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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

First Balloon Flight In Japan

As some of you may be aware, I also blog about early forms of aviation via my Pioneers Of Aviation blog, where I take an honest look at the facts and myths of aviation.

While I have written about the Father of Japanese heavier-than-air aviation HERE (that's basically any aircraft with a motor), I have been remiss in researching the lighter-than-air side of Japanese aviation.

Thanks to the opening up of Japan's border's via the Japan Expedition (click HERE for a good rundown on the W5s), many technological marvels made their way to the country.

In 1877, Shimadzu Genzu Sr. (surname first) asked to build a large hydrogen-filled balloon by Harada Sennosuke (surname first) who worked for the Kyoto Educational Affairs Office.

Harada was himself asked to get a balloon by the governor of Kyoto, Makimura Masanao (surname first).

Why? Kyoto was reeling. In 1868, Kyoto was the capital of Japan, but by 1869 that honor was moved to Tokyo. In the years prior to that, war, fire, and economic hardship had plagued Kyoto making it a less-than-desireable city.

Makimura, was looking for ways to bring Kyoto out of its post-reformation doldrums, and, beginning in 1871 a month-long exhibition was held to aid the enlightenment and recovery of Kyoto.

So... fast-forwarding ahead to 1877 (again) Shimadzu built a balloon that was raised into the sky that became the talk of the town.

But it wasn't that easy a thing to do. Shimadzu, and his newly formed Shimadzu Corporation (formed in 1875, it was and is leading-edge company involved science and technologies in analytical and measuring instruments) had no clue how to build a balloon.

That's because no one in Japan had seen one before. Of course the French had been building balloons for 80 years now, but various attempts to construct one by the Japanese had met with abject failure.

So, armed only with an illustration of a balloon, Shimadzu went to work. He knew that a lighter-than-air gas - hydrogen - was used to make the balloon rise, but the main problems occurred with trying to determine how to keep the gas within a confined space that would not leak.

Japan did not have rubber yet available to it, so Shimadzu attempted to grind up konnyaku - that tasteless, gelatinous crap in every Japanese stew that is derived from a plant called devil's tongue. Shimadzu applied the konnyaku solution to paper and cotton fiber, but in both instances it was too heavy.

Knowing he had to get his hands on real rubber, Shimadzu did so, taking application of rubber dissolved in shiso (perilla) oil and applying that to a silk fabric. It worked.

On December 7, 1877, 48,000 people crammed into the Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace to see a manned balloon rise up to a height of 36 meters.

Who was the pilot? Who the hell knows. You think this would have been a big deal and I could easily find this out... perhaps it's listed in some Japanese history book, but I can't handily get my hands on this information.

It is said that the success of the balloon launch brought great fame to the Shimadzu Corporation, but without a doubt, it brought back a sense of pride to the people of Kyoto.

By the way... when researching this article - which surprisingly is not all that wide-spread with data - I found out that I discovered that in my hometown prefecture of Tochigi-ken, they actually held its first hot-air balloon race in 2012: The 2012 Tochigi Hot Air Balloon International Championship, that was held between November 20-25, 2012.

As for that whole - lots of information-thing on the Internet and social media stuff... I could not determine exactly WHERE the damn race takes place. Tochigi-ken is a province. Where in this province was the flight.

A website dedicated to the race can be found HERE. But where can one go to see what I assume will be a 2013 version?

Taken from that website is the photo above, proving once and for all that kismet isn't something that happens over the telephone - the photo was taken on November 8, 2012... my birthday.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, April 29, 2013

What Food Can You Find In Japan?

For those of you wondering what life in Japan may be like when it comes to food...

I have written previously about my first grocery shopping experience in Japan whereby I thought I was buying chocolate milt and accidentally bought cold brown tea - and poured it on my Rice Krispies.

It was horrible with that first mouthful, but since beggars couldn't be choosers - eat or starve - I ate it and found that it wasn't so bad to have my snap, crackle, sip.

I lived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan, which was a little city with about 50,000 people in it during 1990-1993, when I was there, and now, some 20 years after I left, there were - according to Wikipedia - some 78,000 people as of 2009 in an area of 354 square kilometers.

I note that the Wikipedia site says there are two notable people from there - and I admit that I was surprised to learn that it wasn't Matthew Hall or Andrew Joseph, it's two most famous visiting gaijin (foreigners) from the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, and instead that it was some female manga (comic book artist named Ōshima Yumiko (surname first) and Fukuda Masakazu (surname first), a professional wrestler who died at the age of 27 from head injuries suffered in the square ring.

Anyhow, deep in the city - which has a relatively small central core, there were a few places one could purchase groceries.

The largest was Iseya, which was like a Walmart super-store that was both department and grocery store combined into one.

At the department store section, I frequently had film for my camera developed there, amusing the girls behind the counter with the strangeness of my photography, knowing that I could also hit on them with impunity. I would also purchase model kits to build, puzzles to ponder over, and while they had plenty of clothes to purchase, never had any in my larger-than-Japanese size.

I often bought flowers from the flower shop there, and would drop my clothes off at the dry-cleaner there.

But the grocery area - that was superb. While it had a plethora of Japanese foods, it certainly had a lot of western-style foods for those craving a bit of 'home' cooking.

Cereal? Take your pick! Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes come to mind some 20 years later.

A dozen eggs, bacon, cans of baked beans in molasses or tomato sauce - sure.

Milk, orange juice, apple juice, Coke, Pepsi, Ginger Ale - I only ever saw Canada Dry - Twinning's teas - I had a tine of every flavor they made - and used it up one a few occasions.

Sugar, salt, flour, honey, all the herbs you could ever want, including saffron, dried parsley, cummin, curry, whatever - I also had a bottle of everything... handy when I would make a pot of chili once a week.

Vegetables: celery, tomato, potato, onions, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers - whatever you needed, it was there.

Fruits were available, to be sure, but I only ever bought a dozen Japanese apples or a pear from there. You might think a dozen apples at a time is no big deal, but a real Japanese apple or pear is the size of a large grapefruit. One will do as a meal. Seriously.
Meats: ground beef (chili and lasagne), chicken, and even steak - if you could afford it. There was plenty of seafood, but I admit that I never bought it to cook. I did purchase a smoked duck from AiAi Town, another small grocery shop, that I ate once every two weeks.

Canned foods: baked beans, tomato paste, whale meat - I had to buy it and try it to see if it was really worth all the hubbub that the Japanese expelled about their right to hunt the magnificent beasts - it wasn't. Tuna (white meat - the Japanese don't eat this stuff... and call it Shi Chikan - Sea Chicken... what's the best tune? Chicken of the Sea - really!).

Pastas - spaghetti and macaroni, cheeses - brie and cheddar were common enough, and I was able once to bake a five-cheese lasagne a few times - breads, butter, margarine - people... I even bought both Marmite and Vegamite which made a nice salty treat every little while.

Popcorn - while I had a convection oven that also doubled as a microwave oven - there was no microwavable popcorn yet. Instead, Ashley might come over with a bag of kernels and pop it in a bowl with some oil - I had canola, olive, extra virgin olive, and corn oils - and we would share it.

While some I know might argue that it is better to have one's own bowl of popcorn, it's not as much fun, as the constant touching of buttery hands often made me a touch grabby, if you know what I mean. Poor Ashley. Always being jumped upon by a horn and buttery Andrew. Maybe she should have ensured we have our own bowl. Oh well. I got mine.

Alcohol - I didn't see too much foreign stuff in Japan. I stuck with Kirin Lager as my beer of choice, but did also go for the Asahi Super Dry beers. Vodka, whiskey, bourbon, rye, gin to go along with all of the Japanese shochu (fermented rice wine that people call sake), and all the Japanese energy drinks to supposedly cure a hangover.

I never had a hangover, despite being able to out drink anyone in the U.S. navy, or Japanese salaryman - things I proved I could do on numerous occasions. And while my liver has only recently begun speaking to me again, I had a high tolerance to booze. Yeah, I got drunk. Wasted even. But I never had to pay the price the next day - even if I had to barf on three occasions.

I admit that I certainly loved to make my chili, and Ashley loved the spaghetti, but I liked the skill to try and cook my own Japanese foods. I did make tempura once - veggies, deep-fried without the need for the fire department to arrive - but that was pretty much it.

