Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Omisoka - New Years Eve

Ōmisoka, New Years’ Day, is the second most important day of the year in Japan. There are a few reasons for this, the largest being that it is the final day of the year and precedes the most important day of the year.

Like in many places and for many holidays there are some common traditions people have for this day. Here are a few:

Ōsōji (big clean up)– In Japan in preparation for the New Year it is customary to clean basically everything; your house, your office on the last day of work before the New Year break, and yourself. This has, in part, to do with Shinto belief in which cleanliness is the most important virtue and signifies a fresh clean state for the New Year. People in Japan also attempt to settle all debts, obligations and problems in relationships to start clean in the New Year.

Decoration – Many people in Japan decorate for the New Year. Common decorations are Shimekazari (rope of straw with dangling strips of paper) which are said to prevent malevolent spirits from entering the building and Kadomatsu (pine boughs, bamboo and bamboo grass) which is said will bring good luck throughout the year. In Shinto they bring good luck because Toshigami (a god of the New Year) bless clean buildings that have Kadomatsu.

Food – It is tradition to prepare the New Years’ Day feast (Osechi ) on New Years’ Eve. On New Years’ Eve at around 11:00 PM people eat toshikoshi-soba or toshikoshi-udon (Long thin Buckwheat noodles). The reason for this is Toshi Koshi means crossover year noodle and long noodles represent long life.

Kōhaku Uta Gassen (Red vs white singing contest) – Many people tune into NHK in the evening on New Year’s Eve to watch this program. The show is a singing contest, popular singers from the past year are gathered together and divided into teams. Female singers are grouped in the Akagumi (Red team) and male singers are grouped in the Sirogumi (White team). Both teams alternately sing until around 11:30, then audiences and selected judges cast their votes on which side sung better. The winning team gets a trophy and a flag. Program ends at around 11:45, various midnight celebrations are then shown.

Ninen-mairi (two year travel for prayer) – Many people go to shrines or Buddhist temples on New Years’ Eve. Shinto shrines (and some Buddhist temples) prepare amazake (sweet Sake) to pass out to crowds that gather to say prayers, make wishes, etc. The shrines sell charms and people bring in last year’s charms for disposal.

Joya-no-kane – A Buddhist tradition, that is thought to have originated in China first done in Japan during the Edo period, is to ring giant bells (kane) 108 times on New Years’ Eve. The ringing of the bells starts at different times at different places, some have it at say 11:00 and it finishes just after midnight. The reason they ring the bells is because in Buddhism, it is said that humans have 108 earthly desires that are the source of all sufferings, and each toll of the bell helps people rid themselves of one of these desires; therefore people will start the New Year with a pure mind. Many Shinto shrines follow this practice as well.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ranma Diorama's

For Christmas this year my sister gave me the Ranma dioramas seen in the picture above.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas in Japan

Christmas is a primarily Christian holiday, less than 1 percent of Japanese are Christian. This is why Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan. Just because the Japanese aren’t Christian and likely do not know what Christmas stands for it is still celebrated in Japan. In Japan, Christmas Eve is celebrated more than the Christmas Day. A tradition for Christmas Eve in Japan is for young men to give their girlfriends gifts like jewelry, take them out to eat at a restaurant, and maybe a night at a hotel.

The Japanese do decorate using Christmas things like Christmas trees, lights, and Santa Claus. Though most of the decorating is done by businesses, who very much would like that people celebrate Christmas like it is done in the United States. Christmas cards are given out by some people but not red ones; red cards are used to print funeral notices.

Gifts are given to children if the child still believes in Santa Claus. Children generally do not give presents to parents, since Santa only gives gifts to Children. Santa is called Santa Claus or Santa no ojisan (uncle Santa).

Common foods eaten on Christmas are Christmas cakes. Which are a sponge cake and look like miniature birthday cakes with Christmas designs (things like Santa Claus being on them). It is possible that this started out having something to do with Christmas day being Christ’s Birthday, but as far as I know it is unknown if that is the case. Cake shops throughout Japan always try to sell all their Christmas cakes before Christmas Eve. Any cakes left after Christmas are seen to be very old or out of date. Women over 25 years old used to be called:unsold Christmas Cake. This saying is becoming less common.

