!) closet of wondrous delights.

Today, I want to share with you a wonderful ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock print) I own that was draw originally by Japan's most famous such artist - Hokusai Katsushika (surname first) who lived between 1760 - 1849. I say famous, mostly because he drew the famous 36 View Of Mt. Fuji series (that actually had more than 36 views) - which you can see in its entirety on THIS blog of mine via my Picasa image gallery. His iconic Great Wave Off Kanagawa is perhaps one of the most-well-known images people have of Japanese art.

You may also wish to view the Wikipedia entry on Hokusai (where you can see an image of the Hokusai wave, as I have called it for over 35 years when I first learned of it as a child) which is a good starting point for anyone who wishes to learn more about the artist. 

The ukiyo-e image above was published circa 1814 by Eira Kunya - or something pretty close to that... it's tough to read the the writing!

It's a piece from a manga (a so-called comic book) he produced showing various styles of bridges.

In 1811, at the age of 51, Hokusai changed his name to Taito and entered the period in which he created the Hokusai Manga and various etehon (art manuals). These etehon, beginning in 1812 with Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing, served as a convenient way to make money and attract more students. The first book of Hokusai's manga is a collection of sketches or caricatures that influenced the modern form of comics known by the same name (manga) and was published in 1814.

Together, his 12 volumes of manga published before 1820 and three more published posthumously include thousands of drawings of animals, religious figures, and everyday people. They often have humorous overtones, and were very popular at the time.

The Hokusai Manga (北斎漫画, "Hokusai's Sketches") is a collection of sketches of various subjects, including landscapes, flora and fauna, everyday life and the supernatural.

The word manga in the title does not refer to the contemporary story-telling manga (comic book), as the sketches in the work are not connected to each other.

The drawings inside are block-printed in three colors (black, gray and pale flesh). 

The image above is from Volume 1 of the Hokusai Manga, page 64, I believe. It was published in 1814.

I bought it in 1992 when a traveling salesman of fine art came by Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School) in Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), Japan.

I waited until the crush of teachers had a glance—rolling their collective eyes at the prohibitive cost of purchasing such items... and then I moved in. I had been collecting ukiyo-e since I entered my first antique and art store in the country back in late 1990.

My mother and I were always trying to learn about antique furnishings back in Canada, but I always preferred art. My father tolerated our exposure to antiques realizing that if we were rich we would be considered eccentric rather than poor and crazy. But I know what I like, and I like art - specifically paintings, but also artistic things... things that it seems we no longer take the time to do. Has anyone created a gargoyle on a building lately? Can anyone still carve one with the same skill as the artisans of the past? Regardless... I like art.

And that's what I wanted to see in this guy's collection. Unfortunately, he had none of the typical ukiyo-e art.

And then I spotted the image above. It was framed (in what I still have it in now), but I had him remove it from the frame so I could better examine it.

Visually, I could tell immediately that this was no modern copy. I only had 12 lessons from the once-a-month trips I made to an antique and art dealer I buy from in Nikko-shi, Tochigi-ken... but when it comes to my hobbies (my hobby is hobbies), I am a fast learner... at least learning how to discern a copy from a print, and modern prints from original prints. I knew I would never, ever get my hands on an original piece of ukiyo-e art (the actual paintings).

But this... I knew as soon as I laid eyes upon it that I had seen the art style before. Once or twice in the hidden upper levels of Takamoto's shoppe that he allowed me to sit in by myself for hours as I poured over print after print of his voluminous collection. It was definitely Hokusai - and I queried the seller as much to confirm my suspicion.

His jaw dropped as he said I was correct. The teachers in the teacher's lounge suddenly got quiet as they slowly crowded around the seller and the gaijin (me, the foreigner). He asked how I knew it was Hokusai's work. When I said that I recognized the way he drew the bridge second from the top as something similar to one of the 36 Views Of Mt. Fuji, he smiled and then bowed deeply—either showing great respect for my knowledge or thanking the gods he had found a sucker (a buyer).

As an aside, I have been seriously collecting comic books since I was 10, and have a decent enough eye in discerning the art styles of a plethora of artists. And, no... I barely have the skill to draw a stick-figure.

The art seller told me that the image of the bridges was a 'How-To' drawing on the various way a Japanese bridge could look after construction. It sounded correct, but the hodgepodge placement of bridges was not pretty as a picture like a standard ukiyo-e.... then again, I was never going to be able to afford an original woodblock... they were in the 10s of thousands of dollars... and this was only ¥7,500 (which at the time was about US$75 - and in 2012 is now $90).  

Why so cheap? Because it wasn't your standard ukiyo-e. Because it wasn't a vista or a portrait.  

Still... this was my one and only chance to own an original Hokusai woodblock. So I bought it.

What's it worth? Who knows... I've seen two-pagers of a single scene published some 40 years later going for $300. This woodblock of mine is not a scene - its a single page, but is far older.

I like bridges. I like architecture. I like my 198-year-old piece of art by one of Japan's greatest, if not most famous ukiyo-e artist. I hope you do, too.

Andrew Joseph 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ichiro Goes Oh-fer In Game 2

In the second game of the 2012 Major League Baseball (MLB) season opening up in Tokyo, the Oakland Athletics gained a two-game split against the Seattle Mariners with a 4-1 victory at the Tokyo Dome.

Josh Reddick and Jonny Gomes homered for Oakland, which bounced back from a 3-1 loss in 11 innings in Wednesday's opener.

Oakland starter Bartolo Colon limited Seattle to three hits, including Justin Smoak's solo homer, and struck out six while walking only one in his Oakland debut.

Jason Vargas started for the Mariners and did not factor into the decision, as he was lifted after 6 1/3 innings. The lefty was charged with a run on two hits and two walks with three strikeouts.

Colon, the former Cy Young winner retired the first 13 batters before Jesus Montero singled through the right side of the infield with one out in the fifth.

Miguel Olivo singled with two outs and Michael Saunders drew a walk to give Seattle a mild threat, but Colon induced a ground ball from Brendan Ryan to keep the game scoreless.

Colon did not pitch in the majors in 2010, but returned last season with the New York Yankees and posted a record of 8-10 with a 4.00 earned run average in 29 games, including 26 starts.

Vargas, who was 10-13 with a 4.25 ERA last year, was just as good early. He gave up a one-out single to Cliff Pennington in the first, then did not allow another baserunner until Reddick's two-out double in the fifth.

Seattle finally broke through when Smoak led off the seventh with a home run.

As for local hero and Seattle Mariners superstar Ichiro Suzuki - which is what all of the photographers in the image above are waiting for:  after going 4 for 5 in Wednesday's opener, he went oh-fer in four at bats.

