Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hunter-gathers and city dwellers

Our knowledge of history before the invention of writing is made on many assumptions and conjectures. As time passes we make new discoveries and think of new ways to look at things. The new discoveries and perspectives cause us to rework our theories on history.

An assumption that was held for a long time was that hunter-gather societies were uncivilized. We now do not think so. Hunter-gather societies had complex social and political structures. Hunter-gather societies on occasion built great monuments like stone hedge which would require massive team work and knowledge to create but the people who did it did not live in cities or have writing. The tools they created and used were complex and some are difficult to recreate even using modern technology.

We know that hunter-gather societies can have political and economic societies. One example of such a society was located around 3,400 BC in what is now Louisiana. They found 11 mounds 26 feet high linked by low ridges into an oval 916 feet long. We know they were built by hunter-gathers because farming did not come to North America (as far as we know at this time) until 3000 years later. They had visited the site each spring and summer to fish, hunt, and collect freshwater mussels. They did most of the things required to be called civilized but they did not build cities or farm. They did sing, have religion, traded with others, had technology (boats, spears, knives) etc.

Cities and hunter-gathering both have their advantages and disadvantages. At first it is likely that cities had more disadvantages for the majority of people than hunter-gather societies. The reason I say this is hunting and gathering food is actually easier than farming. Spend a few hours a day picking food and hunting, the rest of the day you can spend doing what you want. Farming requires a lot of labor to get the food and constant care. Farming also has more difficulties than hunting-gathering in a lot of ways. Poor crops, bad weather, flooding, etc., and farmers have a real problem. Hunters though encounter those just go somewhere else where there is food and animals.

Studies of fossils of early farmers when compared to hunter-gathers show that hunter-gathers were healthier. Hunter-gathers were larger (around 6 inches bigger), less malnourished (first city dwellers had protein and vitamin deficiencies), skeletons were in better conditions (farming caused more wear and tear on the body from working) and had less diseases (close contact with larger number of people, domesticated animals, and improper trash disposal led to an increase in disease in cities) . The wandering hunter-gathers were overall in better condition than the farmers.

If hunting gathering was easier than farming, why did people start farming and making cities? There are several theories. One being that the first farmers were forced to farm to provide food for other people call them slaves or serfs name really doesn't matter. A second theory is there was some type of catastrophe and they were forced to farm to get food since picking/hunting was not getting enough. A third theory is that someone thought of why should I continuously walk around when I can grow food here and just stay here. A fourth theory is there was to many humans around and to little animal life to support them so they had to adapt to a farming society to survive. We will probably never know and it is likely new theories will exist or the cause was a combination of things.

There are quite a bit of benefits to city living as well. A successful farmer can buy the labor of others with his crops. Other trades start existing since house need building, cities need policing, a centralized government of some sort needs to be created, granaries, etc. Farming can and does produce a lot more food than you can get otherwise. Which means you can store more food.

More food means larger populations. Larger stationary populations need cities to house the populations. These cities would need many things like a market so that people can trade goods and services. New technologies that weren't needed by hunter-gathers would be invented to make life easier and deal with problems of cities bring about. Things like the cart, to move the farmed produce, and plows, to plow the fields. City life would lead to greater technological advances than hunter-gathers needed. City life also requires a lot more and more complex socialization than the hunter-gathering life style does.

Technology is created mostly by need. Hunter gathers needed less so created less. Many technologies had been created repeatedly throughout history but didn't go anywhere because a practical need for it did not exist. The Greeks had invented steam powered toys but didn't see a need for steam powered things - The Pneumatics of Hero Alexander.

There were down sides to the hunter-gather life style as well. Sure a lot of them were healthier and had for the most part less to do. Hunter-gather societies are more limited in growth. A square mile of land can produce only enough food to feed a few humans at most when not cultivated. When cultivated it can feed around a hundred. It is also extremely likely that hunter-gather tribes fought one another a lot more often than cities did. Populations had to be kept down and from observing modern hunter-gathers like the Sentinelese (a hunter-gathering people that live on an island) as well as chimpanzee's they would fight over territory, water, and for females.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Meinichi - Death Anniversary

Meinichi is the Japanese term for the anniversary of some ones death. This custom is observed in several Asian cultures besides Japan.

When celebrated every month it is called tsuki meinichi. It is usually held on the day of the month the person passed away. For example, the Vista Buddhist Temple holds Shinran Shonin's Tsuki Meinichi Hoyo on the second Wednesday of every month to commemorate the day the Shonin passed away which is the 16th.

Shotsuki meinichi originally referred to the first year memorial date. Though, overtime the term gradually became used to refer to the month (and often the day) the person passed away. The shotsuki meinichi became the yearly service held in the memory of the deceased. For example, Shinran Shonin's sho-tsuki meinichi is commemorated every year in January. However, because Shinran Shonin is the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, the followers of Jodo Shinshu give a special name for the Shonin's shotsuki meinichi and call it the Goshoki Ho-onko. Temples in Japan still may use the Lunar Calendar, and because of that Shinran Shonin's shotsuki meinichi (Ho-onko) is also celebrated during the months of October or November.