Thanks to heavy advertising by Kentucky Fried Chicken; chicken thighs and legs are commonly eaten on Christmas in Japan. Another popular food eaten on Christmas in Japan is pizza.

Like in the United States, the Japanese also have Christmas specials for example there is a Ranma Christmas episode, a Love Hina one, and a Your Under Arrest one, etc.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tennō Tanjōbi - Emperor's Birthday

On December 23, 1933 the current emperor of Japan, Emperor Akihito, was born. In Japan, whatever day happens to be the current emperors birthday is a national holiday. This practice of making the emperor's birthday a national holiday has been around since 1868.

There are only two days of the year in which the Imperial Palace is open to the public; The Emperor's Birthday and January Second. This is a time for the Imperial family to meet and greet their loyal Japanese subjects, in the sense that they show up on the balcony and wave behind bullet proof glass. Admission is free. Upon entry into the courtyard below the balcony members of the public are given a free Japanese flag, which is generally waved when the Emperor finishes his address to the people. Shouts of Banzai (which means 10000 years but in this context means long live the emperor) are also commonly shouted. The crowd is generally made up of old people and tourists.

There is some doubt as to the date of the first emperor of Japan but the commonly accepted date is 660 BC. When Emperor Akihato became emperor on January 9, 1989 - succeeding his father Emperor Hirohito (who was emperor for longer than any other emperor, reigned for 63 years)- he became the 125th occupant of the Chrysanthemum throne (common name given to the Imperial throne of Japan in English).

The first Emperor of Japan is commonly consider to be Emperor Jimmu, though very little is actually known about him. Most of what is known about Jimmu comes from the oldest historical work existing in Japan: the Kojiki. There is even debate as to whether or not he really existed, not surprising when it is said he lived 126 years and his posthumous name means "divine might" or "god-warrior" since posthumous names are a Buddhist tradition and Buddhism didn't enter Japan until centuries later. According to Shinto belief, Jimmu is thought to be a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Partly because of this until 1945 the emperor was officially regarded as divine and was in many ways treated like a living god. People were not allowed to gaze upon him directly and had to prostate themselves on the ground as he passed.

Trivia on Emperors in Japan:
-The Emperor nowadays is not the chief executive. The Constitution of Japan explicitly vests executive power in the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. He has no reserve powers related to government. The few duties he performs are closely regulated by the constitution.
-The Japanese have several words for Emperor. When talking about the Japanese emperor the word Tenno (heavens ruler) is used, the old term Sumeramikoto (heavenly ruler above the clouds) can be used as well. When talking about an emperor who is not or was not an emperor of Japan the term kōtei is used (Chinese word for emperor).
-It is the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world.
-There have been female emperor's (the term Empress is used for wife of the emperor). Though as of 1889 females can not become emperor.
-The Japanese imperial dynasty consistently practiced official polygamy. This practice did not end until the Taishō period (1912-1926).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gift giving in Japan

The Japanese give gifts very often, not only because they want to but because of giri (loosely means social obligation). This is not uniquely Japanese, many cultures and people feel they have to give gifts to certain people on holidays/birthdays, particularly if the person had given them a gift.

Some gift giving etiquette (these are generalities since some people will be more informal):
-Give gifts with both hands. Giving a gift with one hand out front and another to the side or behind your back show a lack of intimacy or sincerity.
-Take some time thinking about how much to spend on the gift. Don’t want to spend too much making the person feel socially obligated or spend too little and insult them.
-It is customary to initially refuse offered gifts a few times. The giver of the gift will insist that you take the gift anyway. This is a common verbal dance that everyone knows how will end (you accepting the gift).
-People when given a gift will often put the gift to the side without opening it. This is done to save face, if the gift does not meet the standards or expectations of the receiver, thus preventing embarrassment.
-Purchased gifts are generally preferred to homemade, since homemade are usually considered cheaper.
-How the gift is wrapped is in many ways more important than the actual gift. Very few people wrap the gifts themselves instead have it wrapped by a professional or have it in a department store bag.
-If given a gift, give a gift in return.
-If giving a personal gift, do it one on one not when in a group.

Some gifts not to give:
-Anything in four parts/set of four since the word for four is the same as the word for death (shi).
-Avoiding nine is a good idea as well since it is a homophone for suffering.
-Combs. The word for comb is Kushi which when broken apart means suffering (ku) and death (shi).
-Green Tea. Generally not a good idea since is used at funerals and memorial services.
-Clothes that touch the skin to the elderly, is considered an intimate gift.