Files by Andrew Joseph

Martial Arts Cards - 1: Sumo

Just because I have them, I figured I might as well show you. What's the point of collecting stuff if you can't show your friends, right?

Some time in either the late 1970s or very early 1980s, a company called Dunkin put out a series of 88 Martial Arts cards. A link to the wrapper is HERE.

While utilizing art similar to what one might expect to see from China or Japan, what was striking about the 10-cent a pack of eight cards was the shape of them.

While similar in size to the standard hockey and baseball cards of the day, the images were framed by a curved tori (gateway), and came with a rounded top - as you can obviously tell from the images here.

The cards came with three languages on the reverse of the card: English, French and German - that provided a brief description of the image on the front.

By the time these cards had come out, I was no longer doing judo, concentrating more on soccer and the accordion, clarinet and piano (and a host of other brass, woodwind and keyboard instruments). Perhaps I should have stuck with judo longer to protect myself better from those in high school who loved to beat up little kids (I was 5-feet tall until I was 17, wore glasses, was a visible minority  (still am) and was a nerd).

Still... I had a fine appreciation for martial arts.

This card series - of which I can find very little information in the Internet (like none!) - provided me with information on Judo, Karate, Kung-Fu, Akido, Tae Kwon Do (I tore my meniscus two years ago doing this) and much more.

I have about 58 of the full 88-card set (it was tough to find - I think I bought all that was on sale at the local convenience store in Etobicoke), and never saw them again. I did see that someone on E-bay was sell 34 cards (in a bit better shape than mine - but a load of doubles and triples - for $150 US.

Anyhow... from time to time, I shall present one of these cards as they relate to Japanese martial arts.

First up, obviously, is card 11 - Sumo.

If anyone has more information on these cards, or wants to get rid of some they have to help me fill out a collection, feel free to e-mail me.

I bow deeply to show my respect before I kick your ass in combat.

Andrew Joseph

George Takei

The Sakura Award is presented once a year, at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre's (JCCC) annual Sakura Ball held in Toronto, Canada.

This, the fourth annual Sakura Ball will be held on Saturday, April 21, 2012. Man... I would love to see this, but I am sure the price of $500 a seat is a little too steep for a poor writer on Japan with 25,000 hits a month.

Still... I bet it will be an awesome event!

In the spirit of the JCCC's vision, the award recognizes exceptional contributions made by individuals to the promotion and exchange of Japanese culture and enhancing awareness of Nikkei heritage within Canada and abroad. 

The 2012 Sakura Ball will honor George Takei (born in Los Angeles, California on April 20, 1937) for his leadership in championing human rights issues and for his achievements in the arts, which have had a significant impact on how the Nikkei are viewed and accepted by the global community.

George is best known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu in the acclaimed television and film series Star Trek (though I also love his role on an episode of the Twilight Zone television show called The Encounter). 

Enjoying a lengthy acting career, George has appeared in more than 40 feature films and hundreds of television guest-starring roles. In 2012, he will hit the New York stage in the Broadway play Allegiance; an emotional, redemptive and inspiring story of a family’s experience during the Japanese American internment.

I wanted to be Mr. Sulu and learn fencing!
In the 1960s, George was a true pioneer in the eyes of many Japanese-Canadians and Japanese-Americans because it was rare to see a Japanese face on television, particularly as a positive role model. Along with leaders such as David Suzuki and Adrienne Clarkson, George brought the face of the Asian community to a wider audience by breaking down preconceptions and fostering broader acceptance.

A tireless community and human rights activist, George serves as chair of the council of governors of East West Players, is chairman emeritus of the board of trustees of the Japanese American National Museum and is a member of the board of directors of the US-Japan Bridging Foundation. The Government of Japan recognized George’s contribution to the Japan-United States relationship when it presented him with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette. 

Past winners of the award:
2011 - David Suzuki, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster - and a personal hero of mine.

2010 - Raymond Moriyama CC, OOnt, ORS, FRAIC, Int.FRIBA, Hon FAIA, MCIP, OPPI, RCA, FRSA, LLD, Deng, DArch hc. - renowned architect. I have visited many of his buildings and enjoyed them immensely.

2009 - Brian Mulroney - he first recipient of the Sakura Award was the 18th Prime Minister of Canada between September 17, 1984 to June 25, 1993. His Japanese claim to fame was apologizing to Japanese-Canadians for the forced internship during the paranoid days of WWII. Mr. Mulroney apologized on behalf of the Canada in 1988. I once wore a mask of his likeness around my journalism school - no one recognized either myself or him, showing how horrible the political knowledge was of the average college student considering he had been in power for five years at that time. I had previously earned a university degree in Political Science.

Tickets for the awards gala can be found by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Photographic Art And The Tsunami

Here's a story that appeared in the Toronto Star newspaper - my old gig that I quit so that I could go to Japan in 1990 on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

It's about an art exhibit made up of a wall of faded photographs found after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Now... relax... don't get all indignant like I did after reading the first two lines of the actual article.

University volunteers recovered, cleaned and returned as many of the photos they could to their rightful owners or relatives.

Now... left over was a plethora of photos that were badly damaged—some 3,000 photographs—which was made into a traveling exhibit of art. And this is what the story is about.


Andrew Joseph

Ichiro Suzuki Plays In Japan Again

Ichiro Suzuki in the 4th Inning of the MLB opener in Tokyo.
Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife isn't exactly sure why MLB (Major League Baseball) is opening its season in Japan - or even why it feels the need to bring its product to the land of the rising sun... but, at least for one game, the prodigal son has returned.

Suzuki Ichiro (surname first) and his Seattle Mariners kicked of the 2012 MLB season at Tokyo Dome with a 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

Known solely by his first name in the west - Ichiro - the Japanese-born ball player did not disappoint the fans who saw him go 4-for-5 with an RBI (runs batted in) in the 11th inning.

A capacity crowd of 44,227 at Tokyo Dome was a sea of flashbulbs every time Ichiro Suzuki came to bat. He even got a standing ovation when he took his position in right field in the final inning.

Ichiro is in his 12 MLB season, all with the Mariners, and this is the first year he has not hit lead-off, as he has moved down to bat third.

The man is the best hitter in all of baseball. For a full look at his accomplishments, check out this Wikipedia site: HERE.

He singled in the first inning after he beat out a throw from Oakland shortstop Cliff Pennington.

He singled on a deep grounder to the shortstop again in the fourth - Ichiro still has tremendous wheels!

And he singled in the sixth inning, to go along with an RBI single in the 11th. 
 Despite all of the Ichiro heroics, the game was actuall won by Seattle's Dustin Ackley who hit a solo homer in the 11th.