I believe Ashley made sushi for me a few times, but I got sushi enough at parties (enkai), school lunches, or could buy it at restaurants and diners, or I could purchase ready-made meals.

Iseya may have had them, but I never saw them. Instead, I purchased ready-made dinners at AiAi Town. Though a small grocery store, it was right down town, and only a three minute bike ride from my apartment, as opposed to the seven-minute bike ride to Iseya. I know, no big whoop.

I would by kontatsu (pork cutlet) on rice, unagi (freshwater eel) on rice and the smoked duck breast meat, as well as fresh daikon radish there.

Oh yeah... when I was on a health kick after coming back for a third year (I had gone home to Toronto over the summer and everyone noted how heavy I was... I was 186 lbs... and for me, 175 was ideal - whereas now I would be happy to be 200 lbs, considering since them I bulked up my body with weights and training to take my chest from a 36-inch up to a 48-inch - that 186 would actually be the ideal, giving me a perfect six-pack and V-body again.... ahhh, to be 34-years-old and have my hair curly half-way down my back. I'm growing my hair again - because I can - but it's straight, not curly, now... sucks...), I started jogging every night.

I began at 1600 meters a night, and added 400 meters (one lap) every day.To help with the dieting, I would take home the special school lunches - extra stuff that the school staff would give to me - packs of natto, and lots of steamed Japanese white rice.

Every night, I would mix in the soy sauce into the natto (rotten fermented natto soy beans that smelled terrible - my nose doesn't work and is more for show than anything else), add a raw egg to the mix, stir it up and pour the goopy mess over a bed of hot rice, and gulp it down with one liter of white milk. Then go jogging two hours later.

I dropped the weight in no time and was down to 170, and up to 10 kilometers a night soon enough.

Was it all expensive? Probably. I have no idea.

One bit of advice I took to mind was to never calculate the currency exchange because it would drive you crazy knowing how much you were really paying. It's why, after the first year, I discovered the joys of the ready-to-eat meals.

Anyhow... I bring all of this up to tell you that you can find whatever westernized food you want in Japan. It is very true that some of you are going to be posted into a small hamlet of a place that has no train station or huge grocery stores or much of anything except the post office, a bar and a pachinko parlor or two, but let me just put your mind at ease - you are never that far from another town or village - bus, taxi, bicycle - where you will find a place that has the foods you crave.

So... if you are heading to Japan soon - don't worry. You won't starve even if you can't stand Japanese food.

My friend Jeff Seaman - who eventually married a Japanese woman there - and I think is still living in Japan 23 years later - hated Japanese food. He would seek out Dunkin Donuts (really... it's there), or prepare his own deli meat sandwiches and take them to school. Not my bag, really, as I ate what the Japanese school kids ate, but had a 50-50 split for dinner between Japanese and western cuisine.

Bon appetit and enjoy your time in Japan,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, April 28, 2013

British Spy Helped Japan Attack Pearl Harbor

Aside from motive and sex, this British spy story has everything you would expect: money, politics... hmm, I also expect car chases and shoot-outs, but no such luck.

This is the story of Master William Francis Forbes-Sempill (later named the 19th Lord Sempill after his father's passing in 1934), who sold British aviation secrets to the Japanese in the 1920s, and despite it being known by the highest reaches of British government, news of his duplicity was only revealed in 2002, some 37 years after his death.

Born on September 24, 1893, Sempill came from a privileged British family. That's him in the photo above.

He joined the Royal Flying Corps as a second looie on August 15, 1914 and became involved in flying duties. By February of 1915, he became involved in the Central Flying School which was where the top flight trainers went to learn how to train on behalf of the Royal Flying Corps.—and was a promoted to full blown lieutenant by April.
By August - he had started instructing, but by the end of the year he gave up his Army commission after receiving acceptance in the Royal Naval Air Service.
By the end of 1916, aged 24, he had been promoted to squadron commander.
By April 1, 1918 when the Royal Flying Corps. and Royal Naval Air Service combined into the Royal Air Force (RAF), Sempill was appointed one of the deputy directors of the personnel department of the RAF, and received the temporary rank of colonel.
When WWI ended in 1919, he retired from the military and became a test pilot.

When you look at the body of work, Sempill may have received a leg-up from daddy and daddy's connections, but he continued to rise in rank - and quickly, when only good work would have allowed for that (or greased palms - but no one has suggested that is the case here). Sempill seemed to be a well-liked man who did his duty for King and country.

In fact, while his family came from a long line of military men, his father, the 18th Lord Sempill, was an aide to King George V (reign: 1910-1936).

So what the fug happened? He met the Japanese... and he liked them.

What most people seem to have forgotten, is that Japan and Great Britain—two island nations—were allies during WWI. And so, when Japan noted that it liked the new-fangled aircraft carriers the Brits had, there was no issue in showing them how it was done


The Brits did not want the Japanese nosing around their new technology, and officially rebuffed them 10 times when it came to inspecting an aircraft carrier. This was war-winning technology, and it was not to be shared.

But the British Air Ministry and Foreign Office had other plans, and felt this was a sure-fire way to make a few quid (slang for Brit money).

In 1920, Sempill led an official non-military British mission to Japan to help organize the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service and to help them build aircraft carriers and to buy British-made military hardware.

Hunh... now, while I understand allies sharing and all that, the problem was the Brits never thought the Japanese would ever be an equal in war... never be a big-time player... and so the Brits under-estimated the Japanese.

They were trained in aviation and level-flight bombing and torpedoes. But they wanted more, with the crucial bit of technology being the deck, the Japanese were afraid to try and construct one without British aid... which was only too helpful in aiding the construction of the first Japanese aircraft carrier - the Hosho.

Within two years, the British had given the Japanese the potential to have a world-wide reach.

The work done, Sempill and the team left, leaving the facility in the charge of Yamamoto Isoroku (surname first).

Yamamoto was the mastermind behind the Japanese attack on U.S. Pearl Harbor military base, in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. But, as sure as the Rising Sun never sets on the British Empire, Japan certainly wouldn't have formed such a formidable force were it not for aid received from Great Britain 20 years earlier.

Captain Sempill showing a Gloster Sparrowhawk to Admiral Tōgō Heihachiro, 1921. Source: Tōgō Shrine and Tōgō Association.
Even back in 1922, the U.S. of A didn't like the growing naval strengths of Japan and wanted to impose restrictions on new Japanese warship building somehow - well, actually it meant that the U.S. wanted Great Britain to abandon its Japanese ally - recalling that the U.S. and Brits are better friends now that no one drinks tea in America.

So The Brits agreed to stop helping Japan... but Sempill, now a confirmed Japanophile, wasn't able to get the Japanese out of his head.

Now, perhaps it was initially just a job, but Sempill did get along very well with the Japanese, and they with him. In fact, Sempill made close friendships with members of the Japanese military - and maintained them long after Great Britain's work in helping the Japanese build an aircraft carrier had ended.

Sempill kept in contact with the Japanese Foreign Ministry through the Japanese Embassy in London.

The Japanese military liked Sempill so much they gave him a few awards... like the 3rd Order of the Rising Sun (for distinguished achievements in international relations, promotion of Japanese culture, advancements in their field, development in social/occupational welfare or preservation of the environment); 2nd Order of the Sacred Treasure (for distinguished achievements in research fields, business industries, healthcare, social work, state/local government fields or the improvement of life for handicapped/impaired persons) and some other medal no one is sure actually exists (called the Merit Badge of the Imperial Aero Society of Japan)...

Did the Japanese really like him? Did they like him for his dedication to cause?

Certainly not long after going to Japan for the first time in 1920, he began selling British aviation secrets to the Japanese naval attache, Captain Toyoda Teijiro (surname first) - secrets involving... well... no one is exactly sure, or if they knew, no one really talked about it.

His spying, however, did eventually come to light, but not much was done about it.

In 1925 Sempill led a mission of foreign air officials to the Blackburn Aerocraft Company factory at Brough, in East Yorkshire, London, using his position and name to get into the hangar to take a look at a secret seaplane, codenamed Iris.
Only five of the Blackburn Iris three-engined biplane flying boat were ever built.
Sources indicate that the Japanese had previously asked questions about British aircraft being developed, and at the factory, Sempill asked the same questions, in his official position, of the Iris.