Gifts are given for many reasons, here is some (list is incomplete):

Temiyage: Gifts given to say thank you or sorry.
Omiyage: Souvenirs. It is customary to bring back souvenirs for coworkers/family when you go on a trip. The reason for this is to assuage the shame of leaving to take a vacation/trip. These are also the gifts you would give to someone when you visit someone’s home for the first time. It is impolite to not give a gift when visiting someone’s house (called tebura -meaning empty handed).
Hikkoshi Aisatsu: Gifts given when moving into a building or neighborhood by the newcomers to introduce themselves. Traditionally this was a dish towel. Though more commonly nowadays some type of sweet like cookies or rice cakes are given instead.
Osenbetsu: Farewell gifts given to people who are leaving town or departing from a job. The most common gift is cash. A thank you card is generally expected in return.
Go Nyu-gaku Iwai: Gifts given to children who are entering a new school. Most common given gifts are school related ones like books.
Omimai: Gifts given when visiting someone in a hospital. Most commonly given gifts are cut flowers and books. Do not give plants with roots since it symbolizes a long stay or camellias which remind people of death.
Go-Kekkon Iwai: Wedding gifts. Usual gift given to the newlyweds is cash, preferably crisp new bills since they symbolize the couple's new life together. The person throwing the wedding gives a bag of gifts to the guests as well.
Go-Shussan Iwai: Gifts for healthy newborns. The gift is usually given a week after the babies birth and is usually things like clothing and toys. If the baby is not healthy it’s a good idea to wait to give them the gift until the baby is healthy. In return the parents of the baby will give a small gift usually something like a cup with the babies name on it.
Ososhiki: Funeral gifts. Guests usually bring money, old used used bills to symbolize being unprepared, and are given a gift in return.

Oseibo and Ochugen

Oseibo is a custom of presenting a gift to an indebted person (co-workers, bosses, relatives, match maker, teachers, friends, etc…) at years end (usually between December first and December twentieth).

Ochugen is like Oseibo, except it is mid-year commonly given around July fifteenth. The celebration of Chugen maybe older than Oseibo. Ochugen comes from Taoism with July 15 being a ceremonial day of Taoism, it is also a day of Obon of Buddhism. The Taoism was gradually mixed with the Buddhism, and people came to distribute the gift to the vicinity and the close relative. That present was originally the one offered to the dead at Bon Festival. The old Chinese myth that made this a celebratory day in Taoism is about a god who was born on July 15. The god loved people and forgave their sins, people celebrated the god by setting a fire all day long and donating some gifts.

The most popular presents to give on Oseibo and Ochungen are Sanchokuhin. Sanchokuhin are items sent directly from the production shop or factory. Stores in Japan have made gift giving very easy, promoting Sancokuhin. The stores put up lots of displays and the customer then chooses the item/items they want and the store will have it delivered to any address in Japan. Generally the types of gifts are meat or fruits, dry food or kitchen items in bulk or basically anything that can be eaten or serves a practical purpose in any household. Generally the gift giver shouldn’t give decorative items or souvenirs. The reason for that, is so that if you get a gift that you don’t like or won’t use you can give it to someone else. Some housewives in Japan have made this passing on gifts into an art form, buying almost no presents instead give out the gifts they’ve received. Though they have to be careful to not give the same gift to the person they got it from.

It is thought that Oseibo, the year-end gift, is more important than Ochugen (midyear present). Part of the reason for this is that it coincides with company employees receiving a special bonus in addition to their monthly salaries. Average amount spent per gift is around 5000 yen (though this varies greatly on who your giving the gift to -bosses tend to be given better gifts, how obligated you feel to the person, your budget, etc…)

Oseibo and Ochugen gifts are usually wrapped in noshi (pictured above).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vital Points/ Pressure Points

The use of pressure points and hitting vital points has been a part of combat since prehistoric times. This is obvious from the study of isolated tribal people who live similarly to prehistoric people; like the Aleuts (or as they call themselves the Unangan, which means "the people" in their language). The Aleuts are a tribal people that inhabit the islands called the Aleutian Islands (about 1,800 km southwestward from the Alaskan mainland). They have a martial arts style derived from watching animals fight, particularly sea-lions and dogs. In their observations they noticed that the animals will attack particularly vulnerable parts of the body.