The two teams go at it again in the finale tomorrow before heading back to North America and await the rest of MLB to begin on April 4, 2012.

Again, while I am unsure why Japan needs to see MLB considering it has its own fine baseball league, this game is certainly not the first time MLB has visited Japan for regular-season games.

The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs opened in Tokyo in 2000, followed by the New York Yankees versus Tampa Bay (2004), and Boston against Oakland (2008). Seattle and Oakland were to have played at the Tokyo Dome in March 2003, but the series was canceled because of the threat of war in Iraq.

MLB also did the classy thing at this year's opener and provided a pre-game video presentation honoring the victims and survivors of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The video was narrated by Derek Jeter, Bobby Valentine and Cal Ripken Jr.

Women's Soccer On The Rise

Despite not everyone's cup of o-cha (Japanese tea), soccer remains the world's most watched and played sport.

Soccer is also quite popular in Japan (though don't talk to my friend Mike Rogers about that), and with recent strides by the women's national soccer team—like winning the FIFA World Cup in 2011 against the heavily favored team from the United States of America, the popularity of the sport continues to surge.

Do you want proof? At the recent Algarve Cup tourney held in Portugal this past February, games were broadcast live in the middle of the night in Japan - and apparently people watched!

Despite losing to Germany in the finals, the Japanese woman's team is ranked Number 3 in the world (behind the U.S. and Germany, respectively). And excluding Mike Rogers, the country could not be happier.

Despite your author living in Toronto (affectionately known as Loserville North because we haven't won a major sport - excluding lacrosse - since the Blue Jays won back-to-back baseball World Series titles in 1992-1993. Oh god... don't even get me started on hockey!), he likes a winner.

The success of women's soccer (the Men's national team is either underachieving or simply not over-achieving or is playing at their appropriate level) has helped lift the spirits of a country, as it continues to recover and rebuild from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast sector of Japan on March 11, 2011.

After Japan won the World Cup in Germany, the sport received an impressive boost at home, with clubs in the national women’s league earning more sponsorships and news media exposure.

Some of the women’s clubs have even merged with men’s teams in the J-League (Takatuski with the men's Gamba; Sayama with the men's Omiya; and the men's Sendai, in the earthquake zone, absorbed players from the disbanded Tepco Mareeze club).

Heather O’Reilly, a veteran midfielder for the No. 1-ranked U.S. who played in her 10th Algarve Cup last month, said that after losing in the World Cup final to Japan in 2011, the American players “understood the grand picture.”

“The general feeling is that it wasn’t our time and it was Japan’s time,” O'Reilly opined during the Algarve Cup tourney. “There was much to be proud about in that Japan game, but it’s just one of those bizarre feelings. Maybe they were a little bit hungrier. Both teams have a lot of respect for each other.”

O’Reilly added: “It was two great teams facing off against each other. I think after the game, we were gutted and disappointed, but when you look at the grand picture of what that country had gone through, you couldn’t help but look at their team and have a lot of respect for them and how they inspired their country. I’m happy for them.”

Amen, Ms. O'Reilly. 

That World Cup win—a surprise win, mind you—lifted many of the Japanese women to superstardom in Japan, and helped many gain high paying game positions with European teams.

Of course that meant that they had to be down first to rise up.

Part of that is because in Japan, women's sports are considered second-class.

Evidence of this is the fact that after the Men's National team did nothing as expected during the World Cup, the team flew home via First Class.

The women who surprised the world and inspired a nation - they flew Economy Class.

I'm not saying that the women should have flown First Class, but after the disasters, showing fiscal restraint would have been twice as nice if the spoiled men had followed suit. Or maybe treat the women as well as they treat the men - considering they are far more successful - and let them fly home as First Class citizens who inspired a nation! 

I had previously coached women's soccer in Toronto for seven years, and coached the women's soccer at the college I attended. I know all about gender bias when it comes to how female athletes are treated relative to their male counterparts. We were always scrapping for usable fields and referees and linesmen. Of course, this was back in the 1980s and early 1990s... and people like my friend Rob Jones did a hell of a lot to help women's soccer in Canada grow. Hi Rob! And now, women's soccer in Canada has a lot more respect.

The same will happen in Japan. It already has, in fact (plane tickets notwithstanding). 

Some of the women who parlayed a successful World Cup victory into a well-paying professional soccer gig include (surnames first): Kumagai Saki and Nagasato Yuki, on Potsdam of Germany; and Sameshina Aya on Montpellier of France. Sawa Homare and Miyama Aya, both of whom were friendly with the American players from their days playing in Women’s Professional Soccer in the United States, returned to Japan to much fame and adoration.

Now we just have to see if the Women's national soccer team can keep up the great gamesmenship first in the newly created Women's Kirin Challenge Cup between itself, Brazil (the number four team in the world), and the U.S on April 1-15, 2012 in Japan. You can read about that HERE. It's a tune-up for the teams heading into the London Olympics held between July 27 - August 12, 2012 (I will provide full coverage of every Japan game here - there, if someone can get me tickets. I was born in London, you know... I'd like to visit!).

Regardless - along with Japan hosting the 2012 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup tourney on August 18 - September 8 (read my blog HERE) , it should be an exciting time for women's soccer and soccer fans! 

Andrew Joseph

Fukushima - More Leaks, More Radiation

Just in case you were wondering - no, Fukushima's Dai-ichi nuclear power generating facility isn't all it is cracked up to be.

According to results from a new probe at the facility, high radiation levels and a lack of much needed cooling water inside a reactor has caused quite the stir in the nuclear community about the plant's stability.

Dai-ichi was badly damaged after a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake spawned a massive series of tsunami waves that crashed atop the facility on March 11, 2011, that essentially took out power to much of the facility - power needed to control the nuclear reactors, causing, over the ensuing weeks, three near complete nuclear meltdowns. Instead, all that happened was the worst nuclear fiasco seen on the planet since Chernobyl in the Ukraine (a satellite of the former USSR) back in April of 1986.

TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) who both own and operate the Dai-ichi nuclear plant says an endoscopic examination detected radiation levels 10 times the fatal dose inside the No. 2 reactor’s chamber, suggesting challenges ahead in shutting down the facility.

The probe also found the containment vessel only contained about 60 centimeters of cooling water in it - far below the 10 meters the government declared was in it back in December of 2011.

Plant workers also reported fresh leaks of contaminated water from a water treatment unit, some flowing into the ocean.

There is no word on what the solution is to these problems, but you can bet that Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife will let you know. Or you can let me know.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Japan Pension Fund Sorry For Losing Your Money

Just like out of an Eric Clapton song where a man admits to shooting a sheriff, but did not kill the deputy, the president of an investment company says he lost $1.3 billion (¥109.2 billion), but did not try and lie to his clients.