Because of Sempill's friendship with the Japanese, it had aroused the suspicions of Military Intelligence, who kept a keen eye on his relationship with the Japanese intelligence officer/Naval attaché Captain Toyoda which was cultivated at Japan's embassy in London. The British Military Intelligence had been keeping Sempill under surveillance since 1922!

And so British Military Intelligence learned that Sempill had been passing secret and classified data to the Japanese. In fact, Captain Toyoda confirmed as much that the data had been paid for - this was discovered... well... read on...

MI5 tapped Sempill's phone and were keen to observe that he had a servant with a Japanese naval rating.

So... the Brits knew for years that Sempill was a spy, but did nothing about it... until March of 1926, when an oblivious Aviation Ministry proposed that Sempill be named an aeronautical adviser to Greece.

It was only now that the Military Intelligence told the Foreign Office and the British Embassy in Athens, Greece that it could not endorse Sempill to the Greek position because of his possible spying activities with the Japanese.

So Sempill was called in to the Foreign Office for an interview. They confronted him by asking about his loyalty to Great Britain, his friendship to the Japanese and just what had he actually passed on to the Japanese.

But the biggest problem for the Foreign Office was that in order to fully prosecute Sempill, they would have had to admit that publicly that MI5 was intercepting domestic mail to and from the Japanese embassy, and that they had broken Japanese codes. Instead, the Foreign Office tried a different tactic and accused him of openly discussing the secret Iris seaplane with foreign dignitaries and got him to admit he had broken the Official Secrets Act.

Then there was also the scandal involved with the family being close with the British Royals, and being part of the British Establishment.

So... they did nothing, merely denying him his position with the Greeks.

But it didn't seem to hamper Sempill too much. Although he was then the chairman of the Royal Aeronautical Society - he later went on to become its president. As well, he was allowed to join the Royal Naval Air Service in 1939.

It sure doesn't sound like he was punished!

As for the Foreign Office, it was red-faced to learn that Sempill and his networking with the Japanese was known by MI5 for at least two years - and even longer if they had chatted with Military Intelligence.

Sempill, however, had balls, and after there were whispers of his having been a spy for the Japanese, he tried to go on the offensive and sue for defamation of character, but that quickly went away after the Foreign Office let him know that it was hardly defamation of character when they had so much evidence against him.

In 1932, only six years after he admitted breaking the Official Secrets Act of Great Britain, Sempill became a technical and business consultant to the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries until 1936, representing the Japanese company in Europe.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was the largest private company in Japan, building ships, airplanes, heavy machinery and railway cars. It was also heavily involved in construction contracts for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

When WWII began in 1939, Sempill - the chastised but never truly punished traitor - was given a position in the Department of Air Material which gave him access to sensitive and secret information about the latest British aircraft.

Really? Who watches the watchmen?

MI5 was still watching, but waited until June of 1941 when it learned via intercepted messages between London, Mitsubishi and Field Marshal Yamagata's Tokyo headquarters: "In light of the use made of Lord Sempill by our military and naval attaches in London, these payments should continue".

Sempill was still passing secrets to the Japanese, and was being paid for it.

MI5 learned that Sempill was passing on top secret information about Fleet Air Arm (the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft).

While no one wanted to take down a British Lord, he was warned to stop.('alt or I shall say 'alt again.)

At around that time in 1941, a Japanese business man named Makahara was arrested on suspicions of spying. Sempill visited the police station where he was being held and spoke of the man's innocence and character - and Makahara was released a few days later.

But wait... it gets worse!

In August of 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt held a secret meeting in Newfoundland, Canada (okay - Newfoundland didn't actually join Canada until 1949 - it was a separate nation at that time), aboard the HMS Prince Of Wales battleship.

Though Japan had not yet officially become involved in WWII, both the U.S. and Great Britain wanted to talk over the possible military threat of Japan.

Of the discussions, aside from Churchill and Roosevelt, only two other possible people could have known what exactly was said: Commander McGrath and Lord Sempill.

Why was this a big deal?

Well, the Bletchley Park code breakers discovered some interesting details going from the Japanese embassy in London back to Japan.

(PBS is currently showing a 3-part series called The Bletchley Circle - about some of the codebreakers solving a serial killer mystery a few years later. I saw the first episode last week - which is what inspired me to look into this whole story.)

Anyhow - Churchill was informed of the transmitted code, and wrote that the contents were "pretty accurate stuff."

By October of 1941, more notes from Churchill's personal agenda were discovered to have been sent to Tokyo by the Japanese Embassy in London.

Churchill, on October 9, 1941 says of Sempill: "Clear him out while time remains."

The Admiralty told Sempill he must either resign or be fired, but after an official protest by Sempill, Churchill backed down for perhaps the first and only time in his life: "I had not contemplated Lord Sempill being required to resign his commission, but only to be employed elsewhere in the Admiralty.

Sempill was posted in the North of Scotland, away from London and the Japanese Embassy.

On December 13 - six days after Japan attacked U.S. soil on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (not yet a U.S. State, but still a U.S. protectorate) - Sempill's office was raided.

His office still contained documents - secret documents - that should have been returned to the Admiralty three weeks earlier.

Showing his stupidity, Sempill was caught two days later making various telephone calls to the Japanese Embassy in London.

Confronted finally, it was agreed that Lord Sempill would retire from public office - proving that the rich and elite are treated differently from everyone else.

Sempill died on December 30, 1965.

So... if you have been paying attention... Great Britain was originally involved in helping its WWI ally, Japan build up its navy - specifically its aircraft carriers, of which it had none until 1920.

A British spy was supplying the Japanese with lots of key information about planes and other navy equipment.

Said spy was known to the British Government for many years, yet was repeatedly put in positions of power whereby he could abuse that trust.

British spy organizations knew he was communicating with Japan.

Great Britain also knew he sent Japan TOP SECRET information about a meeting between the British Prime Minister and U.S. President just months BEFORE the attack on Pearl Harbor.

And... just know that when the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, they took off from aircraft carriers built with knowledge attained from its friendship with Great Britain.

And I learned all this because I was curious about the actual history of a television show. And television rots your brain... riiii-iiiight. Me watch many TV hours every weak.

In this case, I was very disappointed in having learned some new history. I think I spent about 20 hours on this. Enjoy and learn. 

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, April 27, 2013

View Of Tokyo

Matthew recently sent me a sped up You Tube view of Tokyo-shi, (Tokyo City) in action. It's a panorama view, and I have to admit that at many junctures it looks like a toy - made of LEGO, except that there are obviously people milling about a faster than normal speed.

Have a look for yourself at this sprawling, but still gorgeous mega-city!

I'm still working on two larger than usual historical things dealing with aviation, so forgive me for the brevity of this article... I know you all love my long blatherings.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, April 26, 2013

Japanese Food & Free Willy

Because Andrew doesn't feel very happy, he decided to seek out ways to make him laugh. Despite the somewhat racist and shocking dialogue in the video below - a racier version of one he first saw and heard maybe 15 years ago, he thought it worthy enough to share with you all - just in case you need a laugh, too.

Performed by American comedian John Pinette, who was born in Boston back on March 23, 1964, he is perhaps better known to television audiences as the carjacking victim witnessed by and laughed at by the Seinfeld crew in the last episode where they all ended up in jail.

Now... the You Tube video presented here has no real video, and is an audio recording of his famous Japanese food/Free Willy routine that actually cracked a smile in my grim visage.

Andrew would have tried to find an actual video recording of this stand-up routine, but his server went down at work for several hours preventing him from doing further research other than locating this audio clip first - and, of course, the volume on his old computer (two effing years old) here at home has given up the ghost so he can not actually listen to any other You Tube clips to ensure he has the correct skit. Better to err on the side of caution and all that rot.

Anyhow, Andrew hopes you enjoy listening to it. All you need to know is that John is a bigu-boy, perhaps close to the 300 pound (136 kilogram) weight class. Give or take.

Bon appétit,
That Andrew Joseph guy

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Provocative: China Doesn't Like US and Japan Plans

Thanks to a decision by Japan and the U.S. to perform a joint military drill in California, USA whereby the objective is to defend a small island, both countries have managed to alarm China, who calls the whole thing 'provocative' - and not in a good way.

The drill will take place on June 10-26, 2013, with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force and the Maritime SDF (self-defense force) and the U.S. Marine Corps.

