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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Happy Birthday Rob!

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

Rob has been with me along my journey to Japan - exchanging some 50+ letters while I was there... back when you actually had to write with a pen and paper, get an envelope, purchase a stamp or two and post it, wait a week or more until it was received and hope the guy on the other end (me) would write back.

Rob's letters while I was in Japan between 1990-1993 were, quite literally a godsend.

Despite being surrounded by great people in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan - and in a few other places like Shiga-ken where Kristine lived, sometimes a man can not live on sake, noodles and telephone sex alone.

Well, actually I could because Kristine was that sexy... but sometimes you just want to hear about what is happening back at home... and Rob (and Doug and my mom) provided that necessary news so often that I never really felt too homesick. You always do, though.

I met Rob back in Grade 10. He and I were the two youngest kids in our grade - a full year ahead - too smart for our puny bodies to properly survive and thrive in a high school scenario where it wasn't cool to read comics, watch wrestling, and steal porno mags... though maybe the latter was cool, but I never advertised that. Sorry, by the way.

Rob and I also coached girl's and women soccer for years - back in the 80s when the concept of soccer for females was still considered a waste of time. We never thought so, and we originally got involved because his sister's team couldn't find a volunteer to be the coach - a pretty sucky proposition. Every now and then - 30 years later, I run into one or two of the girls we coached, and it's nice to know that Rob and I made a positive impression on them.

While I moved on to university and college, Rob got his own apartment and worked his a$$ off for a living... but he was certainly out on his own for a good number of years before I was. Brave.

While I was in Japan, back in 1991 of March, I decided that since I was a cheap bastardo, I would send Rob a letter a day (work day) for the entire month of March - yeah, yeah, Happy Birthday from your cheap buddy, AJ.

But, after about four or five letters, even I got bored with writing : "How are you? I am fine." and began , instead to create fictional tales of stuff that had nothing to do with Japan.

One month into my stay in Japan, I had already begun crafting monthly stories entitles It's A Wonderful Rife for the Tochigi prefecture AJET magazine.

Anyhow... what began with a single comedic tale to Rob as my daily letter (I still added the "How are you? I am fine." fiddle-faddle in a separate, but now briefer note, but even then... for whatever reason, the serotonin in my brain was working extra hard and I began crafting three, four, five short stories a day... even on the weekends... everyday, new stuff... comedic, dramatic, non-fiction, fiction... I can't even describe it... but it's like that special kiss... where slowly taste the cinnamon on her lips, and explosions explode in your head, as you gently cradle the side of her face in your hand... and you hope you have ruined her forever, knowing both she and you will never achieve a higher plane of existence than that.

No... I wasn't kissing Rob... I said "her lips". But, it was an explosion of 'wowiness' I achieved that entire month of March, that sadly I have never been able to replicate.

Oh, I still write, as evidenced by the 3,150+ blogs here, and hundreds more elsewhere, and a couple of completed but never submitted to publisher books featuring the same short stories I wrote and sent to Rob...

The point is... he was the first, and for most of my stories, the only person who has read the stuff... I think he may actually have read damn near everything I have ever written.

That's a good friend.

Happy birthday, Rob. Read when you can, but please keep on reading.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Hey Tron Blarg... it took me 47 minutes to write this. You know what I mean! LOL!

Seniors Go To Jail For Free Operations

Worst. Retirement plan. Ever.

Japanese seniors are committing crimes so that they can go to jail, become part of the system, and get looked after for free. Except you aren't free.

While I'm going to go out an a limb and suggest the age of 60 isn't old, seeing as how I am hopefully approaching that millstone, er, milestone, but it seems as though some 35 percent of all shoplifting convictions in Japan are being done so by people over the age of 60… a rise by 20.4 percent since 2005.

Even if they didn't want to be caught and sent to prison, the shoplifting Japanese senior would have to be part of the slowest getaways ever.

It's not thrill-seeking or dementia, rather it appears to be the simple fact that as Japan's population ages, they don't seem to have the money to survive properly.

I get that. I'm wondering what type of cat food might be the best for me when I'm forced to retire. Cat food. At least I'll be able to lick myself.

There's a pattern with those that re-offend in the over 60-bracket, with about 40 percent of them re-offending MORE than six times.

In Japan, according to a Financial Times article, the average Japanese senior with low savings only has about ¥780,000 a year to survive on. That's just US$6,897.38, which is about what I spend on Coke Zero every year.

There's a reason why the oldest son usually looks after the parents when they retire and downsize… but for many seniors, that's simply not an option. Not every first born son (of which I am one) is wealthy enough to support their parents, or has the physical space to do so.

Since it's pretty easy to get arrested in Japan—stealing a sandwich can get one up to two years in the pokey—seniors can get three squares (meals) a day, a bed, warmth… and even work with which to feel useful. There's also free medicines and even operations should they be required.

The medical care almost sounds like free Canada. I say that just to tease the Americans.

Keep in mind that about 40 percent of Japan's population will be over the age of 65 by the year 2060, roving gangs of grannies stealing candy from little kids could become quite common.

It will, of course, put quite the strain on Japan's prison system.

Japan needs to begin creating affordable residential care facilities for its aged and aging population before it's too late.

I freely admit that I didn't know as much about my grandfather as I should have when he was alive, and I wish I had spent more time being a journalist asking about things I should have asked when I had the chance… and now I have a father who is at around that average old age when men die… (mother died early at 54, so I still have a few years to go before I can safely exhale myself)… and with my own health slowly eroding from its once great immortality… and hearing how some of my friends are getting sick, or have died from illness… it makes one stop and think.

Who is going to look after me?

It's an ageless question about age, to be sure, and in Japan, the solution seems to who will look you, is the prison system, unless Japan at least starts the process of doing something about it now.

With clean-ups and lives destroyed by the natural disasters that are inflicted upon Japan every few years… and the costs to rebuild… and the costs for its new Olympic ego, how much of that 'bread not circuses" could have been put to better use to look after a generation that helped propel Japan to such great economic heights and respect… especially since e just after WWII, damn near everyone on the planet not Japanese hated Japan…

With any luck, we'll all be old someday. In Japan, it appears one shouldn't do the time unless they are also prepared to do the crime.

Andrew "Baretta" Joseph

PS: Thanks Julien, old boy, for the story lead.
PPS: Image at top is of cherry blossoms falling... an apt description for the article above.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A History Of Sumitomo, Environmental Pollution And Zaibatsu

Sumitomo (住友財閥)... no… this is not about a Japanese sumo wrestler, or a monk (if you are glancing at the icon above), rather it is about one of the three largest companies in Japan, along with Mitsui (三井財閥) and Mitsubishi (三菱財閥).

I was intrigued when I spotted a press-release citing Sumitomo (SHI) Demag having the best year in corporate history.

While I had no idea what Sumitomo was, I did know enough to realize the press release was about  Japanese company. 

The Sumitomo mentioned in the press release—Sumitomo (SHI) Demag—is actually one part of a larger organization, which I figure we should explore together to see if there's anything interesting going on… you know… down the proverbial rabbit hole.

To be honest, I don't read ahead… I read and write this stuff down so that hopefully I can be as surprised as you when we spot something interesting.

It doesn't always work out… I have 69 blogs that I started and then let drift (but haven't deleted) that failed to inspire me, who is inspired quite easily.

Sumitomo (SHI) Demag is an injection molding machinery manufacturer reports 11% sales rise to US $263-million in 2015.

I know… you are looking at this and going WTF? This isn't the usual pap we find on Japan—It's A Wonderful Rife. Tru dat. I mean, that's true.

I had to look up the company to see what they were, and noticed that they are headquartered in Germany.

Germany is not a tax haven… I don't think… at least not since the the war when Germany and Japan were buddies trying to divide up the free world. No, it is NOT too soon.

So… I decided to look deeper than the hatred caused by WWII, and discovered that Sumitomo is actually a very old Japanese company that began back in 1630AD before most of you were born.

It was founded by Sumitomo Masatomo (surname first), who was born in 1585AD, and died in 1652AD… that was pretty long-lived considering the average human lifespan just 100 years ago in the U.S. was 47. That icon in the image at the very top - that's him.