Common ways of celebrating meinichi are praying, visiting the grave site, and placing items on the household alter. Meinichi while sad because it is remembering a loved one is also a joyous occasion. Shotsuki's literal meaning is joyous month. The literal meaning of meinichi is life (mei) date (nichi). While it is to honor and to pay respects to family members and friends who have passed away, it is mainly for the living. Death anniversaries are associated with several religions, in Japan it is primarily associated with Buddhism.

This can be seen in the Ranma Manga volume 22 where they go to Miss Tendo's grave site on the anniversary of her death. The picture at the top of the post is from the manga while they are observing meinichi.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Animal Intelligence

It annoys me when people say animals aren't intelligent. There is a lot of evidence pointing out that quite a few animals are very intelligent. They may not be intelligent in the same way as we are or apply their intelligence in the ways we do, but they still are pretty intelligent. Animals display problem solving abilities, some use tools (mentioned in a previous post), some have complicated social structures, have very good memory, etc.

Recent story I read on annanova about a bear stealing a hub cap from one car and then walking over to another car that was missing it's hubcaps putting the hubcap down and then knocking on the cars window seemingly trying to get the inhabitants attention.

There was another article in which they explained that elephants are very good at mathematics. The test involved dropping a varying numbers of apples into two buckets in front of the animals and then recording how often they could correctly choose the bucket holding the most fruit. They would drop them in clusters of up to three or four at a time on occasion to force the elephants to keep running totals in their heads to keep count. The elephants did very well choosing the correct bucket on average of 74% of the time with one elephant getting it correct 87% of the time. Humans taking the exact same test got scored a 67%.

There are also stories all the time in which an animal like a dog saves a human being. Just recently I read about a dog in Argentine that saved a baby. The baby had been abandoned by it's 14 year old mother and the dog had found it at brought it home putting it with her puppies.

There was another article on New York Times about how crows and their relatives could recognize faces. They tested this by capturing birds while wearing masks, those birds that were captured by the masked individual would remember the mask and be wary of/heckle that person. It was more complicated but with control groups and testing with different masks. End result was that the birds could remember the face and would tell other birds about that face. They would heckle the person and later other birds who were not captured would also heckle and avoid the person with that mask on.

We are constantly finding new evidence that animals are a lot more intelligent than people think they are. It's been found that whales and birds have a sort of grammar while singing. Some apes can be taught sign language. Some birds are at least as smart as five year old's (a parrot has demonstrated the ability to understand the concept of zero for example). They can be taught to do things and can teach each other things once taught. Dolphins that have been taught tricks and released into the wild will occasionally teach other dolphins how to do them. A lost parrot in Japan made it's way home because it told people it's name and address (though it at first refused to tell it to the police -which personally I find to be funny).

Sure some of it is just instinct and mimicry but our own intelligence is also instinct and mimicry. We learn to talk by mimicry and studies have shown more of our behavior is instinctual than we previously thought. A recent study on children show that little kids are selfish but as they approach eight years old they instinctively become less selfish, the change is so pronounced that it can only be explained, at least in part, by genes says the scientists that did the study.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Walking with Prehistoric Beasts

Walking with Prehistoric Beasts continues where walking with dinosaurs left off and tells about some of the creatures who lived from around 65 million years ago (really though it's more so 49 million years ago, I don't know why they skipped the Paleocene age) until around 30,000 years ago. This was a very well done documentary, the CGI and movement were better than Walking with Dinosaurs, though it wasn't bad in that series either.

For some reason this period of time just doesn't get the type of attention and awe of the dinosaurs. I don't know why, the biggest known creatures of all time come from this time. True they are in the ocean and the biggest one known of all time is still around today (Blue Whale). The land animals may not have been quite as big as the dinosaurs but they were still very large. Sabertooth cats and Indricothere were very, very large. They also have a seemingly larger variety of body types. We also know a lot more about some these large creatures than we do the Dinosaurs. The Woolly-Rhinos and Woolly-Mammoths lived along side humans for awhile and we have found their remains in incredible detail. Some of them are so well preserved in ice that the meat could theoretically still be eaten (which makes me wonder how much a mammoth steak would cost).