One would have to be an idiot to suggest this is not mere saber-rattling, as a means to show China that the two countries are serious in concept at defending Japan's claim to a chain of islands that China believes to be theirs--what China calls Diaoyu and Japan calls Senkaku--a miserable lump of dirt that each wants.

China would really like it so that it can be closer to the islands of Japan to possible spy on Japan and U.S. forces stationed there, while Japan wants the undeveloped island to keep China farther away from Japan proper.      

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying says that foreign pressure will not sway it from defending its territorial sovereignty in the East China Sea.

"For any related provocative actions, the Chinese government will maintain a resolute response," says Hua.

On April 23, 2013, patrol boats from China and the U.S. ran at each other to scare the other.

According to reports, China had eight patrol boats surround the islands, claiming it was merely responding to the illegal entry of Japanese boats in its waters. The eight boats represent the largest such response by China since last September after Japan decided to poke the panda bear with a stick by nationalizing the islands. 

Will a war between Japan and China happen? Mike Rogers over at Marketing Japan seems to think it likely. And to be sure, as an ally of Japan, the U.S. will get involved, and to be honest, there will be no winner. There never really is. Just a whole lot of victims.  

While one would hope that cooler heads will prevail, when it comes to nationalism, all three of the countries involved are historically hotheads.

Provocative, indeed. Now let's see what happens as we draw closer to the war games on the island off California.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Japan's First Official U.S. Visit

I'm going to step a bit out of order here, but since the last blog discussed a Japanese ambassador's or two's actions in another country, and how one showed honor, and the other did not, I thought I would do a little research (very little, actually) to see just who was the first Japanese ambassador to the United States.

As an aside, 20+ articles later, I still haven't even touched on the topic that drove me to the Commodore Perry Expedition to Japan.

Anyhow, for those of you living under a rock and only interested in how much sperm a woman should receive in the mail, I have also been looking at the 1850s Japan Expedition that was undertaken by Perry on behalf of the United States to provide safe passage for shipwrecked sailors as well as possible trade negotiations between the two countries.

Japan was sen as a feather in any country's cap back then, as it had had over 250 years of isolation from the rest of the world, and the United States was still a young country looking to make its mark in the global waters as a major player.      

Obviously, Perry succeeded.

While there were some who though Japan had lost much o its power by agreeing to open ups its doors to another nation (the Dutch were allowed to trade in Nagasaki-shi, only), the Shogun-led Tokugawa government tried to maintain its own power and respect by setting up an embassy in the United States.

On January 19, 1860, the Japanese warship the Kanrin Maru sailed alongside the U.S. naval ship, the USS Powhatan from Uraga to San Francisco.

The Kanrin Maru did not carry the Japanese ambassador, as one might suspect - rather, they sailed aboard the U.S. ship. Aside from providing the military escort, Japan was eager to show of its Western-style ship technologies and navigation techniques that it had only really taken a look at in 1854 when Commodore Perry left Japan with a treaty in hand.

The Kanrin Maru (see image above), was Japan's first screw-driven steam ship, though I should note that it was actually built by the Dutch.

I'll get to the actual compliment of teh embassy son enough - we're steaming here...

After a stopover in the country of Hawaii, the ships landed in San Francisco. After a one-month layover where the Kanrin Maru returned to Japan, the USS Powhatan sailed south to Panama. The 72-person Japanese assemblage (including doctors and cooks) then took an overland train (no Panama Canal for another 50 years), and then boarded the USS Roanoke and sailed north to Washington, D.C., arriving on May 11, 1860.

Of course the Japanese met then U.S. President James Buchanan - on May 17, 1860 - who gave them a watch with his own likeness on it to give to the Shogun as a present.

I am going to borrow from the excellent blog: Ghosts of DC, who has copied a news report from the Baltimore Sun, of what I can only assume is the May 18, 1860 edition of the newspaper:  

Precisely at noon the President of the United States, accompanied by the Hon. Lewis Cass, Secretary of State, Hon. Howell Cobb, Secretary of the Treasury, entered the east room, followed by the rest of the cabinet, Hon. John B. Floyd, Secretary of War, Hon. Isaac Toney, Secretary of the Navy, Hon. Jacob B. Thompson, Secretary of the Interior, Hon. Jos. Holt, Postmaster General, and Mr. Black the U. S. Attorney General. The President and Cabinet took position on the east side, fronting the parlors. A brief pause here ensued, during which the President shook hands heartily with the gallant Lieutenant General Scott. The double doors of the east room now swung open, and the embassy silently advanced and entered to their first view of the President and the imposing array of officials there gathered. They came forward, bowing twice very low, the President once or twice doing the same, and then advanced to the President–Capt. S. F. Dupont, of the U. States navy, accompanied by the chief ambassador, Commander S. F. Lee with the second dignitary, Lieut. D. D. Porter with a third, Dr. Macdonald, secretary to the committee, with a fourth. They were introduced to President Buchanan, by the Secretary of State, when the chief ambassador presented his letter of credence, which the President cordially received, both parties bowing gracefully. The principal ambassador then read an address to the President in Japanese, which had to be interpreted into Dutch and thence into English, thus:
“His Majesty, the Tycoon, has commanded us that we respectfully express to His Majesty the President of the United States, in his name, as follows:
“Desiring to establish on a firm and lasting foundation the relations of peace and commerce, so happily existing between the two countries, that lately the plenipotentiaries of both countries have negotiated and concluded a treaty. Now, he has ordered us to exchange the ratification of the treaty in your principal city of Washington. Henceforth he hopes that the friendly relation shall be held more and more lasting, and he is very happy to have your friendly feeling, that you have brought us to the United States, and will send us back to Japan in your man-of-war.”

The embassy, bowing twice again, slowly retired from the room, to bring in the imperial ambassador, who, according to Japanese etiquette, could not be present at the delivery of the letter. They soon, however, returned with the imperial ambassador, bowing again, and signifying their readiness to receive the President’s reply. Mr. Buchanan thereupon read the following address:
“I give you a cordial welcome, as representatives of His Imperial Majesty, the Tycoon of japan, to the American government.
“We are all much gratified that the first embassy which your great empire has ever accredited to any foreign power has been sent to the United States. I trust that this will be the harbinger of perpetual peace and friendship between the two countries. The treaty of commerce, whose ratifications you are about to exchange with the Secretary of State, cannot fail to be productive of benefits and blessings to the people both of Japan and the United States. I can say for myself, and promise for my successors, that it shall be carried into execution in a faithful and friendly spirit, so as to secure to both countries all the advantages they may justly expect from the happy auspices under which it has been negotiated and ratified. I rejoice that you are please with the kind treatment you have received on board our vessels of war whilst on your passage to this country. You shall be sent back in the same manner to your native land, under the protection of the American flag. Meanwhile, during your residence amongst us, which I hope may be prolonged, so as to enable you to visit different portions of our country, we shall be happy to extend to you all the hospitality and kindness eminently due to the great and friendly sovereign whom you so worthily represent.”

For Japan, the trip trough to the U.S. was quite the excursion. After their journey to Washington, they visited Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York - and everywhere they went, they were feted by the locals, who wanted to catch a glimpse of the mystical visitors from the Far East who dressed in funny clothes and had outlandish haircuts. They were celebrities.

As you can see from the photo above, the Japanese are in a parade in New York, traveling up to Broadway from the Battery with both U.S. and Japanese flags wafting in the breeze.

Here's a poem from American icon Walt Whitman, who was a Brooklyn newspaper reporter, about the Japanese in New York:

When Broadway is entirely given up to foot-passengers and foot-standers—when the mass is densest;
When the façades of the houses are alive with people—when eyes gaze, riveted, tens of thousands at a time;
When the guests from the islands advance—when the pageant moves forward, visible;
When the summons is made—when the answer that waited thousands of years, answers;
I too, arising, answering, descend to the pavements, merge with the crowd, and gaze with them.

Okay... I'm not the greatest writer in the world, and my Godzilla haiku are shameless, but WTF? How the hell is that a poem? No! Call it what it is: very short non-fiction.  I like my English poems to rhyme. I guess I'm just old fashioned. Whatever the case, despite the wondrous turn of phrase that IS evident, I have always found so-called poems like this to be less than palatable.

Let's look at the Japanese Embassy to the United States (万延元年遣米使節 Man'en gannen kenbei shisetsu).