Both Chinese and Japanese martial arts make use of vital spots/pressure points. Ranma in the manga occasionally makes use of these types of attacks, for example the fight with Kuno or the fight versus the Dojo Destroyer. Takahashi is not a martial artist and does not have Ranma use the actual vulnerable spots (nerve clusters, organs, etc.), instead uses places considered to be them in popular culture/chosen at random and then have him or another character state he hit them.

A story in which Ranma fights human characters would likely have him use these types of attacks occasionally. While there are many attacks Ranma is unlikely to do, since he doesn't want to maim or kill his opponents, there are many he would be expected to use or prevent his opponent from hitting. It would be out of character for Ranma to do attacks like a finger gouge to the eyes, hit the mastoid process (which could cause loss of motor control or paralysis), or rabbit punch someone to the base of the skull (could damage the cervical vertebra causing paralysis or death). Ranma in all likelihood has a lot of knowledge on human anatomy (kind of needs to so as to not hurt his opponents, even if he doesn't know the scientific names for the body parts, additionally supported since Ranma can be seen reading these types of charts in the manga -example Miss Hinako intro arc). The thing is I have no idea as to how a writer would convey the use of these types of attacks in literature. Too detailed will likely just annoy readers. Writing it like this: "Ranma did a quick jab to the brachioradialis muscle in the upper lateral forearm temporarily paralyzing Ryoga's arm." Is probably not the way to go about it. This is in part why I dislike and haven't posted any story I attempted to write, I really don't know how to write a fight scene (there are other reasons as well).

Though Ranma is also likely to use foot reflexology is called Zoku Shin Do, massage (offers one to Nabiki, gives one to Akane to calm her down, gives Rouge the Ashura one during battle), chiropractics (Ranma is shown reading a book on it), Acupuncture, Moxibiton, etc. outside of battle as well such as healing ones or for pleasure.

Monday, December 15, 2008


A New Years game in Japan played by girls, which is becoming less popular over time, is hanetsuki. The game is somewhat similar to badminton or shuttlecock except there is no net. The game is played with a rectangular wooden paddle, called a hagoita, and a shuttlecock, called a hane (pictured above). There are two common variations of this game.
Tsukibane: one person attempts to keep the shuttlecock aloft as long as possible.
Oibane: Two people batting the shuttlecock back and forth.

In the two person version girls who fail to hit the shuttlecock get marked on the face with India Ink. Traditionally, the longer the shuttlecock remains in the air, the greater protection from mosquitoes the players will receive during the coming year.

Some history on the game:
The game dates back to at least 1433 AD. The game was originally a game for nobles played by both males and females. Over time guys stopped playing and it became a girls only game. As more time passed 19th century children started playing with the woman. Which brings us to the current time period where the game is no longer very popular.

The hagoita are very popular though, with people collecting them. The unusual shape of the hagoita plus the many different decoration of them make it a popular and desirable form of Japanese art. In the middle of December, the Hagoita Market is held at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, where hagoita are sold at numerous stands. The paddles come in different sizes (ranging from really small to too large to ever play the game with, some over 4 feet), and most of them feature portraits of kabuki actors and beautiful Edo ladies. Though they also have many other designs like celebrities and popular culture (things like Harry Potter and Hello Kitty).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Birthday in Japan

The Japanese do not have any special birthday celebrations. Birthdays in Japan are now celebrated almost exactly the same as they are in the United States. People give the person with a birthday some gifts or a birthday card. A birthday cake is often given with birthday candles and people sing "Happy Birthday to You" - in English. That song is one of the most well known songs in the world. I've seen it sung in many movies in which not even one person spoke English (trivia -that song is copyrighted and will be, under current laws, until 2030; it makes around 2 million dollars a year on royalties).

Prior to the 19th century, the Japanese used a solar-lunar calender. The way in which peoples age were determined was strange. At birth the child was considered 1 year old and then on New Years day (which was later in the year than January first is now) the child would become two. Here is an example, child born in what is now November would become two on New Years day. This is in part why New Years day is the biggest holiday in Japan. Birth dates and ages are now determined the way they are in the USA (on actual birthday and first anniversary of that day child is one).