It mentions that 49 million years ago bird ruled the world. Particularly large flightless meat eating birds. These large "terror birds" really aren't that different from dinosaurs. Some dinosaurs like ornithomimid's had bird like beaks made from keratin like modern day birds. Some dinosaurs had feathers, though some scientists (a minority) do argue this stating that they aren't feathers instead they are "structural fibers, probably collagen—the most abundant fiber in vertebrates—of the skin and the dorsal frill" and that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs instead they share a common ancestor. I have no reason to disagree with the majority of paleontologists who claim to have a lot of information pointing to birds being direct descendants of the dinosaurs. I suppose it is possible that they did evolve separately from a common ancestor but even if that is true, that doesn't necessarily mean dinosaurs couldn't have had feathers. Two parallel evolutionary paths could have many similarities. The thing is dinosaurs like oviraptors, a particularly bird like dinosaur with a beak and feathers, look very similar to the large flightless bird of the time after the dinosaurs and those large flightless birds could possibly have evolved from them. This class of dinosaurs was generally small but they have found remains in China of a 26 feet long and 16-1/2 feet tall bird-like dinosaur that lived around 70 million years ago called Gigantoraptor erlianensis (36 times larger than the nearest known relative).

Mentions some of the animals date of extinction like the Woolly Mammoth. It says they died out 19,000 years ago. Newer findings contradict that. In Europe and Southern Siberia some were still present until about 8,000 BC. A small population of woolly mammoths survived on St. Paul Island, Alaska, up until 6000 BC, while another remained on Wrangel Island, located in the Arctic Ocean, up until 1700 BC. Though these island living ones that died out much later are a dwarf variety. Other dates given for animal extinctions have also been revised since some small populations of the various animals have been found to exist for longer than originally thought.

There are Australopithecus in the series and they say that they are an ancestor of modern humans. This was thought for a while but recent studies (2006) have changed some scientists minds since it's jawbone is closer to a gorilla's and creatures from the genus homo (our genus) have been found that date further back than Australopithecus, so the branching of the family tree was earlier. Its still part of the Human clade (had a common ancestor of us) but we're not direct descendants of them.

In the making of video entitled Triumph of the Beasts, one person states that the creatures are so weird looking. Personally I did not find them to be very weird looking. A lot of the animals have similar looking animals still alive today. A woolly Mammoth and woolly Rhino really doesn't look much different than the non-woolly versions. There are far stranger looking creatures in existence today and creatures that seemingly make absolutely no sense. A Platypus for example is a very strange very weird looking creature. It is an egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal that walks like a reptile. Personally I find platypus (there is no real plural form for them and several different ones are used) to be the weirdest thing, even genetically they are weird having 10 sex chromosomes and we have no idea at all how the sex is determined since it doesn't have the SRY gene that most mammals have and seems that it sex genes might be similar to birds. A study of the platypus genome sequence revealed it to have both reptilian and mammalian elements, as well as two genes found previously only in birds, amphibians and fish. If you want to see things that truly look alien magnify microscopic insects and look at the creatures at the bottom of the ocean.

In the second making of video entitled The Beasts Within, One of the people states "from what we know about human evolution upright walking came before tool usage". I don't agree with that. I say this because there are living primates who do not walk upright that use tools on occasion. Wild monkeys have been observed using thrown branches to discourage threatening or pursuing individuals; wiping of wounds with lightly masticated leaves; thrown rocks; sticks used for clubbing, throwing, prodding, prying lids, and to reach objects and rake them in; and rocks for pounding upon tough fruits or nuts. Monkeys have also been observed playing with sticks and helping each other with tools - wiping other monkeys wounds. Chimpanzees use containers, have been observed in captivity to store water and they use anything from leaves to rope as a sponge to draw water when they can't reach it then suck on it to get the water. They will fish for termites, dip for ants, pick locks, use sticks to touch things that they prefer to avoid (dangerous or unpleasant objects/animals or new chimps), use poles for balancing and climbing, and clean themselves with leaves. Recently (2007) chimpanzees in the Fongoli savannah have been observed using sharpened sticks as spears when hunting (Washington Post article on this). Orangutans have also been known to braid "straws" into ropes to climb and swing and they will remove inefficient aspects of their tools, such as leaves upon a digging stick. Primates are not the only tool using animals. Dolphins have been seen using rocks to break open shells, Crows will use sticks to get insects out of holes, elephants will use sticks to scratch themselves, etc. Judging by the varied tool use of other primates that do not walk upright and animals that aren't even primates, I find it unlikely in the extreme that walking upright came first. The thing that annoys me is not so much the assumption that walking upright came first it is that these behavior in animals were observed a long time before this series was made. Example these books first one written in 1980 and second one written in 1993 document animal tool use; Animal Tool Behavior: The Use and Manufacture of Tools by Animals & The Use of Tools by Human and Non-human Primates.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chochin - Japanese lantern

Chochin are portable lanterns made of a bamboo frame covered with paper or silk. A candle is placed inside as the light source. They can be folded flat when not in use. They were widely used during the Edo period for night time travel. In present times they are rarely used for that purpose. They are often used at festivals or outside bars to attract customers.