Nowadays, the Sumitomo Group says it maintains the traditions of the family and operates in line with the rules established by its founder old man Masatomo.

Here's an image of Sumitomo's Code of Conduct.

Back in the old days, Sumitomo made its money trading copper (and other goods).

Well, actually, Sumitomo Masatomo opened up and ran a book and medicine shop in Kyoto.

His brother-in-law Soga Riemon (surname first) was the one who owned Izumiya, a copper refining and coppersmith business in Kyoto. Sumitomo became involved in his brother-in-law's business, but it was still Soga who  developed the refining technique called "nanban-buki (western refining)", which can extrude silver from raw copper (obviously the silver has to present in the copper - this isn't alchemy)

Soga's oldest son, Sumitomo Tomomochi, became a family member of the House of Sumitomo after he married a daughter of Masatomo... he was actually adopted into the family, which is why Tomomochi has the last name of Sumitomo, rather than his original family surname of Soga.

The adult adoption principal is actually quite common in Japan - you can read an article I wrote about that HERE

Tomomochi helped extend the reach of the Sumitomo business intro Osaka, and 'sold' the nanban-buki technology to other copper smelting businesses, with Osaka becoming the place in Japan for copper smelting and refining. It also helped the company known now as Sumitomo/Izumiya to become known as the leader in that refining technique.

During the centuries long Edo-jidai (Edo-era) of 1603-1868AD, Japan was called one of the leading global copper producers... an interesting fact consider its borders were closed during this time to foreign contact... except for the Dutch and Portuguese, who were allowed minimal contact for trade... which probably involved Japan selling its copper, and taking in guns.

The company expanded its reach from just copper refining and trade to include textiles, sugar and medicines... which helped make it one of the most powerful companies in Osaka.

Strange as it may seem, the company was still not involved in copper mining, only doing so in 1691AD after it opened the Besshi Copper Mine (別子銅山 Besshi dōzan) in Niihama-shi (city of Niihama), Ehime-ken (Ehime Prefecture)—a mine that operated for 283 years and was considered to be the strength of Sumitomo's empire. 

From start to finish in 1973, the Besshi mine pulled out some 700,000 tons of copper, which helped Japan's trade and modernization, but more importantly helped build the Sumitomo zaibatsu.

Now things weren't always rosy for Sumitomo... after the Meji restoration of the Emperor to supreme power in 1868—and the company becoming involved in all the 'new' technologies of the Western world—operational costs and the fall of copper prices made the mine more or less unprofitable. We can assume that Sumitomo had over-extended itself trying to emulate western businesses across too many of its companies at the same time. The Government of Japan wanted all businesses to quickly learn from the western techniques in every industry.

During the Edo-era, Sumitomo was able to extract between 1,000 and 1,500 tons of copper out annually.

Between 1881 and 1888, the Beshi Mine used convict labor - to be honest, this was not an uncommon occurrence in Japan at the time. They stopped the practice after the government of Niihama-shi asked them to stop.

Anyone who has ever watched the classic movie Cool Hand Luke, will know that the U.S. practiced the same way well into the 20th century.

Personally, I don't have any issues with using convict labor - No, for private companies, but a big yes for State/Provincial/Prefecture needs - like road maintenance or digging subway tunnels. Maybe not the murderers, but... well... whatever, it worked before, could it not work again while saving governments a lot of money. Of course, the workers should get paid, and perhaps even be able to work off some of their time, not just as time served, but also from time worked.

Anyhow, despite the fact that Sumitomo experienced some financial difficulty in and around the 1868+ era, Hirose Saihei (surname first)—the mine's general manager—began to use the more modern Western mining techniques to increase copper output, effectively turning the mine's fortunes around. 

It was the company's willingness to embrace western advances with its own Japanese philosophies that helped Sumitomo expand its power base, becoming involved in forestry, coal mining, construction, machinery, chemicals, electric cable manufacturing, and metals.

Its old Edo-era money exchange business known as "Ryogae-gyo", was upgraded via Western business acumen to allow Sumitomo to become involved in warehousing, banking, insurance, growing the now modern conglomerate via mining/manufacturing and financing.

I watched an old episode of the U.K's Time Team just last week involving a copper mine from the Elizabethan era, that noted that the copper mine had despoiled a local water source back in the 1600s - complete with a print record of the official complaint noting it had also destroyed a large swathe of crops. (By the way, I had actually begun this particular blog mere hours before I watched that Time Team episode. Kismet.)

Meanwhile, back in Japan... in 1899, a landslide caused by the mining, and aided by the deforestation (trees and their roots help prevent landslides, I believe), over 500 people died... plus the copper smelter was nearly swept away, too.

Sumitomo built a new smelting operation nearby - but away from the mountains, but this time the new copper smelting facility was designed and constructed using the good ol Western techniques... problem is, it still gave off sulfur dioxide gas... something that was evident when it had the old site - but still occurred, of course... the gas problem was essentially hidden by its location in the mountains. 

The Besshi Mine’s cupriferous iron sulfide deposits contained about 40 percent sulfur. When heat was applied to this ore during smelting, sulfur dioxide was vented into the atmosphere.

Now, while the original mine site was merely responsible for massive deforestation (one needs materials to build a mine), the new site's sulfur dioxide emissions damaged local farm crops and caused nearby trees to die off. 

While the mine in the Time Team episode was forced to pay a huge penalty to the complainant, but kept going with its mining in the same manner as before, Sumitomo decided to change the way it did business.

Because of the tragedy that had befallen the original site in the mountains of Besshi on Shikoku Island, Sumitomo employee, Iba Teigo (surname first), the second Director General of Sumitomo  hired people to reforest that mountainous former site - evidence of which can still be seen today.

Well... Iba still had that new problem of the new copper facility emitting noxious fumes that were killing trees and valuable farmer crops... so after only three years of operation, the modern-Western-style copper smelting plant was re-located to Shisakajima, an uninhabited island located 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) offshore. Note that the copper was still being mined from the Besshi Mine.

Sumitomo okayed the move, even though it was expected to cost the business about one year's sale of copper to do so. It was still mining, but it had to pay other facilities to smelt for them.

Ahhh... but the best laid plans of mice and Iba, go often askew.

Being on an island 20 kilometers away from people, it was expected that the winds would disperse the gas and smoke from the smelter... something that was a concern in both the other two locations.

The Shisakajima copper smelter was completed in 1904... but as soon as operations started up, that darn old gas cloud drifted all the way back to the mainland... spreading its noxious fumes on an even wider part of the coastline than before. Epic fail.

To combat the smoke, Sumitomo decided to capture the waste fumes as it formed and convert it to sulfuric acid, which could be used to manufacture the fertilizer calcium super-phosphate, which could provide farmers with inexpensive crop fertilizer.

The thing is... calcium super-phosphate is a commodity... and on the stock market it was subject to violent fluctuations, and there was some major headscratching to see if Sumitomo wanted to enter this new line of business.

But it did... doing so because it needed to do something about the pollution issue. And... in September of 1913, Sumitomo Fertilizer Manufacturing began operation with nine employees—this was the origin of Sumitomo Chemical.

Now... for some reason, Sumitomo's website fails to make any mention of the 1920s-1945... when Japan began a military push, culminating in its near successful conquering of all of Asia, and then its subsequent fall from grace with a couple of atomic bombs destroying a pair of cities, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the loss of the second world war.

That loss mean that the Emperor had to renounce his godhood claim, which really demoralized the Japanese population that was still alive. As well... there was this whole war crimes tribunal, and the dissolution of zaibatsu.

Zaibatsu (財閥), mentioned three times now, is the Japanese term for 'Financial Giant' or 'financial clique'... and Sumitomo was definitely a financial giant involved in a financial clique.

Again, the Sumitomo corporate website pretty much glosses over any possible connection or participation of itself and WWII.

It's not like it helped created Zyklon B gas used to kill people in Nazi death camps like some German companies participated in, but Sumitomo did quite well during WWII.