AIJ Investment Advisers president Asakawa Kazuhiko (surname first - and pictured above) says to a parliamentary panel: "I led the entirety (of the scheme).

AIJ is accused of losing the ¥109.2 billion that clients put away to fund their retirement, despite telling them investments were outperforming.

Asakawa did admit that he had given optimistic (IE inflated) figures to his clients - and that he was sorry.

This is part of the scandal that arose in February of 2012. People may have opted out of investments if they were tanking, but with the optimistic view and Asakawa's assurances, clients held the course and now do not have a pension fund.  

Obviously, aside from making more money, Asakawa did not offer an explanation about how he and AIJ might return the lost money.

While people playing with money investors know there is always a chance you could won or you could lose, you still at least hope your investment adviser is playing with fair rules. 

"I would like to apologise to all the members (of the pensions fund)," Asakawa said. "I didn't want to use inflated figures for the pensions fund, but did not want to come back with losses, no matter what. I was confident of recouping the losses."

With longevity increasing in Japan, private pension funds are key for many to help them survive the long retirement.

AIJ's operations were suspended in February of 2012 when the scandalous allegations first appeared.

Asakawa said he wanted to visit the homes of all investors and apologise, repeating that he had no intention to deceive them.

Ahh... the best laid plans of mice and Akazawa. Here's a clip from WKRP, the funniest most under-rated television comedy I have ever seen (with The Knights Of Prosperity coming in second - see who stars in it (Sofia))

According to the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission, AIJ racked up ¥109.2 billion  in investment losses after accepting ¥145.8 billion in assets from pension funds.

The commission also said Asakawa is believed to have used fictitious figures when striking deals with corporate pension funds. For example, AIJ is reported to have boasted annual returns of up to 240 percent in a market where other investments struggld to break even

AIJ now has only ¥8.1 billion in cash and deposits, the commission said.

The Financial Services Agency has AIJ of its registration as an investment adviser and suspended operations of its ITM Securities for a six-month period.

Fils by Andrew Joseph

One Nuclear Reactor Operational In Japan

And then there was one.

On Monday, March 25, 2012, the No. 6 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex in Niigata-ken was taken off-line early Monday by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

This leaves Japan only one of its 54 reactors operational following last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The last reactor is expected to be shut down by early May, raising the possibility of power shortages across the nation as demand increases in the hot summer months.

TEPCO also owns and runs the plant in Fukushima-ken (Dai-ichi) that suffered three meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks after the March 11, 2011 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

Now... Japanese reactors are taken off-line every 13 months for regular checks – but with big-time concerns over nuclear safety following the Fukushima crisis, none of the reactors that have been shut down for checks, and none that were already off line at the time of the disaster, have been allowed to restart.

The last reactor, on the northern island of Hokkaido, will be shut down in May 2012. The timing for when any reactors will be restarted, if ever, is not known.

Prior to March 11, 2011, about one-third of all of Japan’s electrical power was derived from nuclear power. But... none of these reactors will start again until stress tests can prove they are safe.

But, with public opinion against the turning on of the reactors, local leaders, fearing a political backlash, are reluctant to give their approval.

The stress tests, similar to those used in France and elsewhere in Europe, are designed to assess how well the plants can withstand earthquakes, tsunami, storms, loss of power and other crises.

Japan Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko (surname first) has promised to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power over time and plans to lay out a new energy policy by the summer.

In the meantime, Japan has temporarily turned to oil and coal generation plants to make up for the shortfall, and businesses have been required to reduce electricity use to help with conservation efforts.

I have no idea what Japan is thinking here. On the one-hand, I applaud them for taking their nuclear plants off line... but why? Is this merely a knee-jerk reaction to a very bad situation in Fukushima-ken, which was a near-perfect storm?

Why shut down? Did Japan suddenly conclude that Hey! Building nuclear reactors on an island that suffers a large number of earthquakes has the potential to be a global disaster? If that is the case... what the hell took so long? What... Japan has been having nuclear reactor concerns after earthquakes for years now!

Is it just because this one hit global proportions, I assume. The Japanese are embarrassed, and they do not do embarrassment well. Traditionally, harakiri or seppuku is observed.

Is this Japan's version of suicide?

Personally... I have no problem with nuclear energy generating electrical power for me. Here in Canada, where we have a lot of hydro-electric options available to us, we also utilize a safer less fissionable form of uranium - uranium 238 (I hope). Basically, it does not create weapons-grade plutonium... which means should we sell our wasted uranium, someone else can still enrich it and use it for nuclear weaponry. We (Canada) don't.

But, yeah... you could still go nuclear with the 'safer' uranium.

So... what the hell is Japan going to be using for energy? No one has a fugging clue. Or, if they do... no one in the government is saying.

I'm unsure if anyone in Japan is actually asking the question, and are instead basking in the dimming glow of a country abandoning its nuclear power plan.

Whatever... it's your country Japan... but really... with only a single nuclear reactor online providing energy for a country that has a lot of electronically-run pachinko parlors - what the heck will you do?

Recently (this past year), Japan's usage of electricity has been stellar. Low, low, low. Is the government hedging its bets that the country will continue to be energy conscious?

For perhaps a half-year... and then it's back to usual, as people want their lives to return to a semblance of normalcy.... People were energy conscious because there simply wasn't enough energy... and the country was devastated by an earthquake, tsunami (plural) and three near-meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

Japan is just like the rest of the world. It is greedy and wants more. Using expensive oil and gas that has to be shipped to Japan is hardly the answer for a country already strapped for cash.

So... go nuclear or go broke.

Still... they better make sure these reactors pass the stress tests with flying colors. Personally... I still don’t see how it can go back to nuclear power.

What’s wrong with geo-thermal? The whole frigging country sits atop the so-called ring of fire! Let’s use the power of the Earth to provide much needed power for Japan. But you better start digging soon!

Japan needs power! Power for the people!

By Andrew Joseph

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mental Health After Disasters

I'll be honest... I had an idea of what I wanted to ask when I thought of this topic.... but it appears to have become bogged down in a lot of questions and points. I wrote this piece several weeks ago just prior to the one-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Basically... with a series of disasters... can a country adequately cope? But... I'm talking beyond finances or the physical. I'm talking about the mental.

This blog will not provide any data or solutions. I simply don't have any to give to you.

I'm just going to lay out some thoughts.

While I have my own ups and downs typical of the average Joe or Joseph, I do not suffer from various forms of anxiety, clinical depression, trauma, bi-polar or schizophrenia or anything like that.