There are many different designs for these and different designs serve different purposes here are a few (there are many more):
-Akachochin are red lanterns usually found outside of establishments that serve liqueur.
-Gifu chochin were first produced in present-day Gifu Prefecture in the mid-18th century. The term Gifu paper lanterns encompasses o-uchi andon (lamp stands), rotating andon, andon that can adopt various shapes, and decorative lanterns. This type is often seen at the O-bon festival and Noryosai (a Japanese dance festival), both held in summer. These were designated a traditional craft in 1995.
-Odawara Chochin - Japanese paper is applied to a spiral-shaped coil of finely split bamboo, and rings are fitted to the top and bottom of the Chochin so it can be collapsed and folded flat. It was believed to protect people against evil spirits. Some of the materials for this Chochin are sometimes obtained from a holy mountain (Saijoji Temple, Mt. Daiyu).

In the picture at the top of this post Ranma and company have chochin that in the original say official business while searching for the gang that was cutting pigtails. Chochin can be seen fairly often in the Ranma manga and they use them as flashlights though using them in this manner is now uncommon. edit: added picture from volume 30.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Walking with Dinosaurs

I recently re-watched Walking with Dinosaurs. The Television series was made by the BBC and tells about dinosaurs in the style of a nature documentary. They used CGI and animatronics to recreate how they believe dinosaurs were. It is a pretty good series though generally I do not like CGI all that much. The main reason I dislike CGI is because the movements are quite often not fluidic, they are odd or unnatural. The CGI used in this television series was pretty good, unlike Beowulf. In that movie, some of the perspectives shown and odd movements creeped me out.

I like dinosaurs and have read several books on them over the years. I like to keep abreast of the newer theories. Some are quite interesting. Quite a bit of the series was actually on reptiles and some on mammals not dinosaurs. This makes sense since dinosaurs lived with other creatures as well. The thing is since it is a series on dinosaurs, I wouldn't have expected that the primary focus of a couple episodes was on reptiles and not on dinosaurs. The episode about the sea and the episode on flying reptiles. Those are creatures that lived during the time of the dinosaurs but were not actually dinosaurs. They were reptiles. While dinosaurs evolved from reptiles they are usually considered a separate class of creatures. At least since the 1970's, before that dinosaurs were considered to just be reptiles. Those episodes weren't bad but I would have expected them to stick to telling about the dinosaurs and talk about the other creatures of that time period more in passing.

Though walking with dinosaurs is a very good series, it has become dated some of the information told in the film is no longer the most accepted theories. As we dig up more specimens and learn more about the dinosaurs our understanding of them changes. An example from the series is: It mentions that birds unlike raptors have developed feathers instead of scales. Newer findings show that at least some raptors had feathers. They found fossils of raptors that had feathers. At another point they mention that Brachiosaurus was the largest land animal to exist or will ever exist. Since the series was made several fossils have been found showing evidence of even larger sauropods.

The series makes many assumptions, extrapolations, and guesses using the prevalent theories. Many things about dinosaurs are under debate. As more specimens are found and our knowledge grows it is likely that at least some of these assumptions will be no longer the most accepted theories. Dinosaurs of popular culture, e.g. movies do not always follow the prevalent theories so many people have an inaccurate view on them. If you had seen Jurassic Park there is a scene with the Tyrannosaurus unable to see the people because they stand still. It is not the prevalent theory nowadays, in that no one believes that - What is known of Tyrannosaurus rex brains, they likely had very keen vision, it's facial structure had adapted to allow it binocular vision and allow it to see "over" its snout like a wolf does. These are not the kinds of adaptations you expect to see in animals with poor, movement-based vision. Though judging by other factors sight was not it's strongest sense, it's sense of smell was likely better, to a significant degree, than it's sight.

There is an episode about antarctic dinosaurs. They make a lot of guess and extrapolations about them, more so than most of the other dinosaurs. Very few antarctic dinosaurs have been dug up only about 8 species have been found in Antarctica. The reason for this is because Antarctica is covered by ice and is extremely hard to dig/live in. Most of what is known about those dinosaurs is guess work. They are judging the behavior based on other dinosaurs habits (similar type dinosaurs with more fossil remains than are known for that particular dinosaur) and are assuming since they are physically similar their behavior will be similar. It might or might be. We do not know and are unlikely to ever known with complete certainty. We don't even know about the behavior of all the living animals in the world today and the behavior of much more recent creatures than dinosaurs (last few million years). A lot of the animals alive do things for reasons that we do not know or at least do not completely understand.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jusenkyo people

I was talking to some people about the people who live near Jusenkyo in the Ranma manga. They were under the opinion that since they now are relatively small villages in a remote area of China they always were.

It is possible but personally, that doesn't make sense to me. We are told a little bit about how old these people are. Shampoo's people are over 3000 years old, the Phoenix peoples age is not told but Jusendo is at least 4000 years old and they have been using it for a very long time to force Saffron's ascension, and the Musk are 1400 years old. Herb gives us a date of 1400 years for his people (wikipedia and the online fanscan state it as 14000 years). The chances of them not having expanded beyond village size in that long a period of time is extremely remote. Possibly if they were peaceful farmers but at least two of those cultures are very aggressive. The Musk and the Joketsuzoku have also been training for an extremely long time. These three cultures are fairly xenophobic but they, given the massive time period involved, would have expanded in the past. I can not believe that any culture could exist and not expand in a time period of around 13 times the length my country has existed (232 years) never expanded beyond the size of small cities.