If you look at the photo above (and at the very top), going from left to right you can see the only three actual three plenipotentiary (full power to act and represent on behalf of their  government) members of the Japanese embassy: Ambassador Masaoki Shinmi, Vice-Ambassador Norimasa Muragaki and Tadamasa Oguri, who had no official title, but was indeed  a bureaucrat. (Note: all surname first).

Now - despite the first official visit by Japan (there had been various previous times when shipwrecked Japanese sailors had visited the U.S.), and Japanese gentlemen being allowed to act on behalf of the Japanese government, an actual physical embassy was not set up at this time.

Instead, after much partying, parades and checking out the fine ladies of New York (Hey! Watchoo lookin' at?!), the Japanese assemblage made arrangements to head back home to Japan.

Leaving New York on June 30 aboard the frigate USS Niagara, they took their time moving along a circuitous route and after many stops and starts, disembarked at Tokyo Bay on November 8, 1860.

Ha... I had written 1960... and left it that way for over three years... now corrected. 

Andrew (I did more research than I intended - again) Joseph   

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

No Comfort For Japan - Yeesh

Every time Japan opens its mouth up regarding WWII, and its role in it, it seems to embarrass itself.

While no one would or should belittle the effects of the two atomic bombs on the populace of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, neither should anyone deny or belittle proven claims of Japanese atrocities during the war.

And so, we come to the topic of Comfort Women.

You should also read THIS article I did on January 13, 2013, as well as the May 25, 2012 article HERE for further enlightenment on the subject of Comfort Women.

It's all about a statue. One recalling to mind the horrors Comfort Women - forced prostitution of women - by the Japanese military. This particular bronze statue (image above), is located in Seoul, South Korea - Koreans made up a large number of the women subjugated to Japanese abuse.

Now... while one could argue about the proper placement of this statue — in front of the Japanese embassy — it's not really on Japanese property (embassy property), it's on South Korean land, and are thus free to do as they wish.

And so,on April 16, 2013, Japan's ambassador to South Korea Bessho Koro surname first) has complained to South Korea, indicating the statue certainly is "not helping to solve problems in Japanese-South Korean relations."

Geez... when did the statue go up?

Survey says - December 2011.


Get over the effing statue. Get over the fact that poor Japan is hard done by all of the negative press.

If ya don't want none, don't start none.

Perhaps Japan needs to take a page out of the Anne Frank diary that is Germany's past.

Rather than run and hide from the nightmares of once being Nazi Germany, Germany has at the very least acknowledged its role in the extermination of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, intellectuals - basically anyone who wasn't German.... but Germany has contributed to memorials for the victims, helped establish exhibitions at the former death camps... and while some people still hold great hatred towards the Germans for their part in this morality play, the Germans do not shy away from the criticism and work with others to foster a better understanding of their heinous role.

Japan? While the rest of Asia hates Japan, Japan itself has found its WWII actions 'regrettable'. But that doesn't really mean sorry, and it doesn't really mean it has come clean about some of the things it has done, which I will not deign to mention here.

Fortunately, while Japan's elected officials continue to insert geta (wooden clog sandal) into mouth, activists in Tokyo believe that the Japanese government needs to take responsibility for the 1000s of women forced to work as sexual slaves to the horny Japanese military.

"We have been pushing forward on efforts to get the government to take responsibility, and apologize for this sort of thing and are going to continue until we, as a Japanese society, make others know how sorry we are," says university student Yomomi Eko (surname first) to

So... would you like to know what caused Japan's ambassador to South Korea to crack?

"Every day I go to work at the embassy and I see that statue," he says. "I don't think it was the right decision to put it there."

And so... if Japanese and South Korean relations are 'iffy', why open your damn mouth and whine about a statue commemorating a dire situation - ruining the lives of these women and their families - because you find it bothersome.

Japanese government officials.... since you have failed, and will continue to fail in your attempts to restore what you believe to be Japanese pride by tearing down statues that point at Japan's rapture... sorry, I meant rape of citizens, everyone should step down from their political office in protest.

Or, if we point the finger squarely on the crybaby ambassador - Dude, shut the eff up. Be a man. If not, seppuku is an option. A manly, Japanese option. You have dishonored yourself and your family and your country. It is the last you could do, since you obviously have no empathy for the country you are living in.

And Japan - if you want people or countries to start forgiving and forgetting, perhaps you need to start with a proper apology... like what Japan's ambassador to the Philippines Urabe Toshinao (surname first) said on April 10, 2013 (less than a week earlier than Japan's ambassador to South Korea):

“OUR heartfelt apologies,” says Urabe as he apologized to Filipinos for the crap it caused them during WW II.

And check THIS out - during his speech, the Japanese ambassador actually spoke in Tagalog (Filipino is the formal name for Tagalog):

"I hereby express our heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse for such inexplicable suffering,”

The Japanese envoy also quoted Filipino Dr. Jose Rizal’s famous line: "Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makakarating sa kanyang paroroonan."

Because Google Translate is rusty, I'm saying it means: "If you don't recognize where you are coming from, you'll never reach your destination."

Urabe adds that he hopes the current good relationship between the Philippines and Japan will continue to flourish.

"The Philippines, the US and Japan are strengthening our alliance and deepening our collaboration in order to create a free and democratic environment in the Asia Pacific Region. It is the responsibility of our generation and those who will follow us to continue on this path by sharing fundamental values such as democracy, freedom, respect for human rights and rule of law. We work together to find common ground. Peace and prosperity for all is what we seek.”

"Plano pa nating pagyamanin ang ating matapat at kahanga-hangang pagkakaibigan," he says in Filipino, which translates to: "We plan to further enrich our loyal and wonderful friendship."

Now... which Japan brings you comfort?

Andrew Joseph

Monday, April 22, 2013

Japan's First Super-Hero Character

Yesterday I wondered aloud why the Japanese never took to, or seemed to have a superhero in their comic books, or a superhero, period.

You can read about that HERE, if you wish. To be honest it wasn't all that earth-shattering. Sometimes a culture doesn't need to copy another.

Turns out, however, that Japan did have a superhero. Yeah - that's him in the art above. He's the Golden Bat (Ōgon Bat (黄金 バット), and you can see that he isn't that golden or bat-like, or even remotely heroic in appearance. He looks like a dumb version of Timely Comics (Marvel Comics) Red Skull villain who battles Captain America from the 1940s on up to the present thanks to effects of the cosmic cube giving him a longer shelf life.

The thing is... this is not a pale imitation. This was created in 1931... some seven years prior to Superman's arrival from Krypton onto the pages of Action Comics #1 in 1938. Batman, should you be curious, appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939.

Now I don't want you neophytes to comics to think that the Golden Bat was the first ever comic book hero - because there are two reasons against that.

#1 - The masked Phantom appeared in 1936. The Spider appeared in 1933 in pulp book format, The Shadow on the radio in 1930 (and in pulps just before The Spider in 1931), and even Popeye who gained super strength appeared long before them all in 1929. Yeah, that's right... Popeye and his spinach appeared in 1929 in the newspaper comic strips.

#2 - The Golden Bat did not appear in pulp magazine book format or the comic strips, or even comic books when he made his first appearance.

The Golden Bat is credited to writer Suzuki Ichiro (surname first) and artist Nagamatsu Takeo (surname first), and appeared in street theater, with images of him created by the artist to advertise his appearance making the scene at that time in 1931 Japan, as well as images of him created for the actual graphic story-telling!

Street theater in Japan, at that time was told in kamishibai (紙芝居, literally translated to mean 'paper drama'), which was a popular form of entertainment on the streets of Japan long before buskers et al made a come back these past 10 years or so in North America... you know, jugglers, clowns, pantomime artists that perform on street corners for whatever the audience wants to give.

According to Eric Nash, who wrote the book Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater, kamishibai predates both manga (comic books) and anime (cartoons) in Japan.

From his book, Nash describes the scene on the street:

It was the simple clacking of two wooden sticks on a street corner that signaled to children the start of kamishibai, a popular pastime during Depression-era Japan. … Storytellers would travel from town to town with their butai (miniature stage) on the back of a bike. The setup was reminiscent of a Punch and Judy show, but instead of puppets the narrator would slide a series of poster boards with watercolor illustrations in and out of the box. He would act out the script, which was written on cards placed on the back of a board.