In fact, most people - including myself - consider me to be quite level-headed (almost flat, even) when it comes to dealing with stressful situations in my day-to-day life.

If they only knew.

Still, we all have our own cross to bear.

Mental illness, however, is visible within my immediate family and amongst my mother's side - though my mother and father, brother and myself seem to have escaped.

But I have become exposed to it. Friends, family, co-workers - it verily boggles my mind to see just how many people have had a breakdown or are on medication for one mental illness or another.

While I would never claim to be an expert on the subject, having had it thrust upon me in my day-to-day dealings has allowed me some keen insight into it.

As a writer, I like learning about new things. Often I discover that while I thought I knew nothing on a topic - say architecture - I seem to posses some knowledge or at least have an opinion on everything.

It's why learning about mental illness years ago has been, for lack of a better term, 'interesting'.

It's cool because it's something new and exciting for me to learn about, but as a human being, it's sad because I have learned just how much people have suffered, are suffering or will suffer from mental illness - not to mention those who have to deal with the aftermath of mental illness.

People always seem to forget about the people who have to pick up the pieces after mental illness kicks the door down. It often kicks more than one door down.

I was curious to discover just how the people of Japan are coping after the multitude of disasters kicked it in the proverbial nuts in 2011 through now.

To be honest... there isn't a lot of information out there.

Either its too soon, or its a topic in which it's difficult to glean information.

Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife continues to present stories from my own life 20 years ago in Japan in which I was stalked by a gorgeous woman who only wanted sex... which might not seem like a bad thing, but besides forcing me to go without sleep for days, she wanted to drop out of university just to be with me. Again... nothing overly wrong with that - except I wouldn't want someone to do that for me... there was nothing wrong with us seeing each other... but the stalking...  to read about that steamy affair, do a blog search for "Junko"

I have also written about how robot seals are being used to provide comfort to senior citizens affected by the triple disasters: HERE but it has been tough to find some solid data on the emotional well-being of the Japanese person affected by the events of March 11.

But it's not just about March 11. It's the damage it has caused.

Whether it was the 9.0 Magnitude earthquake. The devastating tsunami. The clouds of radiation being spewed into the air, water and ground. Unemployment. Loss of home, family members, income. A crappy economy. Living in makeshift housing.... Japan has gone through the proverbial ringer for quite a while now.

And while bloggers and journalists everywhere concentrate on easily measurable or quantifiable things, I want to know not only what Japan is thinking, but how it is thinking.

I want to know what the mental health issues are like for people after months upon bloody months of what I would assume to be despair.

The first thing we have to realize - and again, this is merely my own humble opinion, is that the Japanese are not like others in the so-called first-world society.

It's a broad statement to be sure. Yes, they put their pants on one leg at a time. They fall in love. Some have kids. Get a job. Try to survive and have a good time doing so. All with various degrees of success... Sounds like my life here in Toronto, Canada.

But they are different. the most telling thing that shows that was the way Japan conducted itself after the earthquake, tsunami and near-nuclear meltdowns.

Yeah there was panic. Of course there was. Despite Japan's seeming love-affair in creating robots, the Japanese people are not robotic! But I did notice that despite the crap going on around them, there was no breakdown of societal rules. There was no murdering for food or water. No riots breaking out. None of that crap.

What was observed by others closer to the country was a people looking out for others.
And this is from a country where mentally ill people who have committed crimes are routinely executed (see my blog HERE)!

Enough hot air. Let's get to the crux of this blog's point.

After the radiation exposure many Japanese people had, there still hasn't been any health fallout amongst the people - though it is rumored that a few of the Fukushima 50 nuclear plant cleaners took some pretty damn heavy does of radiation and, are sick or have died.

Yes, as the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power generating facility nearly had three meltdowns, some radiation was released - about 1/10th of what was released from the worst nuclear accident yet - Chernobyl.

But, most of the radiation released was blown out over the Pacific Ocean and not over populated areas—though one large radiation cloud reportedly did blow inland, up toward the northwest causing most of the 170,000 residents in the area to be quickly evacuated.

Food and milk products were quickly quarantined and tested as well... so very little was distributed for public consumption.

With all of the concerns about radiation poisoning being vaild concerns, people tend to forget about the toll... the stress, if you will, of the constant bombardment not of radiated nucleii, but of the feelings of angst, anxiety, hopelessness, depression and despair of being in a situation that does not seem to be improving for you - either quick enough, or at all.

Granted Japan got as many kids back into the routine of school as quickly as possible. Excellent. Kids need structure. They also need time to grieve, but how much or how little is appropriate? Some kids move on (generally-speaking) after a week, while others are emotionally crippled for months or years.
Crap happens. Yes. But is Japan ready for the fallout of mental health issues that are sure to arise from the soggy ashes of March 11, 2011? I hope so. I really do.

But I don't think the real damage from the March 11 disasters is going to be seen or fully understood for a long, long time.

If at all.

Mental illness is often a lonely thing. People rarely tell friends or family for fear of being abandoned or thought of as damaged. In Japan, could that image be even worse? As a society Japan follows the old adage that: "The nail that stands up gets hammered down". It means don't stick out for being different.

It's why I wonder if we shall ever know how Japan copes with the real aftermath of this and other disasters.

If anyone out there has any data on mental health in Japan or even more specifically on Japan after the March 11 disasters, please pass it along.

While numbers are fine, I am more interested in knowing just what it is that Japan is doing for those who suffer in quiet agony.

Andrew Joseph

Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto

Here's a photo up above of a very popular temple in Japan. It's Kyomizu-dera in Kyoto. What is unusual about this photo is that it is not your typical photograph of the temple.

There is a portion of the temple which juts out over a cliff... and that is what people photograph. Not me, of course. I was far, far away and used a 150mm telephoto lens to shoot through the awesome, romantic mist to get this shot of the temple complex. At this time in my artistic photographic life, I liked to frame my subjects with nearby overhanging natural foliage. 

Of course... I could be wrong and this isn't actually Kyomizu-dera because I stupidly never marked my photographs figuring that even 20 years after the fact I would remember a vista as spectacular as this.  

So... I'm going to go out on a limb overhanging a cliff and suggest that the photo is exactly what I say it is.... despite it not showing off the awesome cliff scene plumbed from Wikipedia below:
While I believe my photo shows a straight on view of the cliffs... and hours spent researching it in-line proved nothing (okay - minutes)... I feel awkward about this... still what the hell...  it's me. I am awkward usually.

So... some background on Kiyomizu-dera (dera/tera means temple). It's official name is Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera (音羽山清水寺), and it is a Buddhist temple, and the main temple that looks over the cliff was built in 778, with the other parts of the complex built around it in 1633.