It actually expanded from 40 companies owned to 135 companies during the war. Yes, war is hell, but it can also be damn profitable. You'll note that in an article I wrote about Donald Trump and Japan (HERE), I noted that countries often become involved in a war as a means to kickstart an economy. Death sells.

Anyhow... when the war ended... with rumblings about the Allies in the mood to dissolve Japan's zaibatsu, before it could happen, Sumitomo decided to:
  1. rationalize the overextended enterprises and stem the dispersal of human talent by giving each employee as much work as possible—and, to this end, plan new undertakings; 
  2. extend full relief to repatriated personnel and their families; and 
  3. prevent, wherever possible, the demise of Sumitomo enterprises by turning them to new objectives that would bring future prosperity to the people and the nation, thus entering into the trading business.
Waitaminute... Sumitomo keeps trying to avoid the subject of zaibatsu.

Every country has its own zaibatsu... a group of financial giants that help keep the wheels of that country's economy rolling. 

By definition, the zaibatsu were large family-controlled vertical monopolies consisting of a holding company on top, with a wholly-owned banking subsidiary providing finance, and several industrial subsidiaries dominating specific sectors of a market, either solely, or through a number of sub-subsidiary companies.

Right after WWII, Japan's Big Four zaibatsu were: Sumitomo, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and Yasuda (安田財閥), with second-tier zaibatsu organizations consisting of: Asano (浅野財閥); Fujita (藤田財閥); Furukawa (古河財閥); Mori (森コンツェルン); Kawasaki (川崎財閥); Nakajima (中島飛行機); Nitchitsu (日窒コンツェルン); Nissan (日産コンツェルン); Nisso (日曹コンツェルン); Nomura (野村財閥); Okura (大倉財閥); Riken (理研コンツェルン); Shibusawa (渋沢財閥), and Suzuki shoten (鈴木商店).

The second-tier zaibatsu all pretty much arose after/during the Russian - Japanese war of  1904-1905, won by Japan earning it global recognition as a country to be reckoned with.

All of these companies were purported to have strong influence over Japanese national and foreign policies, for example, Mitsui had strong ties with the Imperial Japanese Army, while Mitsubishi had strong time to the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Before the start of WWII but while Japan was already attacking and holding parts of China, it was believed that the Big Four zaibatsu of Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Yasuda and Sumitomo had direct control of over 30 percent of Japan's mining, chemical, and metals industries, and almost 50 percent control of the machinery and equipment market, a significant part of the foreign commercial merchant fleet and 70 percent of the commercial stock exchange.

Even the regular Japanese were concerned. During the 1920s and 1930s when there was a massive recession and depression all over the world, these Big Four zaibatsu were still making money. Even though its population was leery of such a clique, the Allies in charge of organizing Japan at the war's conclusion were reluctant to rip it to shreds too badly but still wanted to end the monopolies they represented.

A total of 16 zaibatsu were targeted for complete dissolution, and 26 more for reorganization after dissolution.

Big Four's Yasuda bit the dust, while companies such as Asano, Furukawa, Nakajima, Nissan, Nomura, and Okura were targeted.

Their controlling families' assets were seized, holding companies eliminated, and interlocking directorships, essential to the old system of inter-company coordination, were outlawed.

Matsushita, while not a zaibatsu, was also targeted for a breakup, but was saved by a petition signed by 15,000 of its union workers and their families. The company later changed its name to Panasonic.

As for Sumitomo, its proactive response to the Allied dissolution of the zaibatsu helped, and it survived... though the companies it owned were broken up to become independent entities.

This is where things get tricky.

If you were to go to the Sumitomo Corporation website, you would see that it was founded in 1919... but how can that be?

As mentioned, everything originally belonging to the Sumitomo clan, was dissolved into smaller (but still huge) companies. The Sumitomo Corporation was one of those companies.

From what I can gather, the Sumitomo Clan was dissolved by GHQ & the Japanese government at the end of WWII.

But, dissolved or not, there are still many Japanese companies that use "Sumitomo" in their corporate names, but they are not, nor are they currently related.

So... despite its convoluted roots, the clan exists (but does not exist) via the Sumitomo Corporation.

Still... the rest of its companies exist as:
  • Mazda (automobiles, saved in 1975 when it got a huge bailout from the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation); 
  • Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance (insurance) - formed in 2001 from the merger of Mitsui Marine & Fire Insurance Co. and The Sumitomo Marine & Fire Insurance (founded in 1917, I think) ; 
  • NEC Corporation (electronics and electric products) - became an associate of Sumitomo in 1919; 
  • Nippon Sheet Glass Co. Ltd. (glass) - formed in 1918; 
  • Osaka Titanium Technologies Co. Ltd. (titanium products) - founded in 1952; 
  • Sumisho Computer Systems (information technology) - founded in 1968;
  • Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd. (chemicals) - essentially formed in 1932;
  • Sumitomo Chemical (chemicals) - formed officially in 1934;
  • Sumitomo Corporation (integrated trading) - formed officially in 1919;
  • Sumitomo Electric Bordnetze (auto parts supplier);
  • Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd. (electronics and electric products);
  • Sumitomo Forestry Co. Ltd. (lumber and housing);
  • Sumitomo Heavy Industries (machinery, weaponry and shipbuilding);
  • Sumitomo Life (insurance)
  • Sumitomo Metal Industries (steel);
  • Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. (non-ferrous metal); 
  • Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (finance) - founded 1996 with the merger of The Sakura Bank, Ltd. (founded 1876) and The Sumitomo Bank, Ltd. (founded in 1895);
  • Sumitomo Mitsui Construction Co., Ltd. (construction);
  • Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Holdings ( finance);
  • Sumitomo Osaka Cement (cement);
  • Sumitomo Precision Products (aeropace equipment).;
  • Sumitomo Realty & Development Co., Ltd. (real estate); 
  • Sumitomo Riko (rubber materials for vehicles, printers and constructions);
  • Sumitomo Rubber Industries (tires and other rubber products); 
  • The Sumitomo Warehouse Co., Ltd. (warehousing). 
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

NTT Data Buys Dell Services For US$3 Billion

When people start throwing around billions of US dollars, we're talking some serious moolah!

Dell Inc. is selling its Dell Services information technology unit to NTT Data Inc. for just over $3-billion (U.S.) as part of its ongoing reorganization plan.

NTT Data is a Japanese system integration company and a subsidiary of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone—it
focuses on information technology in the medical field, including medical records and billing.

Dell had purchased the business for US$3.9 billion in 2009 (it took a loss!) when it was Perot Systems, founded by billionaire and one-time presidential candidate Ross Perot (I voted for him at least six times, because, as a Canadian, I thought he had the best ears).

Don't cry for Dell - it needed the money - but not because it was hurting... rather because it is trying to purchase data storage provider EMC for US$67-billion in a deal expected to close in February of 2017.

Andrew Joseph

Toki - Japan's Crested Ibis

The Japanese Crested Ibis, aka the Toki (トキ), is, of course, a bird, with a white slicked-back crest of feathers along the nape (back) of its otherwise bald red-skinned head, and similarly colored legs and feet. It is known by the scientific name of Nipponia nippon... just in case we weren't sure it was a Japanese bird.

Considered an endangered species, the Toki, with its black beak, is a large, slender bird measuring as much as 78.5-centimeters (30.9-inches) long from beak to tail. It possesses a wingspan of around 140-centimeters (55.12-inches).

While the non-breeding plumage is all white, breeding adults do possess a grey head, crest, neck and back.

Like all members of the ibis family, the Nipponia nippon has a thin, long downward turning beak.

In the 19th century, these birds were seen all over Japan, China, Korea and Russia, but the usual man-made 20th century factors of habitat loss and persecution (those are nice feathers), combined with the species' small population size, limited range and poor survival skills in the winter (starvation) made the decrease in numbers inevitable.

As of 1981, there were seven Toki still alive in the wild in Shaanxi, China - a surprise discovery, because it was thought that they had all been wiped out a few years earlier.

However, despite best efforts, the wild Toki breathed its last in October of 2003... but fear not, despite the death of all the wild Toki, China and Japan did partake in a preservation program to breed captive birds for eventual re-release into the wild.