Kids who also bought candy got the better seats, and could watch as the story teller told the tale, removing the art slide out as the scene passed. It was a slide show with graphic story-telling... definable a forerunner to manga/comic books.

A kamishibai man in 1930s Japan - from the Beloved Of Beasts website.
The kamishibai shows catered to everyone. A typical performance had three specific stories, each about 10 minutes long, with an adventure tale for boys; a domestic drama for girls; and a comic story that would appeal to both sexes. However, it is important to note that the writer/performer was no idiot!

He would ensure that the stories would continue, ending each performance with a serialized cliffhanger, so the audience would have to come again the next day and fork over more money to see how it ended - or, more than likely, continued again. That implies that each story would need to be riveting enough to make the audience return again and again.

When Nash read a book called Getting It Wrong In Japan, he saw the word kamishibai, but could find no modern-day reference to the term. So he decided to go to Japan and research the term, finding over 300 visual references to kamishibai in Tokyo and Osaka libraries - posters advertising the street-performing events, with images showing a popular story character to attract and entice young audience members.

As well, Nash says the kamishibai made a few contributions to the comic book genre.

"A lot of attributes seen in anime are present," Nash says, "such as giant robots and monsters from outer space."

Apparently, the artwork for the kamishibai also included the typical Japanese over-sized eyes - a form the Japanese utilized to show emotion - seen in posters for a character known as Jungle Boy - see image below:
Jungle Boy kamishibai poster.
Now, lest we believe that kamishibai be a simple Japanese form of street theater, its origins actually go back 1,000 years, when it was a form of story telling that the Japanese Buddhist monks would employ, using emakimono (picture scrolls) to tell stories to their temple audience - an effective means of teaching morals considering the majority of the populace was illiterate.

So... the Buddhists utilized a form of graphic story-telling to teach. A comic book, of sorts.

And, while this form of story-telling went on for quite a while, it did eventually die out, but was revived during the 1920s - through the 1950s, when a gaito kamishibaya (kamishibai story-teller) would ride a specially-built bicycle equipped with the means to carry the stage, was ridden between towns, with the tap-tap-tap of wooden batons (called hyoshigi) heralding the start of another performance.

As noted, the kamishibai went the way of the dodo in the 1950s - perhaps as television became a greater draw of entertainment for the youngsters. But, it has begun to make a bit of a comeback in Japan, and even in other countries, as an effective story-telling device.

From what I have been able to dig up, people do think the Golden Bat looks like the Red Skull, but say that he is more like Superman, in that both could fly, had super strength, had invulnerability, wore a red cape (I still believe capes are fashionable!) and had a secret headquarters - a Fortress of Solitude - located in the Japanese Alps.

For further information on the Golden Bat's appearances, I will note that there was a 1950 live-action movie called Ôgon bat: Matenrô no kaijin, and a another in 1966 called Ôgon batto that starred the famous Chiba Sonny (Sonny Chiba). There was also a 52-episode anime (cartoon) in 1967, and another live-action film in 1972 called Ôgon Batto ga yattekuru. Of course... I am not saying I have seen these, so I can not provide you with any details.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why Didn't Japan Get Hooked on Super-heroes?

Being a comic book collector with about 37,000 comic books dating back to 1911, I fancy myself as a not-so-nerdy comic book know-it-all, with the only thing saving me from total geekdom being the fact that I like women, and have actually talked to one. I also play(ed) sports, and excelled at more than a few of them, or at the very least did not embarrass myself while playing them.

But self-congratulatory egotistic behavior aside, I do have more than a passing fancy when it comes to the spandex superhero.

I have long wondered why Japan never really seem to catch or latch onto the four-color mysterymen that so dominated American audiences during the 1930s and 1940s. Oh yeah - that whole 'let's try and dominate Asia-thing' probably got in the way.

But afterwards... especially when the Allies, notably the U.S. occupied or had a military presence in Japan from 1945 through the early 1950s... surely the Japanese were exposed to comicbook superheroes?

Well, probably not, seeing as how military personnel weren't really allowed to mix with the local populace. And when they did, it probably involved hooch and broads (alcohol and women - you'll have to forgive me - I just finished watching a Star Trek episode - A Piece Of The Action - in which the story was set during 1920s gangster-fascinated America) (I told you I was sort of nerdy for a geek.)

So... why would a G.I (general infantryman) have comic books to show the kiddies?

Then, by the time the 1950s rolled around, and there was a bit more fraternization allowed, surely someone would have passed some super-hero comic books around? Of course, by that time super-hero comics had fallen out of favor with the American kid... so why would they learn anything from the U.S.

Besides... by that time, after being humiliated and forced to kowtow to U.S/Allied demands, Japan wanted to maintain its cultural identity above all. Pride, after all, played a huge part in its manifest destiny since it opened up its doors to the world. It wanted to show the world that Japan was not a weak nation.

Regardless, Japanese manga (comic book) creators got to work and created a series of adventures that were pure fantasy and science-fiction, with such creations as Astroboy - a robot kid, rather than a copy of an American superhero.

By the way, most comic books during the war - especially from the big 2 - National Periodicals (now known as DC Comics) (DC Comics is actually Detective Comics Comics, a redundancy I find amusing - Detective Comics was THE popular comic book that debuted The Batman) and Timely Comics (later the Marvel Comics Group) - had some interest in WW2. DC kept its characters out of the war, but it was there. Timely - they were battling Italy's Mussolini, Germany's Hitler and Japan's Tojo constantly.

But that's not the point of this blog. Why didn't Japan ever take to the concept of the costumed superhero?

Well... it did, actually. And it did so in 1931, a full seven years before Superman officially took to the skies of Metropolis. And this Japanese super-hero had a cool look and a cool name - even though neither matched the other.

And I'm going to talk about this in my next blog, because this is all preamble.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above of Marvel's mutant hero, Sunfire, of Japan.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

World's Second-Oldest Continuously Run Hotel

If you are looking at the title above and wonder WTF, Andrew - you would be well within your rights. Even though the world's oldest hotel is actually a Japanese place built in 705AD called Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan in Hayakawa, a town in Yamanashi-ken, it's origin story simply isn't as interesting as hotel #2.

So... even though this story is about a hotel some 13 years (or 12, if you listen to some reports) YOUNGER than the hot-spring Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel, let's learn about how the Hōshi Ryokan came to be.

It's 718 AD, and Hōshi Garyo was a Buddhist monk who was told by his teacher to build a hotel. Now, 1,295 years later, the Hōshi Ryokan remains open, busy, and the world's second-oldest existent hotel (and spa) located in Komatsu-shi (City of Komatsu) in Ishikawa-ken, Japan.

Now that's dedication even the Buddha would be impressed by.

According to records, the Hōshi Ryokan (Hōshi is the family name and 'Ryokan' means 'traditional Japanese-style inn') has been owned and run by the Hōshi family for 46 generations.

Just think about that for a moment. England was not yet even controlled by the Vikings - it was the Franks, and the fall of the Roman Empire was still making the headlines of whatever it was that passed for social media (I believed that news traveled by true social means - word of mouth).

According to family lore, Daishi Taicho (surname first), a well-respected Buddhist teacher in the area, had climbed up to the top of Mount Hakusan. earning himself a deserved sleep, he says (probably in delirium) that the god of the mountain came to him in his dreams and said:

"Lying 20-24 kilometers from the base of the mountain is a village called Awazu. There, you'll find an underground hot spring with wondrous restorative powers that Yakushi Nyorai (the Physician of Souls) has bestowed upon it. The people of the village, however, do not known of this good fortune. Descend the mountain and head to Awazu. With the people of the village unearth the hot spring-it will serve them forever."

There are many interesting things one can take from this. To me, the one thing that stood out the most was that this Buddhist teacher still believed in the shinto religion of nature- hence the god of the mountain. To me this shows that disciples of Buddha were not trying to supplant the dominant shinto religion, but seemed to be in harmony with it, utilizing the philosophies of Buddha to add to a better way of life.

I think that's pretty cool.

Anyhow, the next morning, having remembered all the details of the dream (I have had maybe 10 dreams in my life that I remember, so you'll forgive me if I am a tad jealous of a dead man), Daishi traveled down to Awazu, found the previously hidden underground hot springs with the healing powers, found some locals who were sick, had them bathe in the waters - and presto! - instant karma, or rather, they were healed.