Kiyomizu means pure water, and is taken from the waterfall below the main hall where if you drink from the waters you are supposed to be granted the ability to do well in studies. Or, if you prefer, since there are three streams of the waterfall... each stream is supposed to grant a different type of boon. Use at your own risk and wish you don't mix up the streams. Never cross the streams.

Now... with such a view, what is it that people like to do? Why jump off it, of course. While now prohibited, it was once believed that if one jumped off the temple and survived the 13-meter (42.65-feet) landing, your wish would be granted. Hopefully that wish was to survive the jump. Still, during the Edo -jidai (the Edo Period of 1603-1868) there were an official 234 jumps with and an astounding 85.4% survival rate.

Sounds like some jumpers got greedy and rather than wish for survival wished for something trivial like food, a healthy child in a happy family or to be the leader of Japan.

Anyhow... this national treasure of a building, was actually built without a single nail, which boggles my mind.

If I am correct, there was something going on that day I visited Kiyomizu-dera, and I couldn't get into the actual main temple because it was raining and there was construction going on. Or, I was broke and didn't have the cash, or I was tired and wet from the rain which follows me on every vacation or trip out of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken where I was living 500 kilometers away, or my traveling partner, the gorgeous and freckly redheaded Trisha Pepper and I were just too beat to get there after traveling around the prefecture for a week.

I do recall that while Trisha and I were all for seeing the tourist sites, we tried to find ways to see them that were off the beaten path. And no, we didn't sleep together, though I would have liked nothing better. Friends with benefits we were. Unfortunately, the benefits were her speaking damn near perfect Japanese as a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) on the JET Programme, and me being the muscle to keep her safe (apparently even from me - dammit!).

Back to the data: the whole temple complex (my photo above), obviously has more to it than just a spectacular view of where 14.6% of the people jumping for the joy of wishing died. There's the the cool Jishu Shrine dedicated to the god of love and good matches (not cupid or a website, but: Ōkuninushi) ... hmm, perhaps another reason why Trisha and I never made it there.

Despite her having a sense of humor to rival my own, and she's a natural redhead (though the unnatural redhead is a prey worth delving into as far as I am concerned as I love redheads), she did have a boyfriend back home... and I do believe that congratulations are in order to Trisha because I think she was the only person to come to Japan with a significant other left back home, and to be faithful. Even I couldn't convince her, and damn it, 20 years ago, it was a hell of a lot easier to sway a woman over to the dark side of the force, if you know what I mean, young Jedi.     

At the Jishu Shrine... there are two small love stones that are six meters (~20-feet) away from each other. Lonely visitors like myself, could have picked up a love stone and with my eyes tightly shut (no cheating... yeah, right) you have to try and walk over to the other stone. Two stones together means you will find success in finding your true love no matter the distance.

But there are other rules. Let's say I had my ex-girlfriend Ashley there at Kiyomizu-dera with Trisha and myself. Ashley could guide me towards the other stone with directions. But, knowing how star-crossed we were, I probably would have been guided to walk off the main Kiyomizu-dera and down 13 meters to sure death because I hadn't made a proper wish (which would have been to take her with me). I jest. But, by using help to get to the other love stone, the implication is that a go-between would be required in real-life for you to find true love.

As well... should already be with someone who is the love of your life, he or she can guide you to the other side (of the temple!) where the other love stone is. The god Ōkuninushi wants you to succeed in love... it's why he makes it easy for you.

But only, apparently, if you get close enough to the damn temple complex to get your rocks off together.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pagoda At Nikko

The image above is a photograph of an ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock print) I own. I purchased it in 1993 from Takamoto's antique and fine art shoppe on the main drag of Nikko-shi (City of Nikko), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture).

The print was made in 1934 (I think), and is the only ukiyo-e print I own that was printed in the 20th century. I believe the artist is Ito Yuhan (surname first) and is published by Nishinomiya Yosaku. It is entitled the "Pagoda At Nikko".

The image itself is a beautiful evening piece of art depicting Gojunoto, a five-storied pagoda in Nikko located at Toshougu Shrine. I bought the ukiyo-e print because this was one of the few art pieces in Japan that I actually knew and saw many times a year during my frequent visits to Nikko (mostly for art and antique shopping). If I was to judge myself against my friends of the same 28-year-old vintage, I would be considered an odd-duck for buying antiques and art - especially since I wasn't a rich person. Just eccentric.

This pagoda was originally built in 1650 and was donated by a daimyo (governor)—Sakai Tadakatsu (surname first) who ran the faraway Obama-shi (Obama City) in Fukui-ken (Fukui Prefecture). Unfortunately, the pagoda was destroyed by a fire in 1815, but was rebuilt and completed in 1818.

Construction of this 36 meter (118.11-feet) high Gojunoto is an early example of Japan doing some earthquake-proofing. To make it more resistant to earthquakes and high winds, a 60-centimter diameter central pillar known as a shinbashira was installed—suspended by chains from the fourth floor and hung all the way down to 10 centimeters above the ground.

The idea behind the central pillar not resting upon a foundation stone was so that it had freedom of movement during an earthquake, meaning the levels above could move, but still maintain stability. Basically, the central pillar was used in the pagoda as a dynamic counterweight to help the pagoda keep its center of gravity.

Another great factor of this construct's central pillar is that, because there is leeway, with the expansion and contraction of the wooden tower from the heat and cold, it will maintain its stability and levelness.

Another interesting factor was that the roof sits parallel to the first four stories, but the fifth floor is perpendicular. It helps hold the shinbashira pillar stable during strong winds and earthquakes.

While there no actual floors within the pagoda, the number of stories on the pagoda was no simple happenstance—it was created for a reason. Each story represents an element from the ground on up: earth, water, fire, wind and heaven.

The first story - earth - also contains sculptures of the twelve zodiac signs.

As for the ukiyo-e, I found this out about the artist Ito-san and have reworked it a bit with some additional data I found:

Ito Yuhan (1882-1951) was a landscape artist who designed several woodblock prints during the 1930's. His work was published by Nishinomiya Yosaku (surname first). According to one source, Ito worked as a movie producer in later life, but this is unconfirmed. He is best known for designing several views of Miyajima printed in blue tones. His prints are characterized by vivid colors and subtle gradations. They look similar to watercolors, as they lack an outlining key line meaning Ito's soft style transcends his rather typical subject matter, evoking the romantic beauty of Japan's unspoiled past. The absence of human figures adds to the sense of quiet timelessness.