An empire is a state that extends dominion over populations distinct culturally and ethnically from the culture/ethnicity at the center of power. If any one of the known people who live in that area had conquered another of the people in that area they'd have been an empire (since they are all culturally different).

I will mention that since Jusendo was built (the pipes, faucets, hollowing out of the mountain, etc.) around 4000 years ago and probably took whomever built it generations (IMO - it was the Phoenix people). At around that time in history the Pyramids of Giza were built.

Random things about the area
- The province it is in (Qinghai) prior to 1724 was under Tibetan control not Chinese.
- The area in real life was an ethnic melting pot for centuries, mixing Tibetan, Han Chinese, Mongol, and Turkic influences. -Amazons and Musk aren't really Chinese since area is more than just Chinese and their cultures predate China's.
- The civilization of China 3000 years ago had not spread to the area that Jusenkyo is at that time. It is very likely that their civilization grew up isolated like it did several other places in the world -Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley, and the Americas for example.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Miko - Shrine Maiden

Miko are shrine maidens (for lack of a better term) who act as supplementary priestesses found at Shinto Shrines. Miko offered prayers to the deities and were oracles. In the past shrine maidens performed the sacred kagura dances of dedication to the deity to bless worshipers. Miko in the past were said to have the power to communicate with the spirits of the dead and with the shrines deity. Since they were messengers of the kami they were often powerful figures and some times even rulers. In the 1930's, with the rise of State Shinto (mouthpiece for the militarist regime), Miko were banned on the grounds that they made Japan look foolish and superstitious. After the end of World War II, they have made a comeback continuing the practices they've been doing for ages.

Modern day Miko's are often the daughter of the priest who presided over a given shrine. Though a lot of miko are part-time employees or volunteers. Their duties include assisting with shrine functions, performing ceremonial dances, offering Omikuji (a type of fortune telling), and staffing shrine shops.

Miko are not priestesses. Shinto doesn't have priestesses. They do have female priests though. Miko do not have the same degree of authority as that of an actual priest, although they can serve as the senior cleric of a shrine if no priest is available. Quite often, upon being married, Miko either quite or begin training for priesthood.

The traditional clothing for miko consists of hibakama (a type of hakama, leg covering -usually red), a kimono shirt, and tabi (socks usually white with a separation between the big toe and other toes). Occasionally miko wear a thin white haori called chihaya (a long-sleeved top). The kimono shirt has long, wide sleeves and is always white, as white is a symbol of purity. They will often wear white or red ribbons in their hair.

In fiction Miko often have martial arts abilities and the ability to do magic of various sorts, especially o-fuda and various forms of divination.

In Sailormoon one of the characters, Rei-Sailor Mars, is a miko. She has divination ability via a sacred fire and one of her attacks is to power up an o-fuda and say the mantra "Rin, pyou, tou, sha, kai, jin, retsu, sai, zen. Akuryou taisan!". What she is doing is the kuji-in (Nine Syllable Seals). Technically the word "Kuji-in" refers only to the hand postures (mudra) and their related incantations (mantra). The related practice of making nine cuts--five horizontal and four vertical, alternating--in the air with the finger or on paper with a brush is known as "kuji kiri," nine syllable cuts. In Japanese folk-magic and Onmyodo, the nine cuts are often made over writing or a picture, to gain control of the object named or pictured. Thus, a sailor wishing to be protected from drowning might write them over the kanji for "sea" or "water". The Kuji-in practice symbolizes that all the forces of the universe are united against evil; because of this, it was often used by the common people for luck when traveling, especially in the mountains. Amatsu Tatara means "Sky Harbour", or more literally Divine Residence/God's Portis. It is also the highest and oldest scroll of martial arts and Shinto spirit, dating back to 7BC.

The above picture is taken from the Ranma manga. Akane, Ukyo, and Ranma are volunteer miko.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Terrorist Watch List

I do not travel very much, and have never traveled via airplane. I do like to keep current on governmental procedures/practices though. Many things that my government does I do not agree with.

One such thing is the terrorist watch list. Having a list of suspected terrorist is in theory a good idea. It makes sense to keep a list of and track people who may cause the loss life via terrorist actions. In application though it is failing miserably. There are quite a few problems with the list. To start off with it is far too large, over a million names are on it and it is growing much too quickly. It should be shrinking. The vast majority of the people who are being targeted because of the list are not terrorist and are unlikely in the extreme to be terrorists. There was on the list nobel peace prize winner, Nelson Mandela, and little children. I realise that a lot of this is simply because they have the same or a similiar enough name or the terrorist has a common name.