After over-hunting throughout the 20th century, in the 1950s, villages on Sado Island established feeding grounds for the Toki, and when the Japanese government purchased woods for it to survive in, they gave it the status of a national forest for nesting Toki. Still... it came close to extinction.

Since then - 1981, China and Japan began a rigorous breeding program of the captive Toki they had... and good news...

In 2008, bred captive Toki birds were re-introduced back into Japan when the Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Preservation Center release 10 of the birds on Sado Island in Niigata-ken... with plans to have released a total of 60 by 2015.

I'm unsure if they were successful, but it does seem hopeful.

Despite its appearance, in the air, the bird is quite elegant, with orange-pink hues seen on its wings when the sunlight hits it just so.

The bird likes to nest in groups in the forest, feeding at rice fields and marshes eating insects in the summer and small fish and shellfish in the winter.

I'm sure I must have been mistaken, but I would swear I saw a Toki in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken back between 1991 and 1993... I saw the bird, saw the lovely red head, and white plumage and just assumed it was an ibis - no big deal. It was in a very wet part of a rice field... but it must have been something else... there weren't any wild Toki left, and they weren't supposed to be in that part of Japan... but it sure did look like one.

Andrew Joseph
PS: This is one of those blogs I have been holding onto for a few years - hence my confusion over the release of the total number of birds as of 2015.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Toy Cars, Volcanoes And Marriage

Unless one lives in Japan, odds are you’ve never heard of Toyota's other line of cars. No, I’m not talking about their Lexus brand of high-end machines, but rather their more affordable low-end cars made originally for a female audience.

A pet Toyota. A toy car… small, pretty pastel colors (at least that was what I saw all over Japan many years ago), and an affordable piece of fluff that would allow the typical housewife to motor around town to do the daily shopping for groceries or clothes or maybe to go to the gym.

My girlfriend Noboko had one - a toy car, that is… thank god she was a tiny woman, and I hadn’t begun pumping iron yet. My chest is an additional 12-inches wider now than then, and I think that additional sizing would have made it difficult for Noboko to drive, what with me being forced on top of her… this time not on purpose. Actually, trust me… there was no room for us to have even thought about fooling around in her car.

Replete with a tiny engine, I recall the time we drove up the road to get to the top of the local mountain/live volcano about 10 kilometers north of my apartment. Noboko was 105 lb and I was 175 lb (no, really)… and I’m pretty sure that despite all of the school books she lugged around daily, it still wasn’t as heavy as me… and so that little car of hers chugged slowly along as it attempted to climb up the road.

I just kept thinking of that classic tale: The Little Engine That Could, puffing along an incline saying “I think I can! I think I can!”

That’s the difference between fantasy (talking choo-choo trains) and reality (toy car with weight heavier than a typical Japanese housewife laden with groceries).

We found a parking area not far up from the base of the mountain and hoofed it.

I think Noboko already knew her toy car (it smelled of Noboko’s wonderful apple blossom hair shampoo) wouldn’t have made it up the mountain, so she had already packed a lunch for two and planned a hike for us.

It was detailed somewhere in this blog many years ago, suffice to say that she could amble up the mountain like a goat, and I like a welcome mat. We somehow managed to loosen the well-worn public path, and when a fog rolled in and we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us, we found ourselves hugging the side of the volcano, loose scree at our feet waiting to slide us down to impending death, all the while trying to not place our handholds too close to the fissures venting hot volcanic gases.

Each of us refused to give into cowardice less we panic the other, and holding hands and saying silent prayers to whichever deity was in the vicinity, we made it.

I was also afraid of heights. I never mentioned that to Noboko, because I'm a stupid man who didn't want to look like a wimp in front of his tiny woman who was obviously too good to be with a guy like me.

It's true, at least in the looks department, but I make it up with personality out the ying-yang. That's karma for ya.

I promised myself I would never go hiking again (though Noboko had called it bush walking). Fifty pounds heavier (and 12 inches wider at the chest… and oh gods six more on the waist), I have kept that promise. Hmm. I’m outta potato chips.

Anyhow… where was I… no, not fog-bound on an active volcano… oh yes, the Toyota Toyopet toy cars.

I just wanted to show you all this very cool looking Pokemon-themed Toyopet that made an appearance at the 2014 Tokyo Toy Show. Yes... two years ago. I've been busy.

I just want to say that if my girlfriend or mistress showed up in a car that looked like this, I think I would divorce my wife on the spot. I think I like the attention it would bring.

The Toyopet line has only been around since 2014… so obviously what Noboko was driving wasn’t from that line… but really, those toy cars are a staple in Japan.

This is Fennekin aka Fokko in Japan - the other Pokemon-themed Toyopet car at the 2014 Tokyo Toy Show.
For an American counterpart… there was the Nissan Micra. The Smart Car is the current successor, though us westerners get gypped… in Germany I saw a sports car version, and it looked great.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Anne Of Green Gables Canada & Japan Stamps

Like many a young woman, I have read the classic novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Yeah, I know what I wrote. It works on two levels, however.

Originally completed in 1905, the fictional tale of young Anne Shirley growing up in Avonlea, Prince Edward Island in Canada was rejected by multiple publishers—proving once again, that one person's junk is another person's treasure.

All the record companies that rejected The Beatles will understand that, too.

After her story was rejected by various publishers, Mongtgomery put her manuscript in a hat box, hiding it away for three years before trying again, finally achieving publication via a Boston publisher in 1908—and, of course, immediate success.

I only read the book a few years ago, and while I am perhaps too old and too male to get the whole romantic notions contained within it, I can see its appeal.

For whatever reason, Japan… or rather the near entire female population of Japan seems to love Anne of Green Gables… with a fervor… a passion… with a zeal that has caused Japan to create its own Anne of Green Gables-themed amusement park and a highly-rated animated television series.

Oh yeah… there's also an Anne Academy (like Space Camp, but for red-heads); a nursing school nicknamed the "Green Gables School of Nursing"; people can get married in Anne-themed weddings; thousands of Japanese tourists visit Prince Edward Island each year, there are many fan clubs… oh, and of course, the book is still the favorite of young women across Japan.

Despite having only traveled to Prince Edward Island once—you gotta go!—upon arriving in Japan to assistant teach junior high school English in the sort-of rural city of Ohtawara in Tochigi-ken, I was beset upon class after class of Japanese girls, would politely ask me: "Do you know Anne?"

At first I was confused… Anne who?

I didn't know that Anne of Green Gables had achieved such legendary status in Japan where she was simply known by her first name like Cher or Twiggy or Bono.

Never wanting to disappoint, I lied and said yes, I did know Anne.

I knew of her, but had never read the book. I didn't even know that Anne was "Canadian".

Class after class of Japanese junior high school girls - now armed with the knowledge that I knew all about Anne - would smile and bow at me for being strange.

Well, I was… but it was because I was a guy who knew everything about Anne of Green Gables. Plus I came from the same country as Anne. They do know she's fictional, right?

I don't know when I suddenly knew everything, but the girls now thought I did. Maybe it was when I might have mentioned that I liked women with red hair.

Even if it wasn't a rebellious thing for Japanese girls/women to do, achieving that perfect red hue worn by Anne would have been near impossible. At least every redhead in Japan that I saw only got a poor dry strawberry blonde hue from a Henna rinse that paled beside my true strawberry-blonde-best-buddy, Matthew.

Upon each visit to the seven junior high schools in Ohtawara, the girls would track me down and push drawings of Anne they had created into my paper-cut fingers. Some were quite good, but I really had no notion of what I was looking at, as it always seemed to have a heavy manga (Japanese comic book) style to it. Those drawings were never mine to keep, by the way. It was just for me to give approval to.

I did know that it was my goal to find a Japanese women with red hair and big boobs—but unfortunately, while two out of three ain't bad for some folks, I was still left wanting, eventually giving up to just find a Japanese woman who could stomach me.

Anyhow... to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Canadian icon Anne of Green Gables via an American publisher (the irony is not lost on me), the Royal Canadian Mint issued a special color quarter coin featuring the forever redheaded Anne in 2008.