His signature is below:

And should you wonder what this is worth - to me, it's priceless. It's a beautiful piece of art. This is one of 18 original Japanese ukiyo-e I own (not including two 125 year-old ukiyo-e dominated comic books and a diagram of various bridge types by THE master artist Hokusai - which I will show you all soon enough), and it is the most beautiful, as far as I am concerned. While I don't believe the photo I took of the artwork does it justice (too big for my scanner!), this piece is 9-5/8 inches wide x 14-5/8inches high and in its condition is worth about $500 Cdn/US.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kanji of the Year - Updated December 30, 2018

Okay... I admit that I am pandering to the audience - that's you - because it has been obvious that there has been a lot of interest in a topic, that admittedly I didn't think people would be overly interested in.

Kanji. And in particular, the 'Kanji of the Year', whereby Japan votes on a kanji it thinks best sums up the past year's feeling.

Kanji is an alphabet 'borrowed' from China, that is used heavily by Japan. Kanji requires some 1,942 symbols to be memorized for a high school student to be considered literate, though there are perhaps 10,000+ kanji usable by the Japanese (China has over 40,000 kanji symbols - they are actually pictographs! - I believe).

Kanji, along with two other alphabets - hiragana and katakana (each with 72 symbols) - is used in everyday communication by the Japanese.  Here's a great example I saw:  Canada is a large country” uses kanji, hiragana and katakana = カナダは大きい国です.

The Kanji of the Year concept (今年の漢字 Kotoshi no Kanji) was begun in 1995 on December 12 (and subsequently is always revealed on that date). Chosen by popular vote, a kanji is selected that best represents the biggest events of the current year through December 12.

The actual kanji is chosen by the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society ( 財団法人日本漢字能力検定協会 Zaidan hōjin Nihon Kanji Nōryoku kentei kyōkai) and on December 12 - now known as Kanji Day - the lead monk at the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto paints it out using the broad, bold strokes of Japanese caligraphy (書道, shodō) and everybody oohs and ahhs at how one single word is able to adequately sum up the year for Japan.

Except for 'hungry', 'bored' or 'horny', I can't think of anything that could sum up my day, let alone year. Hmm, I suppose any of those could sum up my life.

Anyhow... back in 1995, the Great Hanshin-Awaji (the Kobe) Earthquake pretty much took out the beautiful city of Kobe. As a result, the Kanji of the Year 1995 was 震 shin, which means quake - not earthquake and not tremor. Quake.

With that word of disaster as the leading vote getter, the Kanji of the Year often became synonymous with negativity, and involved disasters or violence.  See 1995 - 1998, 2001, 2002,  2004, 2006, 2007, and 2010.

However... at least with Kanji of the Year 2011, I think the voters finally looked on the bright side of life and got it right. What the fug were they thinking in 2003?

Here's a list of all the Kanji of the Year - I freely admit taking the basic information from the Wikipedia entry: 

1995 ― 震 shin = Quake
Along with the Kobe earthquake in Hyogo-ken , a quake of 7.2 Magnitude that killed over 4,000, there was also a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway.

1996 ― 食 shoku = Food, Eat
There were a few deadly outbreaks of E.coli food poisoning that afflicted the school lunch programs.

1997 ― 倒 tō = Collapse, Knock Down
Not just a recent phenomenon, but this year saw a lot of big corporate bankruptcies and bank failures. The knock down aspect could come from Japan's national men's soccer team knocking out perennially strong teams in Asia to make the 1998 FIFA World Cup tourney.

1998 ― 毒 doku = Poison
Sixty-seven people are sickened and four die and an additional 63 are ill after eating poisoned curry at a summer festival in Wakayama. Copycat crimes arise. Country has concerns about dioxin.

1999 ― 末 sue = End
Some people mean for the kanji to mean the Tokaimura nuclear accident on September 30... but it was hardly the end. Two workers died in Ibaraki-ken, with 667 exposed to radiation, with a stay-inside measure enacted for the public in a 10 kilometer radius of the plant. Since this incident did not end nuclear accidents or Japan's reliance on the atom, and only two people ended their life, let's assume the better meaning for this is: the end of the century.

2000 ― 金 kin = Gold
This one is cool on a lot of levels. The year is the year of the dragon, an important one in Asian cultures that follow this sort of astrology. It's a golden year. As well... with the Sydney Olympics, Japan did well. Media darlings Kin-san and Gin-san (translates to Miss Gold and Miss Silver), were twins who recorded songs well into their 100th years, eventually died... with Kin (Gold), the hotter of the twins, dying at the age of 107, and her ugly sister Gin (Silver) dying in 2001 at the age of 108. I'm just kidding about the beauty and ugly thing.

2001 ― 戦 sen = War
War? God god, ya'll! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin! Japan looked around its borders and saw the horror of the 9/11 terror attacks in the U.S., its subsequent war against Afghanistan, which to me was odd only because many of the terrorists involved in 9/111 were actually Saudi Arabian citizens and not Afghans. For the record, the terrorists on the planes were, by nation: 20 from Saudi Arabia; 1 from Egypt; 1 from United Arab Emirates; and 1 from Lebanon. But I'm sure there is more to it than that... apparently the U.S. determined that the terrorist group claiming the attack, al-Qaeda, was operating out of Afghanistan... oh yeah... there was also a global recession. Really? What the fug are we in now in 2012?

2002 ― 帰 ki = Return
Japan and North Korea begin talks, and perhaps as a result, five Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korea, live to return to Japan. That's a good story.

2003 ― 虎 tora = Tiger
The Hanshin Tigers win the Central League baseball pennant for the first time in 18 years. Really? They won the equivalent of the National League pennant?! They lost in the bloody Nippon Series (the equivalent to the World Series) 4 games to 3 to the Pacific League champs Daiei Hawks. Hanshin Tigers fans should be ashamed of themselves for stuffing the ballot boxes with this one. A better kanji of the year should be: 恥 = shame.

2004 ― 災 sai = Disaster
There's the Chūetsu Earthquake - a 6.8 Magnitude shaker in Niigata-ken that killed 39 people, the typhoon Tokage lands (69 deaths and the homes of 18,000 people were evacuated), the accident at the Mihama nuclear power plant in Fukui-ken that killed four workers and there was the Mitsubishi Motors scandal involving the cover-up of known defects. What? Earthquake, typhoon,  and a nuclear disaster? Auto industry concerns?  Geez... just wait and see what 2011 has planned for you Japan!

2005 ― 愛 ai = Love
All you need is love, as world Expo 2005 is held (The Beatles sang All You Need Is Love at Canada's World Expo in 1967!) in Aichi-ken. Princess Nori marries Yoshiki Kuroda. Table tennis athlete Ai Fukuhara (福原 愛, Fukuhara Ai) plays in China. I saw this on Wikipedia. How the hell does a table tennis player playing in China mean love? Unless Japanese people simply weren't much welcome in China since it tried the whole tyranny thing back in the 1930s?