Some ages have special meanings and rituals or are milestone ages.

Shichi Go San -Seven Five Three
The ages of three and seven for girls and five for boys are milestone ages. The numbers three, five, and seven are considered to be lucky according to Japanese numerology so these ages are considered important in a persons life. Shichi-Go-San festivals are held every year on November 15th of every year.

Seijin No Hi - Coming of Age
Twenty years old is a major day for everyone. When a person is twenty they become legal adults and are given many rights like buying alcohol, getting married without parental consent, entering legal agreements, etc. On the second Monday of January festivals for people becoming twenty are held across Japan.

Yakudoshi - Calamity Years
There are some years that people in Japan believe are times of calamity (called yakudoshi). In these years is is believed that people are likely to experience misfortunes or illness. It is generally believed that men's yakudoshi are the ages 25, 42 and 61, and for women 19, 33 and 37, though there are local and historical variations. The ages of 42 for men and 33 for women are considered to be especially bad and are called honyaku (great calamity). The reason these years are considered particularly bad probably has to do with how those number can be pronounced. 42 can be pronounced "shi-ni" which is a homophone of the word "to death," and 33, when pronounced as "sanzan" means "hard", "terrible", or "disastrous". It is a common practice to go to a Shinto shrine and have an exorcism (yakubari) to prevent bad luck. The year before yakudoshi, called maeyaku, and the year after, called atoyaku are also considered bad luck.

Kanreki or Honkegaeri
Either term can be used. Kanreki means return calender. Honkegaeri means return to one's birth sign. Men celebrate kanreki on their 60th birthday. The traditional calendar was organized on 60-year cycles. The cycle of life returns to its starting point in 60 years, and as such, kanreki celebrates that point in a man’s life when his personal calendar has returned to the calendar sign under which he was born. The celebration of this feat has been popular since the Edo period, and because it is connected to the idea of rebirth, it is customary to give the celebrant a red cap, a seat cushion, and a chanchanko vest similar to those they used as a newborn.

Ga No Iwai (or Toshiiwai)
Ga no iwai is a Japanese rite of passage celebrated at various ages to pray for long life. Since at least the sixteenth century, ga no iwai has been celebrated when one turns sixty (kanreki) seventy (koki), seventy-seven (kiju), eighty (sanju), eighty-one (hanju), eighty-eight (beiju), ninety (sotsuju), ninety-nine (hakuju), one-hundred (jōju), one hundred and eight (chaju), and one hundred and eleven (kōju).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Playing video games

I recently read a news article that quotes a study that determined that approximately 97 percent of teenagers, 81 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29, 60 percent of adults ages 30 to 49, and 23 percent of adults age 65 play video games (study by Pew Internet & American Life Project).

I play video games and know that a lot of other people do as well; I just did not expect the number of people that play to be so high. Most of the people I know either don't play or play very little. Recently, as in the last year or so, I have been playing video games much less. The reason for that is simply because I've been spending most of my time reading instead. I do not purchase games when they first come out, instead I wait for the prices to come down and more often than not I'll by them used.

The game I played most recently was Legend of Zelda - A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo. Even though it is an old game it still is one of my favorites. I like playing older console games using emulators on the computer. I could play the games on the systems (I do have that game and system) but playing them on emulators offer several advantages. The best thing about emulators is the fast forward button, playing parts of games in fast forward really cuts the amount of time doing repetitive tasks. My recent play through of Zelda was looking for glitches. There is a Faq on about the glitches and playing the glitches made a replay of the game more interesting. I did not find any additional glitches or tricks though.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nengajou - New Year Cards

The exchanging of nengajou (New Years cards) started in 1873 when postcards were first introduced to Japan. It caught on big. The average family sends over a hundred nengajou to their relatives, friends and colleagues. Virtually all businesses mail new years cards to their customers. To get an idea as to how many cards are sent, nengajou accounts for almost 20% of all annual postal revenues. Approximately 35 billion cards are sent every year.

Postal workers in Japan do not get New Years day off, since it is the busiest delivery day of the year, they do get December 31 and January 2nd off though. Post offices in Japan will hold nengajou so as to deliver them on January first. To ensure that post cards are delivered on January first the post office in Japan has taken steps like placing special temporary mailboxes adjacent to permanent ones at post offices for nengajou. Every card put into the temporary boxes between December 15 and 25 gets a special postmark and is delivered promptly on New Years Day.