Now... I am betting that holy man or not, this guy probably hired a few locals to dig and find the hot springs for him. As for curing the sick... well, I'm not a believer in such things, but then again, I've not been sick and required any major healing, so who the heck knows? I'm not one to trample upon someone's beliefs. If it makes you happy to be happy, then be happy.

I would be interested to know the chemical breakdown of the waters at this spa, especially if some mountain god is telling us that it's got healing powers. Restorative powers for the weary traveler - sure. Curing diabetes or brain cancer - I doubt it. Trample, trample, trample.

Now, because the Buddhist teacher was busy teaching about Buddhism, which is what a Buddhist teacher should teach about :)- Daishi asked his Buddhist disciple, Hōshi, to build a hotel and start a spa business.

Okay... I'm not sure about this whole 'business' stuff, because I thought the Buddhists would be interested in helping heal people for free... or maybe that's why the waters are free, but to spend the night (and thus be able to use the spa), travelers would have to pay.

It still sounds kind of shady to me. Then again, a Buddhist has gotta eat, because praying to Buddha doesn't really put food in the belly.

And... since Hōshi was under order to build the hotel on behalf of Daishi and his Buddhist temple (?), and  Hōshi also appears to have been a follower of Daishi, doesn't the hotel belong to the Buddhist folks, and NOT to the Hōshi family?

Not that I want to stir up trouble or anything, as I am sure that squatters rights over the past 1,295 years have essentially made the place a piece of Hōshi property, but I would assume that unless it was given outright to the Hōshi family 1200 years ago, the Buddhist priest or the temple to which he was affiliated with could have put a claim on it.

I'm just sayin', is all. 

Hot springs spa bath at Hōshi Ryokan in winter courtesy of Akiyoshi's Room
Perhaps simply happy with their due, the Hōshi family has dutifully run the traditional Japanese hotel and its 100 rooms... or at least the first born male has, with all others relegated to cleaning rooms and mucking out the stables, or being forced to marry some rich old man in order to secure protection from jealous daimyo.

Okay, I'm making a social commentary on the rights of Japanese families and their heirs - a first-born male.

The Hōshi Ryokan has two indoor spas and two out door spas, each separated for male and female use, as I suppose no Japanese man wants to heal himself in water full of female health issues.

Still, at about $580 a night's stay, I can assume I would be cured of pain in my hip from carrying all that money around in my wallet.

According to the hotel, back in the old days, the sick would bath in hot springs for three seven-day cycles.

Well. That explains the need for a hotel, doesn't it?

That first cycle of seven days sort of loosens the disease, while the second cycle actually cures them, and the third cycle makes them more resistant to fight off further medical conditions.

According to the hotel, nowadays the waters - both inside and outside - will help cure rheumatism and chronic skin diseases.

Anyhow, there are four main buildings at the Hōshi Ryokan - each one designated after on of the four seasons: Shinshun no Yakata (early spring building), Haru no Yakata (spring building), Natsu no Yakata (summer building) and Aki no Yakata (autumn building), with each guest room having a haiku written in it that defines the season of the building they are staying in.

And by the way... it is the the second-oldest CONTINUOUSLY run hotel, not CONTINUALLY run hotel. Apparently the difference is that continually can imply some interruptions. My wife the grammar bitch pointed that out for me, sparing me from possible embarrassment, although she prefers the term 'Grammar Queen'.

And, since you are all patiently awaiting it, here's a joke I first read in an old Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers comic book back about 40 years ago: What's the definition of a hotel? It's a place where one pays good dollars for poor quarters.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, April 19, 2013

Japan #1 For Universities In Asia And Middle East

A website known as the Times Higher Education has published its first university rankings focusing on Asia.
I'll be honest... I visited their website, and while it is chock full of interesting articles on a variety of subjects, I am unsure why they feel they are qualified to provide rankings on Asian universities. But what the hell do I know? I'm probably not qualified to make comments on them. 

Regardless—and I use that word correctly—Times High Education appears to be a well-run, U.K.-based (not the University of Kentucky) site dealing with education of the masses on a variety of intellectual levels.  

The ranking, in question, includes the South Asia (it just added Malaysia) and the Middle East, featuring the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Turkey, which must no longer come as a shock to Turkey, which had until recently been trying to gain membership into the EU (European Union), and instead has begun to look east for like-minded partners.

Regardless of who was included in the university rankings, schools from East Asia were the ones that stood out in the minds of Times Higher Education, which I can only assume they came up with the double entendre name after being high, making it a triple entendre. 

I'm just having fun THE (or did you mean THC?). Leash your hounds. 

According to the THE (is it pronounced 'thee' or 'thuh'?), of its Top 100 rankings, Japan has the most on the list at 22, followed by 17 for Taiwan, 15 for China and 14 for South Korea.  

With apologies to David Lettermen, here's a Top 10 list of schools:
  1. University of Tokyo (Japan);
  2. National University of Singapore (Singapore);
  3. University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong); 
  4. Peking University (China);
  5. Pohang University of Science and Technology (South Korea);
  6. Tsinghua University (China);
  7. Kyoto University (Japan);
  8. Seoul National University (South Korea);
  9. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Hong Kong);
  10. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (South Korea). 
Where the hell is Hogwarts?!

Now, I must admit that while Japan does have decent overall representation on the Top 100, and did grab hold of the Number One spot, it only had two universities/upper educational institutions in the Top 10. 

China also grabbed two spots (#4 and #6), as did Hong Kong (#3 and #9), but South Korea had three (#5, #8, and #10).

Tiny city/state Singapore had an institution come in at #2—but that's pretty damn good considering it's such a small country!  

Hong Kong also earned raves from the THE, with six universities in the Top 100, an impressive fact considering it has a total population of seven million.

And whither India? Despite the stereotype of Indian students all over Canada and the U.S. blowing test curves out of the water, the THE was not impressed with its efforts in higher education—probably explaining why there is a large exodus of people leaving the country for better education—as the sub-continent only had three institutions listed in the Top 100 - none of them universities.

I'll tell you for free (because I usually charge to speak - but not to write), my parents left India when they wanted to start a family, and after a brief stay in England, looked to live in either Canada, the U.S. or Australia, as each of these primarily English-speaking nations had what was then in the 1960s, a higher standard of education. I have seven years of post-secondary education, and am over-qualified for the tiny salary I make. I guess I'm not as smart as I thought I were. Or some sort of grammatical fart like that.

What did suck, if you'll pardon my colloquialism, if the fact that while the THE seems to
 gone to a great effort to hire Thomson Reuters to collect, analyze and verify the data - and then to get one of their capable writers to write the news story, it is lacking in detail.

While it might be prudent to actually publish the list of the Top 100, I'll give the The a mulligan on that. Instead, I wonder just what the hell these rankings are all about!

The writer does note that there were 13 performance indicators used to create the annual THE World University Rankings, but does not actually mention what any of those performance indicators are. This is their rankings, written by their writer on their site. If not there, then where, do I get the data? If it's somewhere on the THE website, provide a link to it. But please don't tell me I need to get my data from an accompanying video?

I would like to know what the performance indicators are, so that I could at least assume that the rankings were achieved fairly. I'm sure it was, but wouldn't you like to know how the results were calculated?

If you click HERE, you can see the the Top 100 rankings on the THE site. There is a clickable link on their web story, but it's not as intuitive as they believe.
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fukushima Nuclear Plant Inspected For Pre-Decommissioning

It kind of makes one wonder just how bad the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant really was.

Following the March 11, 2011 9.0 Magnitude earthquake that spawned powerful tsunami that pummeled the TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power COmpany)-(privately) owned facility triggering several near meltdowns over the ensuing weeks.

While it took several months to finally get the situation under control, the entirety of Japan's nuclear power generation program came under fire for lack of safeguards, prompting the country to all but shut down its primary source for electrical power.

While Japan has never been truly in the dark electricity-wise, its governments and population certainly appear to have been, as issues continue to arise over the safety of the Dai-ichi reactor facility.

This past Monday, April 15, 2013, the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency arrived on-site to review the decommissioning process that involves shutting it down completely and cleaning up—something that should take about 40 years and (current estimates of) $100 billion (~¥9.8-trillion) to complete.

I appreciate that people want to take their time to ensure the best possible job is done to ensure public safety - but damn, 40 years is a heck of a long time.