2006 ― 命 inochi = Life
Prince Hisahito of Akishino is born - did we count the months since the wedding? He's within nine months? Good. Okay... why now, and why not any other bloody year, Japan is suddenly concerned with life... whether its from a spate of hit-and-run accidents, drunk-driving, suicide from bullying - Japan takes a serious look at the importance of life. Geez. I'm pretty sure people do that every day. They are called monks.... hey! Did the monks rig the voting?

2007 ― 偽 nise = Deception
At first I though this had something to do with the monks rigging the voting of the 2006 Kanji of the Year, but it turns out it is a spit in the soup bowl of food processors, who were caught deceiving the public by taking food products that had gone beyond their best-before date, and were relabeled and sold to unsuspecting consumers. As well, there were political fund problems and pension records being iffy. Really? Just this one year? If you believe that, your kanji of the life should be だまされやすい = Gullible... which you will note is not a kanji word, but you believe it is because monks told you so.

2008 ― 変 hen = Change
Changing of the Japanese prime minister, Barack Obama winning the American presidential elections using the word (change), economical and ecological changes around the world. Also with economies still kind of hurting, the phrase: "Spare some change" was often heard. I'm kidding about the last sentence. See 2008 and 'Gullible'. 

2009 ― 新 shin = New
The Democratic Party of Japan swept to power in August 2009 lower house elections to form a new government for the first time as the nation’s voters turned their backs on half a century of LDP single-party government. Swine flu, known as Shin-gata influenza (新型インフルエンザ), breaks out around the world. Ichiro Suzuki sets a new MLB record with nine consecutive seasons with 200 hits. Okay.. swine flu is new... but Democrats winning? Fine... but these guys in Japanese politics have an average age of 107. That's not new! And Suzuki Ichiro (surname first)? Nine years in a row of excellence is hardly new! He's done it nine times in a row! I know... I'm just being a goof here... but this kanji is hardly earth-shattering with defining a year in the life of Japan.    

2010 ― 暑 sho = Hot
What... like Junko sho is hot? She sho is, bro! Oh... it has more to do with the way the generally high temperatures affected people's health and lives - I can only assume this is for Japan. On March 22, 2012 in Toronto... it was 25.6 C. The record was something like 17C, with the actual average to be about 7C. Fug Junko. Andrew is hot! And I guess this is cool, or hot, but Japan felt that the Chilean mine collapse where miners were trapped 700 meters underground for months in a hot, humid mine, was a good way to describe the year. I'll go with that. For me, 2010 was like living in a dark, depressing coal mine and coming down with black lung after six months of hellish work knowing that Junko was with another man.

2011 ― 絆 kizuna = Bonds
I really like this one. After the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, near-nuclear meltdowns - the people of Japan re-realize the importance of family bonds and friend bonds, not to mention stocks and bonds, but probably don;t care too much about American baseballer and Barry Bonds and his steroid case. The bonds of kizuna are also highly representative of the Japan woman's soccer team who triumphed over the evil American woman's team (okay... they were NOT evil... most are quite hot-looking! Evil hot-looking!) in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup... there was lots of girl bonding... as a team.

2012 ― 金 kin = Gold
If ever there was a weak reason for choosing the kanji kin for this year, the Japanese hit a homerun. 
Yamanaka Shinya (surname first) won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (for stem cell research), and the country won 38 medals at the 2012 London Olympics, the most it ever won - though only seven were of the gold variety. Read more HERE.

2013 rin = Ring

This kanji was chosen because Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olymics. The Olympic flag has five rings... rings of different color... and every flag in the world has at least one of those colors in it. Read more HERE.

2014 zei 税 = Tax
On April 1, 2014, Japan had an increase in its sales tax. Lots of media coverage on this, with talk that it might even go up again and affect the pocketbook of the average Joe Suzuki. Yeah, yeah. welcome to the real world, Japan. Read more HERE.

2015 an 安 = Safety or Peaceful.
When an Andrew or Andrea (for example) wants to begin writing their gaijin name phonetically in kanji, this is in variably the kanji they choose. I did. An-do-ryu (Peaceful-Leader-Dragon). With the world acting more violent, voters wanted something to counter it. An was chosen because Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was stepping on a few toes as he wanted Japan to have its own army - something it has not been allowed to have since the end of WWII. It was only allowed a Self-Defense Force, but Abe and many others think it's about time the sins of a war 70 years ago should be forgiven. I can't say I disagree, but since it has got away with not having one for so long, why bother? It's not like the US is going to stop protecting Japan. What president would do that? Read HERE for more.

2016 kin = Gold
Again with the kanji for gold? It was chosen in 2012 and 2000, too. The reason most cited by voters in 2016 was the high number of gold medals won at the 2016 Rio Olympics (12), the shift to a negative interest rate (“interest rate” is “kinri” in Japanese), Donald Trump's U.S. presidential election victory (“blonde hair” is “kinpatsu”), and Piko Taro, singer of ‘PPAP’, who’s known for wearing a gold-colored animal print outfit. Read more HERE.

2017 kita = North
The good news is that voters didn't chose kin/gold again. The bad news - kite/north was chosen because of widespread national concerns about North Korea and their threat of nuclear war. To top it off, North Korea tested two nuclear missiles OVER Japan's Hokkaido island. Read more HERE

2018 災 sai = Disaster
Apparently there were a lot of disasters in Japan this year, such as heavy rain and mudslides in the west, and a big earthquake in Hokkaido. I'm thinking that since the people of Japan got it so bloody wrong when they chose the 2011 Kanji of the year (Bonds over Disaster), they figured they better make up for that faux pas seven years later. Sai/Disaster was also chosen in 2004... but in 2011, there was the second-strongest recorded earthquake in the Earth's history that caused one of the deadliest tsunami in the history of Japan, that also knocked out power to a nuclear power generating facility which led to three near meltdowns in three different reactors. The loss of life, home, emotional well-being is undocumented. And if that wasn't enough for "disaster" to be the word of the year, how the hell can it compare to 2018? It can't. I'm sure the 2018 disasters were bad. But Japan has major natural disasters every year. I suppose since there wasn't an Olympics this year, disaster could not be avoided. I'd tell you to go and visit the article I wrote on this kanji, but what I wrote here is much better. But go ahead: read more HERE (when I post the article in another day).

By the way... the 2004 Kanji of the Year "Sai" came in second in 2010, with 1995's Kanji of the Year "Shin" coming in third in 2010.

I would think originality would play a heavy role in deciding the Kanji of the Year... but I've heard the monks can be bought.

Andrew Joseph