Cards can be made or purchased at many places but government postcards are available only at post offices for 50 yen each. These government postcards are blank on one side, where you would write your greeting, and have a lottery number and a new year postage stamp printed on the address side. The New Years lottery cards were first sold in 1949. Demand for lottery cards exceeds supply, they usually sell out in the second week of December (they print around 4 billion of these lottery New Year cards every year). The lottery is drawn on TV, and the winning numbers are published in newspapers on January 15. If you win you can get your prize at the post office. Prizes vary, but some typical prizes are commemorative postage stamps, televisions, and of course cash.

Popular pictures on cards are illustrations of the animal for the coming year under the Chinese zodiac. After that are New Years motifs such as kadomatsu (decorations made of pine branches), kites, plum flowers, and the sun rising against Mount Fuji.

A bit of etiquette: If you get a card from someone you did not send a card to, it is customary to send a card on January 6, formally asking them to take care in the cold weather. If there has been a death in the family, it is customary to send a mochu (bereavement card) to inform people they shouldn't send you nengajo.

It is customary to write Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu (Happy New Year) on the cards and what you've been up to lately. For variation you can also write kinga shinnen the more formal version of Happy New Year or shinshun no oyorokobi o moshiagemasu meaning: I would like to wish you a pleasant spring.

-The picture above is taken from Azumanga Daioh volume 2 and displays a nengajou (though it is a custom made one not a purchased one with the lottery on it). Teachers giving New Years cards and receiving them from students is common.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Physics for Future Presidents

Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller is a pretty good book that tells some of the basic things on physics a president (really everyone) should know. It is not very technical and doesn’t go into immense detail (and simplifies/rounds) but does what it is supposed to do, namely give the reader some basic physics knowledge; explaining why things are or aren’t done in various ways. I was familiar with this book’s author prior to reading the book, since I watch a lot of documentaries and his name has come up in several of them.

The book covers five topics; terrorism, energy, nukes, space, and global warming. Personally I found the chapter on space to be the most interesting but I doubt most people would. While the book is on physics it touches a few other subjects as well like economics (bases energy choices partial on price - things like coal being the cheapest) and politics (things like propaganda and policy). I agree with the author of the book on many things, but not everything (I'm not a scientist and it is mostly the non-science parts I don't agree with). The author claims to be giving a purely scientific view point, but doesn't use neutral terms often making it very clear what his view point is (in other words he doesn't just give the facts).

The chapter on terrorism, I pretty much agree with everything. Worry about terrorist's making or acquiring nuclear weapons is overrated. The fear of suitcase nukes also overrated since conventional bombs, though larger, could cause equivalent or even greater damage. The Davey Crockett (portable nuclear weapon) if blown up in central park would not result in much damage beyond central park. That dirty bombs, conventional bombs with radioactive material added, are not as dangerous as they are often portrayed to be since the radioactive material is most dangerous to the person who makes the bomb. Once it blows up it would spread out the radioactive material making it less dangerous, possibly even less dangerous than the area's natural radioactivity. I definitely agree with him that what is most dangerous for terrorists to use would be biological attacks.

The chapter on nukes was interesting. The author’s preferred method of next generation nuclear energy production is PBR (pebble bed reactor). I don’t really have a problem with nuclear power; it is safer, healthier, and cheaper than several of the alternatives (like coal). PBR might be safer but what it is fueled by is likely to go up in price so a breeder reactor (a type of reactor that produces more fissile material than it consumes) might be more practical in the long run. The author feels that the nuclear waste problem isn't really a problem, many people probably don't agree. Personally I'm starting to wonder if someone will find (or make) something that eats the toxic waste. I know this is unlikely since it is highly radioactive (everything is a little bit radioactive), but animals have been found that eat strange things, like worms that eat heavy metal toxic waste.

The book advocates 'clean coal' because of its sequestering of carbon dioxide. As I have mentioned before, I do not like the term clean coal, but I agree that sequestering the carbon dioxide is a good idea. If you are using the coal it is better to sequester the carbon dioxide than to release it into the atmosphere. Though using alternatives is still better and there are other problems with coal besides it releasing carbon dioxide that I dislike.