According to the Atomic Energy Agency, its 12-person team of experts will look at the damaged and, in some cases, melted nuclear reactors, analyze radiation levels and assess the plant's waste management situation.

Why? To make sure that the decommissioning process is safe.

It kind of makes one wonder that if all facilities tried to be so safe, we wouldn't be having to decommission these reactors in Fukushima.

Despite the plant having first been damaged over two years ago, there have been at least eight documented issues since the middle of March 2013, including contaminated water leaks and power outages.

These issues have caused a fair bit of consternation for the Atomic Energy Agency team—will the Dai-ichi plant maintain a level of safety throughout the 40-year decommission?

One of the major concerns is the tons of water—radioactive water—that have leaked into the solid from three of the seven underground nuclear facility storage pools. TEPCO and nuclear regulatory officials are at least all in agreement that none of the water appears to have reached the ocean, and the fact that no 1,000-foot tall gas-spewing sea cucumbers have been seen stomping around Japanese Sephora shops trying to pick-up teenaged girls seems to back up their conclusions.

Apparently the radioactive water storage pools have been a source of concern for the past two years, with TEPCO acknowledging that more storage is needed and that it is in the process of getting more.

TEPCO says it has promised (no fingers crossed behind the back, I hope) to speed up the construction of steel holding tanks.

WTF?! You man you weren't already working at top speed? The storage problems of the contaminated water has been affirmed since March 2011!!! The issue of leaking water is well-documented! Why were the tank builders not working at a faster rate, if a faster rate was possible?! TEPCO implies a faster rate is possible because it has promised to 'speed up' their construction! OMG. Someone's pants are on fire (Liar, liar)!

Once the steel tanks are ready, the contaminated water will be emptied from the underground pools… but until such time, the radioactive water leaks into the soil around the facility will continue.
This is a fact. Unless the pools become completely empty, at which case I am 100 per cent certain the leaks stop.

See? Others, beside TEPCO can play dumb, too. Except I'm actually playing.

FYI, there are some 11,000 used and new nuclear fuel rods and assemblies that have to be removed from the seven underground storage pools - and even if things were to start later this year, these highly radioactive rods would not be fully removed until sometime in 2021.

The Dai-ichi nuclear power generating plant has six BWR (boiling water reactors) in its 3.5 kilometer grounds located in the Fukushima-ken (Fukushima Prefecture) towns of Futaba and Okuma. Three of the six BWR reactors suffered near meltdowns during the tumultuous time.

Designed by Boise, TEPCO and General Electric (??!!), the Dai-ichi I facility (there's a Dai-ichi II facility farther south that was undamaged by the earthquake and tsunami) is one of the 15th largest nuclear reactor power stations in the world.

The Atomic Energy Agency is visiting the nuclear power plant between April 15-22, 2013. A press conference will be held on the 22nd to reveal preliminary results, with a follow-up evaluation expected in a few months.

Here's hoping the report is glowing. Or not glowing. Whichever one is better.

Andrew Joseph
PS: The photo above was taken from the International Atomic Energy Agency website, showing its experts departing Unit 4 of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on April 17, 2013. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Zero No More - Mitsubishi Back In The Air

Matthew sent me a NY Times link to a great story on Mitsubishi building a new commercial passenger jet, which will, the article state, bring Japan back into the air as a manufacturer of aircraft.

After World War II, Japan's occupiers got together and tried ensure the horros of that war could never include Japan again, and banned it from building aircraft again.

It did not stop it from designing aircraft, or from building components of aircraft - it just couldn't construct its own bird again, like the famous Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane, that was first famed and feared for its dog-fighting skills and then scorned and feared because pilots were using them as death missiles as part of Japan's last gasp flight into the 'divine wind' with its kamikaze raids into U.S. naval vessels.   

But now, the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation is, to quote the newspaper article, presiding "over Japan’s biggest aviation comeback since the war."

Uh... the implication here is that Japan has not built any aircraft since WWII. But, didn't Honda Aircraft Company build an airplane recently - selling them, too - private jets?

Oh wait - I get it - Honda made a private jet, while Mitsubishi is looking to build a commercial passenger jet, with the first actual flight of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet MRJ90 scheduled to take its first flight later in 2013.

By the way...  Toyota Motor Corporation is also a partner in this jet.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet - see image at the very top, and scattered throughout this article - is still being built, but Mitsubishi says the sleek-looking 90-seater commercial plane will be the first to break the ban.  

How did this come about? Part of it is due to the success (and failure) of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner passenger, as Boeing outsourced a great deal of the design and construction of parts to foreign contractors, including many from Japan, as about one-third of that plane was made in Japan.

Among those contractors, Mitsubishi Aircraft's parent corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built the Dreamliner's carbon-fiber composite wings (main).

Despite building these cutting edge wings for the Boeing plane, Mitsubishi says that its Regional Jet only uses a small amount of the carbon-fiber material in its entire construction.

It should be noted that the design originally called for more use of the carbon-fiber, but Mitsubishi had an about-face and switched to aluminum wings as part of its design back in 2009.   

Mitsubishi has also decided against using lithium-ion batteries as part of the build, viewing Boeing's problems with its new 787 Dreamliner passenger jet as a problem it would rather not have, especially as it is new to the market and trying to get a wing in the hangar door of the aviation industry after being absent all these decades. 

Last time I checked, most human beings in the West had an ass wider than this walkway... I see problems.
Of course... this new jet built by Mitsubishi isn't just self-serving, it also has the fate of Japan's possible jump back into aviation in its hands, as success or failure with the Regional Jet could determine the fate of a Japanese industry for decades to come.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, a failure with the development of the YS-11 60-seat turboprop plane  had a major impact on Japanese aviation.

While the plane did not fail, per se back then—some 182 aircraft were built up until 1973, 10 years after its maiden flight, there were far too many negatives regarding the airplane for it to be considered a success.

Despite large amounts of financial clout from the Japanese government, and an aircraft designed by Tojo Teruo (surname first),  the plane still had issues.

If the name Tojo sounds familiar to some of you older kids, Teruo was one one of the original engineers of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter, but he was also related to a more famous Tojo, as he was the second son of Tojo Hideki (surname first), the general of the Imperial Japanese Army, the leader of the Taisei Yokusankai (also known as the Imperial Rule Assistance Association" or "Imperial Aid Association", it was Japan's para-fascist organization created by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe in 1940 to promote the goals of a Shintaisei (New Order) movement, and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during most of World War II, from 17 October 1941 to 22 July 1944 who was later executed by the Allies as a war criminal.

So... with a pedigree like that, how could the YS-11 fail? That was sarcasm, by the way.

Anyhow, the YS-11 apparently has engines that were too loud—passenger complaint, while earlier testing showed it leaked when raining and had a fair bit of a roll - though in all fairness, those were early versions of the plane.

Still, the plane didn't sell, and the project was canceled in 1973.

While Tojo did become the vice-president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, he lamented in a 1990 newspaper interview an all to well-known fact: "We wanted to sell to the world, but on the ground, we felt we were chasing an impossible dream. Who would want to buy a plane made in Japan?"

And, while no one has bought a Japanese-designed and manufactured passenger jet since the ill-fated YS-11 in 1973, Mitsubishi is attempting to break that streak with the Regional Jet. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one's point of view on war), the younger Tojo won't be around to see it, having passed away in 2012 at the age of 98.   

After the money-burning fiasco of the YS-11, Japan shied away from manufacturing its own planes, instead focusing on being a parts supplier for other aircraft manufacturers around the globe.

Now... as an aside... the YS-11... why would people want to purchase it? Even if it worked well, the late 1960s and early 1970s was still a relatively short time after the war, and people may not have trusted Japanese products. While people were buying Japanese products, I still wonder if wartime prejudices may have played a part in the aircraft's non-acceptance. 

Perhaps now, as the world gets older and past prejudices die off in favor of new ones, a well-built aircraft from a company used achieving success may just be the tonic to kickstart a new industrial aviation revolution for Japan.

And, in case you are wondering, American Skywest has placed a firm order for 100 MRJ90 aircraft from Mitsubishi for a reported $4.2-billion. All Nippon Airways (ANA) was the first to order a whopping 15 aircraft. I believe there is at least a a minimum of 165 aircraft now sold, making it a greater success than the YS-11.

Cleared for take-off,
Andrew Joseph