The list is pointless and is causing more trouble than it is worth. Regular everyday people are being more than just inconvenienced by the list, because once your on it, it is extremely hard to get off of it. Considering how easy it is to change ones name and to acquire false documents (depending on either your technological know how or who you can contact) a list of names is really worthless. The list isn't even up to date some of the suspected terrorists like Saddam Hussein are no longer amongst the living. Actual terrorists sometimes are not on the list because the government does not want the terrorists to find out that they know about them. Some of the terrorists really should not be on the list in the first place. Non-violent protesters and well known activists are labeled as terrorists.

For the list to be even close to effective it would require a massive overhaul. It needs to be pruned, it needs contextual data like a description (race, sex, age, etc.) and preferably a picture. Of course with modern technology even those can be changed to some degree. It needs to be up to date. It needs a threat level. Sure might technically be a terrorist but depending on the type of terrorist may not really be an immediate threat to people. The way the suspected terrorist are treated needs to change, since many of the people are in fact not terrorists. It good to try and protect people but peoples civil liberties should not be taken away in the process. The main reason the United States secede from England was to protect civil liberties. The governments practice of seizing laptops, cell phones or PDA's as you enter the U.S. and download all your private information without a warrant or probable cause is just wrong.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bon Odori

During Obon, many regions in Japan have folk dances. These folk dances are called bon odori. The purpose of these dances are to, at the beginning of the Bon festival, welcome the spirits and at the end to bid them farewell. This tradition is said to have started in the later years of the Muromachi period. The kind of dance varies from area to area. People wearing yukata (summer kimono) go to the neighborhood bon odori and dance around a yagura stage. Anyone can participate in bon odori. Just join the circle and imitate what others are doing.

Bon Odori is said to originate from the story of Mokuren. Mokuren was a disciple of the Buddha, who used his paranormal powers to look upon his deceased mother. He found out that she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. After seeing this he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha told him to make offerings to the many priests who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. Mokuren did this and, thus, saw his mother's release. He also began to see the true nature of her past unselfishness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. He was so happy because of his mother's release and grateful for his mother's kindness so he danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori, a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated.

A typical Bon dance involves people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a yagura. The yagura is generally also used as the bandstand for the musicians and singers of the Obon music. Some dances proceed clockwise, and some dances proceed counter-clockwise around the yagura. Some dances reverse during the dance, though most do not. At times, people face the yagura and move towards and away from it. Still some dances, such as the Kagoshima Ohara dance, and the Tokushima Awa Odori, simply proceed in a straight line through the streets of the town.

The dance of a region can depict the area's history and specialization. For example, the movements of the dance of the Tankō Bushi (the "coal mining song") of old Miike Mine in Kyūshū show the movements of miners, e.g. digging, cart pushing, lantern hanging, etc. All dancers perform the same dance sequence in unison.

Several different implements maybe used during the dances and vary by region. Some dances involve the use of different kinds of fans, others involve the use of tenugui (small towels) which may have colorful designs. Some require the use of kachi-kachi (small wooden clappers) during the dance.

The music can be songs specifically pertinent to the spiritual message of Obon, or local min'yo folk songs. Hokkaidō, or northern Japan, is known for a folk-song known as "Soran Bushi." The song "Tokyo Ondo" takes its namesake from the capital of Japan. "Goshu Ondo" is a folk song from Shiga prefecture. Residents of the Kansai area will recognize the famous "Kawachi ondo." Tokushima in Shikoku is very famous for its "Awa Odori," or "fool's dance," and in the far south, one can hear the "Ohara Bushi" of Kagoshima, Kyūshū.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Obon is an annual Buddhist festival honoring the spirits of one's ancestors and is one of the most important traditions for Japanese people. This festival lasts for three days and depending on where in Japan you happen to be at, it is celebrated at different times of the year. It starts on July 13 (if going by Gregorian calendar), August 13 (solar calendar), or 13th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar which would differ each year.

The most commonly celebrated time though is in August. Even though this is not a holiday business's customarily give these days off to workers. This time is one of the biggest traveling times of the year since many people return to their home towns to celebrate the festival with their families. Families visit gravesites to make offerings and Buddhist priests visit homes to chant sutras for the dead.

To prepare for Obon people clean their houses and offer a variety of food such as vegetables and fruits to the spirits of ancestors in front of butsudan (Buddhist families altar). The Butsudan is decorated with flowers and paper lanterns (chouchin). On the first day of Obon, chouchin are lit inside houses, and people go to their family's graves to call their ancestors' spirits back home. This practice is called mukaebon. In some regions, fires called mukaebi are lit at the entrances to homes to guide the ancestor's spirits.