Geothermal not considered a good alternative for energy, but only mentions it as a power source. It is good in some locations for power generating but it is even better when used as a heating/cooling system (Geothermal heat pump), which would reduce energy used for heating/cooling.

Mentions replacing lights with fluorescent lights to conserve power, does not mention that many of them contain mercury and makes only passing mention to LED's. There are other alternatives like OLED (organic light emitting devices) which use even less power than LEDs.

Mentions that corn is one of the worst bio-fuels, which is something I have stated before. The book advocates the use of faster growing grasses that grow more efficiently if bio-fuels are used, which is a good idea, capitalize on land usage and power supply. There are many problems with using farmland to grow fuel for cars since it does do things like raise the price of crops, increase the cutting of trees, leads to more hungry people, etc.

The book does not see electric cars as being a viable alternative since he thinks it will end up costing more since battery life is insufficient. I don't agree with this. While it is true that batteries do not have as much energy storage as gasoline, battery technology is improving at a faster rate than internal combustion engines. Found this part to be misleading since it mentions that gasoline has 100x greater energy content than rechargeable batteries but doesn't mention that gasoline engines are not very efficient using only around 20% of energy potential (they could be made much more efficiently, this is obvious if you look up a particular car model from 1993 and then 2005 and find that the newer one gets less miles per gallon, has less towing power, and the same horse power). He calculates price by having to replace batteries, which prices are going down and are improving, but does not factor other advantages to electric cars - servicing costs being less (things like less movable parts which means the parts will last longer/less wear and tear, that cars will not need oil changes), that electric motors are cheaper and easier to make than conventional engines, that they are environmentally more friendly than existing cars, that it is easier to reduce emissions at the power generating plant than it is to do so for every car, etc.

The best policy for energy according to the book is conservation, which is something I agree with.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Suikawari (watermelon splitting) is a somewhat popular summertime game held at beaches, festivals, and picnics.

The most common way it is played is: A watermelon is laid out, sometimes on a tarp, and participants attempt to smash it open. Each is blindfolded, spun around three times, and handed a bokken to strike with. The first to crack the watermelon open wins. After it is broken the chunks of watermelon are shared among participants.

This shows up fairly often in manga and anime, for example, in the Ranma manga there is a beachside battle version of this and in Azumanga Doiah Tomo wants to break the watermelon with her hand via a karate chop.

Kingyo-Sukui - goldfish scooping

Kingyo-Sukui is a traditional childhood game played in Japan since the seventeenth century, though it's modern incarnation didn't appear until around 1910. The game is played by attempting to catch goldfish in a tank with a net. The net, called poi, is made of a handle with a loop of wire and paper over the loop. The game is pretty difficult and takes some skill because once the paper gets wet it breaks under the goldfish's weight. Goldfish are not always used sometimes they are substituted with other things like balls or turtles.

This game is most often played at stalls during summer festivals and is not a competition. Participation typically cost around 100 - 500 yen and players get to keep the scooped goldfish (they are given a bag to carry them). Generally the person playing keeps playing until their pois are broken. If the player is incapable of capturing a goldfish, the shopkeeper will often give them one anyways. The shopkeeper can alter the rules if they want to. Some shopkeepers will give a stronger poi if given more money or offer prizes, other than goldfish, to people who catch a lot. Some shopkeepers will rig the games, there is a reason that the Japanese call carnival games kodomo-damashi (which means cheating the kids/ tricking the child). That said, there is a national gold fish catching league as well that has very specific rules and championships.

Here is a link to a Javascript based goldfish catching game, even on easy it is not very easy: KingyoSukui

This game is seen in many manga and anime. In the above picture, taken from the Ranma manga, Ranma playing this game leads to him being able to master the Amaguriken technique.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsetting is giving money to offset the amount of carbon you or an organization uses. People can calculate how much carbon is released into the atmosphere because of their actions at many sites like The Nature Conservatory or the Environmental Protection Agency. The money spent on carbon offsets is used on various endeavors that would reduce the amount of carbon released into the environment. Depending on the program this could be done in many ways. Putting money in renewable energy sources which include wind power, solar power, hydroelectric power, geothermal power, methane collection, and biofuels. Some of these types of offsets are used to reduce the cost differential between renewable and conventional energy production, increasing the commercial viability of a choice to use renewable energy sources. Other offsets are designed to make existing energy sources more efficient and reduce their pollution or properly dispose of the waste chemicals created. Still other types focus on land and forestry usage. Many of the practices done have secondary benefits, things like more room for wild animals, decreased energy usage, reduced energy prices, more efficient products, etc.

There are some negatives of course. Writing a check is not an excuse to not reduce your own environmental impact but some people see it as one. Some of the alternatives have negative side effects. Bio-fuel, for example, is sometimes not a good alternative to gasoline. Biofuels made from corn cause the prices of corn to go up - which has the side effect of increasing the price of foods containing corn and meat from animals that were commonly fed corn. The corn based biofuels used in the USA are made with the parts of the plant that are edible by humans and animals which means that it is not available to those humans/animals. There are plants that are more efficient than corn to use as well, some other types of grass grow much faster and taller (corn is in the grass family).

There are various ways to reduce carbon usage and there are sites online which give carbon credits for free like Care 2 which has click to donate.

Brighter Planet is currently running a campaign that will donate 136 pounds of offsets (which it estimates is the equivalent of one day's worth of CO2 emissions). I have placed on this page in the upper right corner a badge which links to this campaign. The first 25 people to click the link and sign up will offset 136 pounds of carbon each.

More info can be found on various websites like these:
Climate Crisis - the site for Al Gores movie An Inconvenient Truth.
Take Part - a site with information on things people can do
Pollute Less - another site with information about reducing carbon impact.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Nabiki reading the manga

I recently found the above screen shot taken from the anime in which Nabiki can be seen reading a volume of the Ranma manga. So I wonder who is writing it in the anime or is it somehow magical giving her insider information?

Giving Blood

I recently donated blood. I am sad to say that donating blood is not something I commonly do. It is important that people donate blood since many people need blood and there is not a good substitute for it. There is almost always a shortage of blood available. I have never needed a blood transfusion but many people do need them. If I ever do need a blood transfusion, I would hope that other people have donated blood. I do not have a good excuse for not giving blood. I am healthy enough to give blood and do not have a fear of needles (Trypanophobia). The reason I don't give blood often is mostly laziness. I will make an attempt to give blood more frequently in the future.

In the United States you can give blood every 56 days. In Japan you can give blood a maximum of three times a year and there has to be a three month period between the times you give blood.

More information about donating blood in the United States can be found at: It also has some interesting games like Blood Trivia which is a Jeopardy type game about blood.
I have found on the web a blog in which a foreigner to Japan tells about his giving blood in Japan and that can be found here: Rejected from Donating Blood

Monday, December 1, 2008

Five random things on Japan 3

1.Japan does not have daylight savings like many other countries do. Daylight savings time was introduced in Japan by the Occupation authorities in 1948, but was later (1951) abandoned by the Japanese government. There are people in Japan petitioning for it and some parts of Japan have tried to implement it. For example, some parts of Hokkaido attempted this year to implement daylight savings time but it didn't work. Here is an article with more information: Japan's meager daylight savings.

2.The Japanese word for “body fat” is shibō 脂肪 and has the same pronunciation as 死亡 “death.”

3.Japanophilia, shinnichiha in Japanese, is an interest in, or love of, Japan and all things Japanese. To be called a Japanophilia in China or Korea is a grave insult (if you don't know why look up World War 2).

4.There is a saying about the tallest mountain in Japan (Mt Fuji). The saying goes that there are two types of fools; those who never climbed it and those who climb it twice. The reason for the saying is because the mountain is so beautiful when seen from a distance that everyone is tempted to climb it, but if you climbed it once, you quickly realize that all you see is ugly rocks. This saying has not stopped tens of thousands from climbing it more than twice though.

5.The public radio station (NHKradio) in Japan, during the early morning, broadcast Radio taisō, which is warm-up exercises (calisthenics) along with music. It became popular in Japan just after World War II and is still used among students and workers in companies to help raise morale and form group unity. The exercises reflect the general role of exercise in Japanese culture-to serve as a symbol of unity and cooperation among the Japanese, as well as to raise energy levels and encourage good health. This can be seen in many manga like Yotsuba&!. The pages below are from the Yotsuba&! manga showing Yotsuba doing radio exercises for the first time.