Note the artwork on the coin... see below for details on it, and wonder why the Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Post are too cheap to provide true variety.

I've seen many so-called special coins in active Canadian circulation—I snap those up like ex-girlfriends—but until I did a search for something else, I had no idea this coin existed. (I'm an ex-numismatic (coin collector), though I still have a decent Canadian collection. I'm just missing the expensive stuff. Of course.)

That something else that I was looking for—brought to my attention by my friend Julien… I'm unsure why he was looking up stamps featuring redheads—are the Anne of Green Gables stamps.

Canada Post issued a pair of $0.52 stamps in 2008 - see below:

The stamps images are based upon original artwork officially authorized by the heirs of Montgomery and the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority Inc.

The painting of Anne was created by Ben Stahl, while the Green Gables house is by Christopher Kovacs.

"Anne is such a unique character, so full of life and so inspired by nature," says stamp designer Dennis Page. "These paintings represent her story well—the images are surrounded by nature, and Anne appears lost in her thoughts."

Page worked with digital illustrator Mike Little on the unique frame for the two images, which serves as a subtle reminder that Anne's famous story is actually a work of fiction.

"The stamp frames are meant to resemble the pages of a book printed in 1908, with deckle edges and an original look and feel," says Page.

As for the sheet of stamps at the very top of this blog, it was a limited-edition sheet of stamps featuring the two Canadian stamps, and eight real ¥80 Japanese stamps featuring four scenes from the animated Japanese television show.

It was issued in 2008 - a joint venture between Canada and Japan, and was not issued separately by Japan Post Co., Ltd.

I am only assuming it is from the first animated Japanese series called Akage no An ((赤毛のアン, Lit. Red-haired Anne), and was produced by Nippon Animation (see… Nippon, as in Japan Animation) in 1979 with a total of 50 episodes.

By the way… the Canada Post website says the Japanese Anne of Green Gables animated show is entitled "Nippon"… which is actually one of the ways the Japanese/Nihonjin say "Japan". D'oh Canada.

This sheet of 2008 stamps were so incredibly popular, that 10-million of the 15-million print run was sold in the first month of its release.

Canada Post does still have some of the sheets remaining for sale: at CDN $8… a 25% discount from the original CDN$10.99. See HERE.

By the way… there was a Japanese television drama called Hanako to Anne (花子とアン, Hanako to An, Hanako and Anne), that debuted on March 31, 2014 on the NHK network. It was broadcast Monday through Saturday morning, running through September 27, 2014. It was based on the novel An no Yurikago Muraoka Hanako no Shogai by Muraoka Eri (surname first), which is the story of her grandmother Hanako (1893–1968), who was the first to translate Anne of Green Gables into Japanese back in 1952.

As for my deception towards the youth of Japan, well… even Anne of Green Gables author Montgomery said she never felt quite truthful admitting that this vibrant red-headed girl was indeed a fictional character.

Yes, I like Anne,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Real Or Fake Boobs On Japanese TV

Everyone likes boobs. Okay, that's a pretty broad statement, but for the male heterosexual community and the female gang who appreciate them on themselves and others, the sweater puppets are considered a very intriguing way to wile away the afternoon via staring, ogling, fantasizing, slobbering over and well... things are just getting out of hand here.

I'm not much of a boob man. I've dated women with A-cups to F-cups, and to be honest, big or small, as long as my actions can create a bit of sensory overload, that's good enough for me.

I have never been a fan of the fake boobs. I dislike the feel and, when unencumbered, I dislike the way they look... unnatural. Especially when the woman is lying down.

Have you ever had a fake boob hit you in the head? Look Raoul - stars!

Chalk it up to preferring women who won't wear a lot of make-up because they themselves don't believe they require a lot of make-up.

The Japanese men seem to like women with big boobs.

Drunken Japanese businessmen seem to have no problem with going over to a woman and feeling them up - which is another societal problem in and on itself.

There are many websites on the Internet devoted to such idle piffle where viewers can glance at the clothed chest of a woman and offer an opinion on if the boobs are real or not. I think I spent 30-seconds at one site and realized that I don't really care if I'm not seeing them in the flesh, so to speak.

Anyhow... Japan... here's a segment from a Japanese television show where three individuals are invited to go and squeeze as many boobs as they can in 15 seconds to try and determine which is real and which is fake.

To their credit, one of the contestants was a woman - and yet, if you see it, all the touchie-feely Japanese didn't make the whole thing a gross embarrassment.

I fully expected one of the guys to drop to his knees, thrust his face in an ample bosom and shake his head violently while yelling "Brrrrrrrrrrofsky".

Maybe that's just me.

While the end result isn't shown - like really, who cares - I was more impressed that someone thought this segment would titillate an audience.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at the top - real. Or... to quote the X-Files: "I want to believe."

Friday, March 25, 2016

333 Whales Captured By Japan For Science Experiments

Uh yeah… WTF does Japan need 333 minke whales for?

According to media reports, Japan has killed 333 whales as part of a previously concocted master plan, that apparently involves 'scientific research'.

Yeah... I call bullsh!t.

I have seen a CNN report that Japan says it has killed these 333 whales, 230 of which were female with 90 percent of those being pregnant. Wow... that's cold.

Beginning December 1, 2015, four survey ships from Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research were sailing in the Antarctic region for 115 days. 

Here's the thing… in 2014, the United Nations said in an official ruling that the 'scientific' whaling activity down there was a Japanese front for commercial whale hunts.

Back in November of 2014, Japan wasn't even trying to hide its plan.

The government of Japan actually released a plan which said as much: HERE

I'll cut through the blubber to get to the good stuff: It's a 12-year plan to net Japan a total of 3,996 caught (and killed whales) in the Antarctic, including waters claimed by Australia.

That 3,996 total over 12 years means Japan will be slaughtering 333 creatures a year.

Again... what sort of scientific research needs to be done that involves slaughtering whales over a 12-year period?

Now… that is still a huge reduction in Japan's whaling activities.

The year before that plan was released, Japan's official target was 855 minke, 50 humpback and 10 fin whales—but it was unable to attain those harpoon goals after its vessels were harassed by anti-whaling activist Sea Shepherd.

During 2015, however, Japan halted its whaling in the name of science, after both New Zealand and Australia claimed that Japan's so-called scientific research was bullish!t. They used a more polite term official, but if I know my Aussies and Kiwis, my term was more correct.

Even so… with the recent scientific whaling activity from December 2015 to present, it appears as though Japan is up to its old tricks again.

I betcha that there is research being done on all those dead whales…

"Yup… that whale is wet."
"Suzuki-san… is that whale wet?"
"Yes, this whale is also wet."
"San-ofu-a-beach, whales are wet!"

This is from a previous year's Minke whale slaughter by Japan's so-called research ships. Photo by the Daily Telegraph.
Then, research complete, they have all those dead whales lying about… might as well do something with them rather than feed the sharks… so:

"Hey Suzuki-san (a different one), we need to dispose of the scientific research into smaller pieces that could fit in a can on a grocery shelf or a quarter plate."

You get the picture.

After the bogus 'research', the dead whales are further processed, packed in ice, and then taken to an onshore facility for more refined further processing into whale sashimi or some canned whale product.

I have eaten both while in Japan… and all I can say is… its flavor is not worth creating Star Trek IV.

In the old days, in places in Japan where protein sources were sparse during the winter, getting said protein from whale meat was indeed a viable solution.

I can also understand that when that was no longer necessarily the sole option for protein amongst those segregated populations, the allure of whale sperm for oil and other perfume technologies was a financial boon.

But nowadays? This is just another bullsh!t excuse for the Japanese to pretend eating whale is part of their heritage... their culture.

So was beating up one's wife. So was lynching. So was unequal pay for women doing the same job as men... of wait, that still happens...

But the point is... we're supposed to evolve as a species... maybe one should actually care about a cultural heritage that one can be globally proud of.

Japan... such a wonderful place... modern... with an eye to the future... and a lazy stuck focused on the past.

Time to grow up and do a better job as part of the global community.