On the last day of Obon, people bring the ancestor's spirits back to graves, hanging chouchin painted with the family crest to guide the ancestors' spirits. This practice is called okuribon. In some regions, fires called okuribi are lit at entrances of homes to send the ancestors' spirits on their way. The air in houses and cemeteries are full of smoke and the smell of incense called senko at this time. In some regions on the last day of Obon people send off ancestor's spirits with Toro Nagashi (floating paper lanterns) lit by a candle inside and floated down a river to the ocean.

In celebration of Obon, firework displays are common. Since it is summer people traditionally wear yukata, or light cotton kimonos. There are many types of celebrations during this festival - carnivals with rides, games, and summer festival food like watermelon.

In the Ranma anime Obon appears; Kogane Musashi who was a ghost trapped inside a notebook in the Furinkan High School store that Kuno, Ranma, and Akane had found. In her second appearance, she visited the Tendos for the festival of Obon. During this time she met Hikaru Gosunkugi who fell in love with her.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Banzai - 10,000 years

Banzai is Japanese and means ten thousand years. In the past it was a cheer addressed to the emperor meaning may you live a long life. Now it is a cry of celebration or triumph similar to hurrah or three cheers. It is often yelled after completing a difficult achievement. It is customarily repeated three times with your arms raised in the air. Usage of this has declined in recent years.

The usage of "ten thousand years" originated from China. The phrase was originally used as "cheers to your health" and used by everyone. It later came to be used exclusively to address the emperor as a prayer for his long life and reign. The phrase "ten thousand years" in its original sense refers to ten thousand years of life, and not a period of ten thousand years. The significance of "ten thousand" in this context is only that "ten thousand" in Chinese (and in several other East Asian languages) represents the largest discrete unit in the counting system, in a manner analogous to "thousand" in English.

The term Banzai has had many meanings and usages. It was to praise the emperor, it was used during World War 2 as a battle cry (particularly with kamikaze pilots -this is why the phrase Banzai charge -a final desperate military charge came about), it is the name of a Japanese television show, its the name of a song, it is several fictional characters names, etc.

The picture is from Dr Slump manga by Akira Toriyama, volume 14. It shows the Chinese characters yelling Banzai in joy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Free E-book sites

I read a lot of books. Most of them are physical books, made from paper. I prefer to hold the books in my hand while reading. I do occasionally read books on-line though. Here is a list of, and a bit of commentary on, some online electronic book repositories.

The first site I'm going to mention is WOWIO. This site allows you to read some commercially available comic books/Graphic Novels online. This site was actually better a few months ago. Recently it started charging to download the E-books, in the past it would let you download three a day for free. Now you can read them for free online but they charge you to download them.

A site I used to hit fairly frequently is the Internet Public Library. If you go to the reading room on the site it lists several other sites to get free books. Personally I liked this site more several years ago than I do now. It was easier to find text on it then than it is now.

I have to mention Project Gutenberg since it is a large collection of books. One book on here that I particularly recommend is by Natsume, Soseki and it is called Botchan (Master Darling). This was written by a famous Japanese author and is very good. I own several of his other works. A few years ago the site had another of his works but it is no longer there.

Another site with many free texts is Blackmask now called Munsey's. On this site I had downloaded several of Robert E Howard's, creator of Conan the Barbarian, works. He is one of my favorite author's. I like his sword and sorcery with the Lovecraftian feel of his works. I particularly like that a lot of his works feature fictional pre-recorded history civilizations since I was always fascinated by early civilizations.

If you want books on religion, mythology, and folklore a good site to download them is Sacred Texts. This site has a lot of sacred books and mythology books. I like mythology, I find it to be very interesting.

Baen Free Library is a collection of books published by the company. They publish a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy books. I read quite a bit of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The most interesting thing on the site, is the mention that by giving books out for free online, the sales of the actually copies of the books increased.

I am not really a fan of Doctor Who, I've seen only a few episodes of it at all, but I do know of a site that has quite a few free Dr Who E-books: Doctor Who the classic series.

There is also the Internet Archive which not only has a large number of books it has other media objects as well. Of all the sites listed, in this post, this website is probably the one I go to the most often though generally it is not for books. I go to the site for what it is known best as: a place where you can go to and read sites that are no longer being hosted where they were. I really dislike dead links and I find them far to often (it doesn't really help that I tend to look up older series such as Ranma 1/2 rather than newer stuff).

A couple more e-book sites are Many Books, which isn't working for me at the time of this posting, and the World Public Library Association which claims to be the biggest online repository of e-books, this site has a public section with around 75,000 free E-books and a member's section that has a lot but charges $8.95 a year. I don't really know much about these sites other than they exist.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Theory on Jusendo

This is just speculation. I had argued this some on a forum, those who felt like commenting did not necessarily agree. This has been altered some based on that discussion.

I speculate that the Phoenix people were the ones to have built Jusendo for the purpose of Saffron and that Jusenkyo was a side effect/add-on of the building of Jusendo.