Imagine having to lie to the world claiming you are doing scientific research, when all you want to do is kill something for something as inglorious as a nod to the past that didn't even concern the majority of the country at any point in time... that's right... as I said before, most of Japan in the past did not need to kill a whale to get its protein.

Sanctions should be enforced upon Japan by member countries of the United Nations. No... not until they promise (again) to stop the slaughter of whales, but as a penalty for their continued lies in regards why they are being slaughtered.

Scientific research? Yeah... maybe to see just how many whales it takes before the United Nations gets off its butt and starts acting like a real group of united nations.

This almost makes we want to stop writing about Japan.

Eat more tofu.
Andrew Joseph

Godzilla, Butts And Poultry In Motion

The last panel of this Old Panel Comics by Jessica Tremblay is the English translation of a Japanese haiku by Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa 小林 一茶?, June 15, 1763 – January 5, 1828, a dude who was also a priest with the Buddhist Jōdo Shinshū sect.

While better known for his haiku rather than his priestly priestings, we can learn that he seems to have a wit about him to present poetry in a wonderfully simple light.

Here's the real Japanese version of Kobayashi-san's haiku:


If you want to read it, it says: "
yûzuki ni shiri tsunmukete oda no kari."

It really does translate to:

Aiming their butts

at the evening moon...

rice field geese.

I know... you are looking at this and going... did he really use"aiming their butts" in a haiku? How could that be something to do with nature?

Well... take a gander at this... when the geese are aiming their collective butt at the evening moon, it is a depiction of what the geese are doing when they dip their head below the water.

Their tails salute the evening moon.

As with all things where a direct translation from one language to another is used, one can end up with purple-monkey-underpants. Gibberish.

Of the over 1,000 haiku produced by Kobayashi, some 170 of 'em are related to geese.

Learning that, I obviously feel less stupid at having created so crappy Godzilla haiku in the past.

What's that you say? You want me to give you an example? How about something new, instead?

The Americans
ruin my reputation
Gojira best film

There... 18 seconds. It's a poignant take at how Hollywood has tamed the Godzilla franchise, and how the new Japanese blockbuster hitting screens later in 2016 will bring the King of the Monsters back from glamorous purgatory.  It was also written in the first person, as though Godzilla himself created the haiku.

As well, the movie monster is correctly named Gojira, the way the first Japanese movie intended... not Godzilla, as it was corrupted by the Hollywood movie version, fearing the Western tongue would be unable or unwilling to pronounce it correctly. Hollywood must have thought Americans were stupid. That's also how I can explain the last American-made Godzilla movie where the title reptile doesn't appear until some 40 minutes have passed.

A haiku is comprised of three lines to tell a story: the first and third lines are five syllables each, while the second line contains seven syllables. It should be about nature, but Godzilla is a force of nature so, it fits the bill.

To be fair, aside from the very first Gojira movie, the rest of the stuff from Japan has been worse than any haiku I could come up with in 18 seconds.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Love Doll Exhibition In Tokyo

First things first… I don't believe for an instant that seeing this exhibit makes one a pervert.

We're talking abstract art. Art that involves Love Dolls… those life-like creatures that are meant to provide lonely men the opportunity to enjoy female company with being judged, and perhaps , if they are lucky, something to ejaculate into.

Now… this, as I said is art… It's an exhibit at the Vanilla Gallery (B2F, 8-10-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku) in Tokyo being held April 26-30, 2016, that will allow the visitor to stare at the newest creations from Orient Industry, a manufacturer of the Love Doll brand of plastic fantastic lovers.

I had thought that a plastic fantastic lover was a television (as based on an old Jefferson Airplane rock song) or perhaps something like my ex-German sex bomb, Katarin, who liked to dress in squeaky PVC when we'd venture out in public together… but sure… a Love Doll. (That PVC-thing will have to wait another 20 years before I can talk about something called Topsoil Loser.)

At the exhibition, you'll note that Orient Industry has come out with Love Dolls of various female shapes and sizes. Nothing wrong with that - I, myself, love women in all their various shapes and sizes.

I do, however, find the Love Doll below to be disconcerting, as it has too much of a child-like quality… making it all… or at least anyone who purchases said Lolita, as someone who might enjoy kiddie porn.
She's not real. Love Doll by Orient Industries.
I'm sure that the Love Doll is not one that is supposed to be a teenager, but rather an adult Love Doll dressed and painted up to as appear as something underage… which, when it comes to an inmate object amounts to the same thing as kiddie porn.

Seriously… it creeps me out.

Perhaps I have always preferred the more mature quail ever since I saw my friend's Lithuanian goddess of a mother oiled up in a bikini when I was 12... excuse me for a moment.

Still… despite the depicted youth of that Love Doll, at least it is fully clothed.

The Love Doll exhibition are modeled on portraits by Ikenaga Yasanari (surname first), and is curated by art critic Yamashita Yuji (surname first)… so it's not as gauche as one might fear… as it is presented in an elegant, high-art manner, and not with the Love Dolls splayed showing off their naughty bits.

The artist has taken dolls manufactured by Orient Industry, improved on the make-up and dressed them up artistically.

Why? Art.

If she talks to you at night, you've gone crazy. She's a doll, all right, but despite her ability to love you until you die, she doesn't really love you, and is making goo-goo eyes at your spatula.
You have to be at least 18-years-of-age to enter, but visitors do receive a special companion leaflet that explains what Orient Industry is all about, has interviews, creation methods and, of course, more artwork. 

Entrance Cost is ¥1,000 - ~CDN $11.66 or US $8.95 or €7.97 or AUS $11.71 or MYR 35.64… so really… not that much to view the goods. I mean art.

If you so desire, you can check out the Japanese-language website for the Vanilla Gallery here:

Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks, Matthew!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Man Who Fell From Space

When I was a child, I recall hearing the phrase "the man who fell from space", and wondered what it meant.

A few days ago, while perusing some strange photos on-line, I discovered what that meant.

It meant that photo up above... the charred remains of one Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut who was piloting the Soyuz 1 spacecraft back in 1967... whose spaceship literally fell to Earth after being in orbit, causing the heroic man to die horrifically when it smashed into the ground.

Look, I love talking about Japan in all its facets, so rest assured that there is a reference to Japan here, a tenuous one, but whatever... I'll talk about space any chance I get. The only two "A's" I got in university where for astronomy... weird considering that to this day I have never looked through a telescope.

Let's start at the beginning of the 1960s.

There is a Cold War going on between the United States of America and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - 1922-1991... what everyone incorrectly called Russia, though that was indeed a part of it.)

After WWII, the communist USSR began a build-up of arms to establish itself as one half of the world's super powers. There was always a sense of one-up-manship when it came to the U.S. and the USSR.

That fact culminated in the Soviet Union (USSR) being the first to send up a living creature, Laika the dog, into space on November 3, 1957, and again with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin commanded his one-man Vostok spacecraft into outer space and completing an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961.

This embarrassment to American-perceived superiority caused then U.S. president John F. Kennedy to pledge that America would send a man to the moon and back by the end of the decade - a speech made at Rice University on September 12, 1962:

"... and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations, can expect to stay behind in this race for space."

That's a lot of 'expect'ations.

Well. One can't make a speech like that without someone else taking it as a challenge - and that's what the USSR did, creating the Soyuz Luna space craft missions, with the initial four designated for Earth orbit missions.

Now... now we have a real space race... one that with the exception of a war, would prove the intellectual superiority of one country over the other... I don't think that way, but you know at the time, patriots on both sides did.

The problem, for both sides, is that when your leader tells you that "we have to be first", shortcuts are made, and accidents occur. Neither would ever admit to such practices, but again... d'uh.

For the unofficial record, there are some who say that prior to Soviet spaceman Gagarin being the first into space, two other cosmonauts perished in their attempts - saying that the USSR suppressed this information to prevent any bad press to make them look weak in the eyes of the Americans.

Since this information was suppressed, and now available, there was evidence of one man dying during training on Earth, but that's about it.... I will note that this theory was put forth by Americans during the 1980s when the Cold War was beginning to get hot again.

Soyuz 1
Vladimir Komarov was born on March 16, 1927 in Moscow, and grew up to be a airplane test pilot, aerospace engineer and cosmonaut (the Soviet version of astronaut, in case you were wondering).

He helped do some space vehicle design, cosmonaut training and even public relations while at the Cosmonaut Training Centre, and was selected to command the Voskhod 1 multi-man flight.

The Voskhod 1 was the seventh-ever craft into space, and was the first to carry more than one person. As well, it was the first flight where there were no space suits, and set a manned spacecraft altitude record of 336 kilometers (209 miles) on October 12-13, 1964.

Apparently this three-man space flight was only supposed to carry two people, but the USSR wanted three, so... since the capsule could only hand two men in space suits or three without, they opted for the later - safety be damned, right?

As a successful USSR flight, and before the American manned Gemini space flight, this was an important bit of Soviet chest thumping over its Western rivals.

You can lick'em but you can't beat'em. U.S.S.R stamp commemorating Vladamir Komarov's leadership on the Voskhod I spaceflight on October 12 & 13, 1964.

Komarov was then chosen to lead the Soyuz 1, as part of the official program to reach the moon first by the USSR. Other cosmonauts chosen were Soviet Hero (and first man in space) Yuri Gagarin and Alexi Leonov.

On March 18, 1965 on the Voskhod 2 space mission, Leonov was the first human being to walk in space, doing so for 12-minutes.

On or about July 20, 1966, while performing some PR for the USSR in Japan, Komarov was officially reprimanded for his unauthorized disclosure that "the Soviet Union will, at the scheduled time, fly an automated spacecraft around the Moon and return it to (the) Earth, to be followed by a dog flight, then a manned circumlunar flight."

Yup... that's our Japanese connection... but it was a heads-up to the U.S. of A. that 'them Russkies' were close to attaining their goal of a flight to the moon.

On the ground, the Soyuz 1 mission was having issues. Komarov said the module hatch during Zero-G tests, was too small to allow the exit of a fully-suited spaceman (for safety)... how can you have accurate tests if they aren't based on reality?
A graphic representation of the ill-fated Soyuz I - a bug-like design that looks brilliant. I said "looks".
As well, the cosmonauts were constantly having their assignments revised causing tension, and... there was no response to a letter they had sent to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (USSR leader) Leonid Brezhnev about the problems and concerns with the design AND manufacture of the Soyuz 1.

The letter was from country hero Gagarin on the group's behalf. It basically said "how can you send a kid up in a crate like this?!"

By 1967, Komarov was chosen as the lead commander to fly the solo space mission, with Gagarin as his back-up should he not be able to fly.

According to a book, Komarov did not want to command this space ship with all its problems, but refused to step down because if he did, they would make his friend Gagarin command it, and he did not want Gagarin, a Soviet hero, to die in his place.

He actually said that he was going to die on this mission.
Let's skip ahead. The Soyuz 1 spacecraft blasts-off and achieves orbit.

Problem. The solar panels fail to open up fully, which means the spacecraft can not be fully powered, and it obscures some of the navigation equipment.

Said Komarov in space: "Conditions are poor. The cabin parameters are normal, but the left solar panel didn't deploy. The electrical bus is at only 13 to 14 amperes. The HF (high frequency transmitter) communications are not working. I cannot orient the spacecraft to the sun. I tried orienting the spacecraft manually using the DO-1 orientation engines, but the pressure remaining on the DO-1 has gone down to 180."

For five hours Komarov tried to orient the command module, but failed. Because the high frequency transmitter wasn't working (it maintains radio contact while the spacecraft is out of range of the UHF (ultra-high frequency) receivers back on Earth, Komarov was unable to establish ground contact with aid on his mission status. This was in orbits 13 through 15.

It was at this time, that the USSR began to realize that there was something wrong with their space craft design and scrubbed the planned ascension of Soyuz 2.

The Soyuz II was supposed to have carried cosmonauts (plural) up to the Soyuz 1 to perform aid to the crippled craft via an EVA (extra-vehicular activity)... a spacewalk... probably to get those pesky solar panels out to provide full power to the craft, and to allow for a better view of all navigation instruments (blocked by the panels).
A nice piece of space history - but unfortunately not the right type of patch required on Soyuz I.
Okay... so with no help forthcoming, Komarov was ordered to re-orient the craft using the ion system on orbits 15 to 17 - and when we say re-orient, we mean to maneuver the craft so that it can re-enter Earth properly.

But... the ion engine system failed.

So Komarov had to try and manually re-enter, and began prepping for it with orbit 19. Holy crap... I'm tensing up as I write this. Like when I watched the Apollo 13 movie when I already knew what had happened to it from watching the TV news back when I was a kid...

To manually perform re-entry back to Earth, Komarov needed to be able to see the sun and rely on something called the Vzor periscope. It was needed so he could reach the still-designated landing site in Orsk (still in Russia).

To get to the proper place and orientation to get to Orsk, he would need to perform a retro-fire to propel the craft, while on the night-side of Earth.

Problem. Night side of Earth. Sun to use the Vzor.

But he did it on the 19th orbit, re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

Problem. The effing parachute that would slow his decent did not deploy properly.

The Soyuz 1 and Komarov sped to Earth.

Knowing what was to befall him, Komarov spent his last remaining moments alive to spew vitriol: "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship."

The USSR says that Komarov died when the Soyuz 1 splattered onto Earth's surface on April 24, 1967.

He was not the first man, therefore, to have died in space.

The Soyuz 1 crash site coordinates are 51.3615°N 59.5622°E, three kilometers (1.9 miles) west of Karabutak, Province of Orenburg in the Russian Federation, about 275 kilometers (171 miles) east-southeast of Orenburg. In a small park on the side of the road is a memorial monument: a black column with a bust of Komarov at the top.

The crash site of the Soyuz 1 spacecraft.

As a guy who watched the Eagle land on the Moon with astronaut John Glenn stepping down on the Moon on July 21, 1969, and laughing with glee as the Apollo-Soyuz space mission docked with each other in orbit above my head in July of 1975 - believing it meant a new era in relations between the Soviets and Americans (something I truly believe the space men really felt)...

To watching in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up on January 29, 1986 while I viewed it live on TV at a friends dorm common area at university...

To lying in bed crying as the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry on February 1, 2003... I would kill to be able to fly in space and look upon the rest of the world with disdain.

Hmm... probably good that I didn't. I seem to have some issues...

The point is, Komarov, despite his anger at having to die in a crate like Soyuz 1, and the other brave men, women and animals that gave their life in the pursuit of space and ego, "I would still go into space."

To the room and no one in particular, I actually said that almost immediately after the Challenger disaster...

The only thing I can't understand about this Kevin Spacey in space blog, is why the fug the Soviets had an open-casket funeral for Komarov.

They really did. The proof is in the top-most photo.

The U.S.S.R never made it to the Moon.

On July 3, 1969, on the very eve of the Apollo-11 Moon landing, Soviet engineers made another secret attempt to fly the giant N1 (vehicle No. 5L) rocket. However, the mission ended just seconds after liftoff with a colossal explosion

With the explosion of that unmanned rocket, the USSR was already well behind the successes of the Americans, and effectively knocked them out of race to the Moon - just days before American astronauts walked on the lunar surface.

To this date, only six Apollo missions (XI, XII, XIV, XV, XVI and XVII) of the United States and its NASA division, have ever landed men on the moon.

That's a total of 12 astronauts walking on the surface of the moon. Of the 21 Apollo astronauts (including the ill-fated Apollo XIII - also an excellent movie!) three of them flew to the moon twice, but no one has ever walked upon it more than once.

Jim Lovell, John Young and Eugene Cernan are the only three people to have flown to the Moon twice: Apollo X and XVI - Young; and X and XVII - Cernan. Apollo X only flew to the Moon's orbit and was never projected to land upon its surface.

Young and Cernan each set foot on it during their respective second lunar missions of Apollo XVI and Apollo XVII, respectively, while Lovell is the only person to have flown to the Moon twice without landing - Apollo VII and XIII.

We (human beings) last set foot on an alien surface (Luna, our moon) on December 14, 1972... over 43 years ago.

What's really sad, is that of those 12 men who landed on the moon - and seven are still alive - the youngest of the remaining moon walkers is Harrison Schmitt at 80-years-of-age. He is also the last man to have walked on the moon.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Japan Gets No Reaction With Nuclear

Japan fired up its first commercial nuclear power reactor back in 1966, with nuclear power becoming a national strategy since 1973.

Ever since the heady days of 2011 when one of its nuclear reactor facilities nearly went ka-blooey with multiple near meltdowns, Japan has been in panic mode.

It's actually a good panic mode, as it has taken a good hard look at all of its nuclear power generating sites, found issue after issue after issue with every one of them, and essentially took all of them - all 50 nuclear power generating plants - off-line, while it tried to resolve all of the issues to ensure they were up to global safety standards.

I should state that there a total of 43 operable power reactors… and they are all awaiting confirmation that they meet Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) safety requirements—something new since the Dai-ichi, Fukushima snafu.

As with most things that are fixed up after the fact, there has to be a before-the-fact… and that usually means death and/or destruction.

Hey… only 140,000 residents within a 20 kilometer (12-mile) radius of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility had to evacuated.

Any deaths that might have occurred have been because of exposure to radioactive materials during its clean-up.

Did you know that according to a Financial Times report, just the nuclear disaster at the Dai-ichi facility has cost Japan about US$118-billion… TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power COmpany), the privately-owned company that owned the Dai-ichi facility, has only had to pay 20 percent of that amount, with the government and the good citizens of Japan having to pay the rest.

Did you know that for a while, Japan was completely nuclear-produced electrical power-free as of May 5, 2012… a first since 1970.

But… on July 1, 2012, Unit 3 of the Oi nuclear power facility was restarted, but a year later on September 2013, it went off-line, again plunging Japan into a nuclear-free society.

But… on August 11, 2015, the Sendai 1 and 2 nuclear power plant in Kagoshima-ken was started up by the Kyushu Electric Power Co.… and then the Takahama 3 plant in Fukui-ken on January 29, 2016 (this one by the Kansai Electric Power Co.)…

And then on March 9, 2016, thanks to anti-nuclear activists, an injunction—ordered by the Otsu District Court—meant that the Kansai Electric Power Co. had to suspend operation of its 870-megawatt Takahama 3 nuclear power plant, as well as any possible start-up of #4… it had tried to start up, but the Takahama 4 pressurized water reactor suffered a reactor trip… the company was trying to determine WTF happened.

So… that means there are a total of three nuclear power plants out of a total of 43 operable nuclear power plants in Japan that are currently up and running, with 24 of them in the process of seeking restart approval.

Ever wonder where the energy is coming from to keep the neon glowing in Tokyo?

Well, even when firing on all cylinders, those 50 operable nuclear power plants were powering about 30 percent of Japan's electricity… with plans, pre-2011, to have them supply at least 40 percent by 2017.

So… where does the energy come from needed to move the country? Obviously the majority of it is still via oil and gas… with some 80 percent of its oil (and 20 percent of its natural gas) coming from the Persian Gulf.

Fuel imports cost Japan about ¥3.8 to 4-trillion (US $40-billion) per year. in 2013, Japan even imported a record 109-million tones of coal (mmmm, that smells nice) to help generate electricity.

Now… there's one problem with coal.

In the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, CO2 emissions rose to 1.395-billion tones… the highest amount since 1990… a fact that smacks Japan in the face regarding its climate change goals.

Did you know that in November of 2013, Japan's Minister of the Environment changed its country's CO2 emission target rate from 25 percent lower than 1990 levels by 2020 to a 3.1 percent increase from then, or 3.8 percent reduction from 2005 levels. The minister said, at the time, that the shutdown of Japan’s 50 nuclear power reactors, some possibly for an extended period, as a prime reason for this, forcing reliance on old fossil fuel plant. In FY 2013 emissions were 0.8 percent up on 2005 levels and 10.8 percent higher than 1990.

Confused? Basically, Japan wanted a do-over because the unexpected shutting down of its clean nuclear power facilities meant that along with the oil and gas, it had to use coal (and other power generating sciences)…

So… should Japan get back into the warm bed of nuclear power generation?

A 2012 survey found that 47 out of the 50 most popular Japanese media said they were anti-nuclear, and are still (I believe) spouting the same views.

A 2015 poll by the Mizuho Information & Research Institute of Japan notes that 67 percent of the respondents would be in favor of nuclear-generated electricity if the costs were the same as what they were paying for non-nuclear power now.

Who's driving the bus?

Andrew Joseph

Monday, March 21, 2016

Colors Of Japan

I don't even know why I am still surprised with what I learn about Japan, but I am.

Japan has always liked order, and has quietly gone about its business to provide rules to ensure its sheeple, I mean people know the proper way to do this or to do that… and for the most part, these rules create order and harmony.

Things are so second-nature to the Japanese, that when a dumb foreigner like myself would casually ask WHY they do things a certain way, he would be offered up, a head tilt to the shoulder, a light sucking of air in through the teeth, a scratch on the head and maybe even a shrug. Sometimes, as if to nail the point home, his Japanese friends and co-workers would utter, that they don't know, but that they think it's merely something they have always done.

That, dear reader, is a job well-done by the Japanese authorities. No one even questions why, and thus no one need get upset and go all anarchy.

It's not my place to criticize Japan for the way it is. But, I can offer a critique when I dig up some interesting tidbit.

Colors. Colours. Iro. 色.

I have a schizophrenic uncle who once believed that the television was giving him orders, and that when different colors were mentioned, it meant certain things.

Well they do... Japan has known about colors for a long, long time. They, like many a historical nation, has used colors to denote rank.

Historically in Japan, back in 603AD - yes, 1,413 years ago, Japanese prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子 Shōtoku Taishi) helped create the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System (冠位十二階 Kan'i Jūnikai) - the first of many cap and rank systems in Japan.

This new system (which only lasted until 647AD), was a system involving one's rank in the hierarchy of the Japanese world.

Previously, one's rank was based on heredity, meaning born a mere envoy, die a mere envoy. But the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System meant that one could be promoted up (and I assume down) a level depending on one's merit and achievement.

Look… it was still a ranking or government officials and aristocracy (because they always held government positions)… so… born a farmer, die a farmer…

There are 12 levels in this new hierarchy, with a greater and a lesser of each of the six ranks.

These six ranks are based on the Confucian virtues of:
virtue (徳 took);
benevolence (仁, jin);
propriety (礼, rei);
sincerity (信, shin);
justice (義, gi);
knowledge (智, chi).

Each rank came with its own color designation for robes and caps, while each of the 12 levels had its own official name.

Yoshimura, Takehiko: 'Kodai Ōken no Tenkai (古代王権の展開)', p. 126. Shūeisha, 1999.

So… rank and social hierarchy is shown by color - not that different when we associate purple with royalty in so many other cultures.

The point is… you have to wear colors afforded your rank. If you had no such rank, those colors were forbidden to wear for everyday use. These forbidden colors are/were known as kinjiki (禁色).

Colors that were permissible - yurushiro (許し色) are all those that the commoner could wear.

Traditionally, however, there are certain colors that the regular Japanese people wore, and truth be told, they are very drab colors.

Hmmm… is that fair, though? A flair for color was hardly the norm in the past - regards of the country.

Heck… just look at men's fashion. If you had a suit, it was grey, black or navy blue. Heck, you should have seen the looks I had when I wore a teal sports jacket in Toronto and Tokyo… and that red silk jacket - outrageous!

Of course, a mere 20 years earlier, thanks to the psychedelic era, color was all the rage. Before that, it was dullsville, man.

In Japan… they had color, but for the most part, it was soft color. 


Red-Violet series

Red series

Yellow Red series

Yellow series

Yellow Green series

Green/Blue Green series

Blue/Blue Violet series

Violet series

Achromatic series

My favorite is Dobunezumi - brown rat grey.

"Do you like it?"
"Oh yeah! It really brings out the mange!"

Andrew Joseph