The phoenix people evolved from run-off of a spring at the top of phoenix mountain that is cursed like Jusenkyo but not part of Jusenkyo. I speculate that at one time in the past they went searching for the source of their spring. They found an underground water vein that had magical properties but did not alter people like their spring did. They experimented with the water eventually producing Saffron. To make his ascension easier they drill another mountain that has the underground water vein beneath it, Jusendo, and build the pool for him and the taps. The building of it happened around 4000 years ago according to one the characters in volume 37. The Phoenix tap is used for Saffron's ascension, the dragon tap though also has a purpose for them. Namely while experimenting with the water they noticed that if something drowns in the water the pool gives the next person that body. This is very useful to them so they create Jusenkyo with the water from the dragon tap. We know they use Jusenkyo since at least two of the characters were cursed to turn into humans so they could blend in with humans. We also know that the phoenix people create new Jusenkyo pools since they created the pool using Akane as the template.

Somethings from the manga that support this:
-Only known usage for Jusendo is Saffrons ascension.
-The Phoenix people have the most reason to look for the source of the water -namely to figure out why they are changing.
-The Phoenix people are the ones who know the history of Jusendo.
-The Phoenix people have more of a reason than any other people in the area to use and build it.
-There is no evidence of any people using the pools as long as the Phoenix people. The Musk for example can only be shown having used it for less than 1500 years since that is the age of the girl spring that they used to transform animals. Though it is possible that there are other girl springs since there are at least three male springs we know about - pious man, boy and the one that can cure Ranma.
-The map at one point in history was likely the phoenix peoples. After all they knew about the map and that when submerged in the water it would show the safe way into Jusendo.
-The Phoenix people's culture and way of life is based on it's use.
-both Phoenix mountain and Jusendo are trap ridden.

Why did the Phoenix people need the map if they built it? Simple knowledge is often lost in intervening years and while they knew where the taps were they no longer knew the safe entrance.

How did the guide get it? Who knows, maybe it was stolen or maybe the guide had worked for the phoenix people the last time they had need of the map (100 years or so ago) and one of the guides in the in between times switched to working for someone else.

Why did the safe entrance say "employee's only"? Originally the map was needed to find the safe entrance but in time someone other than the creators/phoenix people found the mountain. They located the safe entrance, or created a new entrance, and labeled it employee's only.

That they chose to make a dragon tap and the Musk leader being part dragon is just a coincidence. Dragons are common in all cultures within real life. There are other similar coincidences in the manga, like the ugly bird that was on Kuno's head being called a phoenix as well.

It is also possible that Phoenix mountain did not have the same source as Jusendo since there was also a Jusenkyo type spring in Japan but it had dried out by the time Ranma found it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is the period of time within an action must be brought to justice. This basically means if you commit a crime like theft, for example, you have to be caught within a certain number of years or you can not be punished. The statue of limitation varies by country, state, and crime.

In the United States there is no statute of limitation for murder. This is not true of all countries. Japan's statute of limitations for murder is 15 years for murders committed before 2005. Murders that occur after 2005 have a statue of limitations of 25 years. This only counts if your in the country. If you flee the country to not get caught, the time outside of Japan does not count. What this means is occasionally people have killed someone than after waiting 15 years they have confessed and they can not criminally punished (can still have a civil suit brought up against them though until 20 years for pre-2005 murders). Occasionally if you read Japanese newspapers you will read about a person who has managed to avoid the police for 15 years and got away with the crime. In Japanese detective drama's the 15 year mark shows up often. Some people have confessed and wrote a book or something about how they killed someone after the statute of limitations passed and the police can not do anything about it.

Some people are upset that there is a statute of limitations on murder. A lot of people really, a Mainichi poll says that 77% of Japanese people polled think that the statute of limitations on murder should be abolished. The statute was created more than a hundred years ago during a time when it was thought that a civilized country would have one. At the time this was true, British and USA didn't but a lot countries like Germany (no longer has one since after WW2) and France (now is set 10 years after the case closes) did. Some countries still do have them China has a 20-year limit on crimes punishable by death.

I can not find much information on Japanese statutes of limitations for crimes other than murder. I did find out that for theft, particularly art theft, the statute of limitations is two years. Which means if you have something stolen you would not be able to bring a claim for stolen property after two years. I also found out that robbery resulting in injury had a 10 year statute that was changed to 15 years in 2005.

Friday, August 1, 2008

New Ranma 1/2 Episode

In Japan there is a celebration of Takahashi's 30th anniversary creating manga. At this event a new episode of the Ranma Anime is to be released. The new episode will be based on the Spring Sleep storyline from Volume 34 of the manga. Which was one of my favorites. I like the art style in this, I like the character interactions, and I like Ranma's ki blast (which appears to be a combination of the ShiShihadoken and Moko Takabishi). Overall the opening video is very good. It would make an awesome crossover.

For more information check here: "It's a Rumic World" Event Coverage

Here is a video of the opening sequence:

Here is the video with fan subtitles: