Thursday, March 22, 2012

Solitary lives, sad deaths

In recent months there have been several cases of solitary deaths in Japan. People found days, weeks or even months after their deaths. Sometimes they were too old or handicapped people, who lived alone or with someone in similar circumstances.
Recent statistics show that for the first time the average number od people living in each household in Tokyo has fallen under two. These data once again warns us of the need to prepare for the inevitable, a society with more and more people dependent and no one willing to take care of them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"I understand the North Koreans"

The announcement by North Korea that it will put a satellite into orbit has warned the whole region. No need to be very smart to know that to do so you need technology similar to that of long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. This fact calls into question the sincerity of Pyongyang when it recently reached an agreement with the United States to get help in exchange for rethinking its nuclear weapons program.

It is anticipated that one of the rockets will fly over part of Japan and might even fall on it. So the Japanese government has already announced that it prepares the Self-Defense Forces anti missile batteries  in case they have to intercept and destroy the North Korean gadget.

This new episode of the conflict between North Korea and its neighbors has reminded me what a South-Korean friend recently told me: "I fully understand what North Korea does."  He told explained that seeing what is happening in other parts of the world, makes Pyongyang think that atomic bombs are one of the few things that can deter it’s enemies of trying to destabilize the regime.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The best ramen I've ever eaten

 I recently went to eat at Ramen Yokocho, an alley in downtown Sapporo where all the restaurants serve this specialty. I went armed with my chronic skepticism, thinking it was quite possible that I was going to be served a soup vulgar enough to satisfy my voracity.
I got a pleasant surprise. A first taste of the noodles was enough to determine that this was the best ramen I've ever eaten in my life. It was Sapporo ramen, of course. That is, the noodles floating in a rich beef broth with a miso base, vegetables and pork slices. 
Simply sublime.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Uniqlo opens multilingual megastore in Ginza

The clothing chain Uniqlo has launched today a 12-story and nearly 5,000 square meters store  in Tokyo, in the main street of Ginza, the area known as the home of the most sophisticated and luxurious shops in the country. It will be the chain’s biggest store  and will have staff able to speak in English, Korean, Chinese, Spanish and French.
The company has its origin in the 80's in Yamaguchi, near Hiroshima, about 800kilometers from Tokyo. Its success has been based on  cheap production of its products in China with Japanese design and quality control. 
While in Japan many shops and department stores were still betting on a multitude of brands at exclusivist prices, Uniqlo stores were selling only it’s brand with a very good relationship between price and quality.

In 1994 it had 100 stores in Japan. Today there are about 800, and 200 more in the rest of the world (more than half in South Korea and China). And prospects to keep growing and become a global enterprise. The opening of the multilingual superstore in the neighborhood of luxury in Tokyo is significant. Products are designed in Japan, produced in China and sold to the world, with stores in an increasing number of countries, and now in Japan itself. 
Why? Until the Fukushima fudge, the number of foreign tourists in Japan had been rising.
With the Chinese Yuan up and the Yen down, the prospects are for that tendency to be reinforced.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The yen falls and the Nikkei climbs. Economic recovery?

The Tokyo stock market index has regained the 10,000 points and the yen has lost 7% of its value since the beginning of the year. The Yomiuri newspaper has described the combination as a sign of economic recovery. Others are the increase, for a sixth consecutive month, of sales of cars, luxury watches and first class airline tickets in the Japanese market.
On the other hand, the increase in share prices appears to be due to a return of investors, including foreigners, who know a low yen  improves sales of large export companies.
Why does the yen fall? There are several explanations. Among them: those who speculate in currencies now seem to opt for the Brazilian real and the Korean won; the flow of money repatriated to Japan to escape the European instability and to address the losses caused by the tsunami has slowed.
Obviously, a cheap yen is not going to please everyone all the time in Japan. For example, it wont make happy sellers of luxury German cars or Japanese drivers when they go to fill up their tanks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Japanese-Brazilians leave Japan.

The emigration of Japanese to Brazil to work at coffee plantations began in 1908. The population kept flowing -with highs and lows- in that direction for decades. Today there are approximately one and a half million Brazilians of Japanese descent living in the South American country.Eighty-two years later the direction of migration was reversed. In the 90s  Brazilians began to move to Japan. The country was in need of manpower for the industry and gave preference to foreign workers of Japanese descent. Many left hiperinflation in Brazil and went Est for the dream of prosperity in the land of their parents or grandparents. Japan seemed then capable of becoming the world's number one economy.
But not all was to be easy because, eventhough they had Japanese blood in the veins, they still were strangers in a society convinced and proud until recently of being one of the most homogenous in the world. The number of so-called Nikkei-jin was increasing in Japan as the country stuck in the economic stagnation that followed the bubble burst in 1991. They became 270,000, living together with some 60,000 Peruvians of Japanese origin.
Since then, the flow of people has changed direction once more. In 2009 the Japanese government approved paying the trip back to their country to those Nikkei who wanted to leave, on condition that they would never re-apply for residence in Japan. The Japanese did that because unemployment in the country threatened to pick up over 5%.
But perhaps it was not necessary because, during these years, the number of Brazilians of Japanese origin who returned to Brazil has been increasing. They want to profit from the economic boom generated by political stability,  the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics in Rio. More than 40,000 are presumed to have already left japan for Brazil.
Will Japan need them again? Or will it transform and adapt to a new economic role, with less intensive manufacturing, less people and a better quality of life?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Nobody wants the debris caused by the tsunami?

It's been a year since the tsunami and only 6% of the debris generated by the big wave has been removed from the area. Why? Basically, because so far the rest of Japan is very reluctant to accept them.

A few days ago, Professor Yoshio Sugimoto used this fact to explain the regional duality in the country. Behind the modern metropolis there are backward rural areas with declining and increasingly aged populations, largely devoted to providing the urban areas. For example, the northeast, now affected by the disaster and the stigma of Fukushima, used to produce much of the energy consumed in the provinces of metropolitan Tokyo.

Now they get solidarity in the form of good words, and even money, but they also receive cold responses to requests for cooperation in this regard. The central government has just announced it wants to assume the task of finding destinations for the debris.

It is capital. Because without removing it building can't be done. But also because the devastating psychological effect it has on the survivors to live surrounded by the remains of their past, now a pile of garbage.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Setsubun, geishas, and a springlike winter

This winter is being unusually warm, also in Japan. So much that the predictions of almanacs and calendars are becoming out of phase and conversations in elevators and commentaries over the weather on television, are monothematic moans for the absence of the cold winter and the preoccupation for the possible advance of the blossoming of the cherry trees.

The eve of the 3 of February was setsubun, the day that marks the change of season with the end of daikan (great cold) and the entrance in the spring, according to the old Chinese solar calendar. Right that day, a cold air front coming from Siberia entered the country, allowing the coincidence of its departure with the traditional end of the great cold. But the problem is that we already are in March and this year the real winter is still to arrive. In Sapporo they had to sweat to avoid the melting of the works displayed at the festival of ice figures, that every year congregates more than two million people in the capital of Hokkaido.

Since 1873, Japan uses the Gregorian calendar, but previously it used a lunar one, for civil subjects, and the Chinese (with 24 divisions) for rites and agricultural works. Of the dates related to the old calendar, setsubun is the one that continues having great importance in contemporary Japan. It is a working day, but with festive flavor, that always gives place to commentaries on the weather.

In schools, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, private companies and houses rituals are carried out to exorcise people and places and help them enter clean of bad spirits the new cycle of nature. The most popular ritual is known as mamemaki, and consists on the throwing of toasted soybeans to the shout of "oni ga soto, fuku ga uchi" (demons outside, luck inside). In the houses, the tradition marks that the throwing is done by the toshiotoko, the man born in a year of the same sign that the present one, according to the Chinese zodiac or, in its defect, the family head.
In many places public one is in charge of it to medical instructors of traditional professions, like fighters of extreme or geishas. It is the case of the great sanctuary of Yasaka, in Gion (Kyoto), where geishas of different districts are alternated to send you exceed with soybean to the multitude.

While in Kyoto geishas were throwing soybeans and in Sapporo hotelkeepers and skiers complained about the lack of snow, the ex vice-president of the U.S.A. Al Gore, arrived in Tokyo to present his film on the climatic change and to remember the symbolism of this country for the fight against the environmental problem. "Kyoto will be honored in history because it welcomed a crucial meeting, when humanity began to address the crisis", said To Gore.

Gore encouraged Japanese industrialists to influence their American colleagues using the experience they have on power efficiency. "The Japanese business community can have a powerful influence on the shaping of opinions within the U.S. business community", said Al Gore, who also talked about the Japanese language to transmit optimism: “In Japanese, when you speak of 'kiko no kiki' (climate crisis), the word kiki is made up of two symbols together. The first by itself means danger, but the second by itself means opportunity."

Japan won't apologize again for sex slaves

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said yesterday in the Senate that his government will not apologize again to the women who were forced to serve in the brothels established for the sexual satisfaction of the Japanese soldiers in many parts of Asia, during World War II. "Even if the resolution is approved, that does not mean that we are going to apologize", said Abe in reference to the nonbinding motion that the Californian congressman of Japanese origin, Mike Honda, has introduced in the US Congress to demand Japan to apologize in an unequivocal manner to the so called “sexual slaves”.
Abe, nevertheless, said that he maintains the 1993 declaration (known as "Kono declaration", by the name of the then spokesman of the government, Yohei Kono), by which Japan apologized and recognized that the Imperial Army had participated in the establishment and management of the brothels and admitted that coercion had been used.
On its words of last Thursday, where he said that there were no proves that such coercion in the establishment of the brothels had existed, Abe admitted yesterday that yes there were cases in that took place, but that it was carried out by civilian intermediaries and not by the military. "It is not that the military entered private houses and they kidnapped people", said Abe.
Some historians put in 200.000 the number of Asian women who served in the brothels for the Japanese military. It is practically impossible to prove the exact number of cases in which the women were forced to serve for the pleasure of the soldiers, but there exist numerous direct testimonies of victims, mainly Korean, and even of the Japanese military, that make clear the generalization of the abuses. In 1995, under the government of coalition between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Socialist Party, presided by Tomiichi Murayama, Japan established a private found, that expires at the end of this month, to compensate the women forced to serve in the brothels, but the associations of victims always have demanded official indemnifications, as a way of unequivocal assumption of responsibility on the part of the Japanese State.
Abe, who arrived in power in September with a reputation of being more nationalistic than his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, surprised from the beginning with his efforts to improve diplomatic relations with China and South Korea, specially damaged by the annual visits by Koizumi to Yasukuni shrine, where millions of Japanese combatants and 14 war criminals, responsible for atrocities committed by the Imperial Army, are honored.
In his first five months in power, Abe has seen his popularity rates deep constantly, largely because of his weakness before the LDP barons and his reversion of some of the reformist measures that had made Koizumi popular.
Where Koizumi seemed to yield to the extreme right in the symbolic things to be able to impose his reformist policies, Abe appeared until Thursday to be moderating his nationalistic positions to be able to introduce conservative policies. Prime Minister Abe, who wants to reform the pacifist Constitution and has succeed in introducing patriotism in education, is dammed to continue juggling if he wants to simultaneously satisfy his nationalistic follower base and the international community.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The witch of Japanese TV

Kazuko Hosoki is the most famous fortune teller of Japan. She appears almost daily on TV, normally in prime time. On Tuesdays night she has her own show Zubari wa yo (I will say it straight) in TBS. Her fame owns as much to her bold predictions on the life of the famous as to her conservative ideas, her ostentation of wealth, and her bitter and arrogant character. One of her more famous phrases is "You are going to go to hell", her weapon against those who don’t take seriously her divinations and advice. Hosoki’s methods drink from Chinese astrology and the worshiping of ancestors, a substantial part of the Japanese religion. In addition to her televised appearances, she has published more than one hundred books, of which in 2001 she had already sold more than 30 million copies, reason why she is considered the fortune seller who sells more books in the world.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Don’t hide the historical views.

Chronicle from Kyoto. Jordi Juste.
Don’t hide the historical views.
The City council made public recently a set of measures to protect some of the most emblematic views of Kyoto. The municipal plan will ban new constructions impeding any of 38 scenic views, inventoried with descriptions so detailed as “mount Hiei from the garden of the Entsuji temple” or “mount Daimonji from the Kamo river”. In addition, the maximum height for new buildings will be lowered from the present 45 meters to 31. But in no case licenses will be granted to constructions that, although within the height limits, interfere with some of the 38 catalogued views.
The new policy also includes the elimination in six years of all billboards, and any kind of boards in roofs. At present, they are already limited to some entertainment areas. The council has also detailed some of the architectonic styles and materials that must be used in new constructions in the perimeter of buildings with historical or artistic value, such as those included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list, like the Buddhist temples Toji, Kyomizudera and Ryoanji , the Kamigamo Shinto shrine or Nijo palace.
Hidden beauty.
Contrary to what many people can think, knowing the list of palaces, temples and sanctuaries in the city, Kyoto does not offer an easy to see monumentality. Unlike what happens in many European cities, to enjoy the beauty of most of the historical buildings of the old capital of Japan one needs to enter its precincts. In addition, decades of uncontrolled growth have largely destroyed the harmony of most of the streets, planting apartment and office buildings of diverse heights and styles where, until recently, there where only machiya (wooden, traditional two floor houses).
One think Kyoto can still be proud of is the fact that, from many places in the city, one can still enjoy the vision of some of the mountains that lock it up in the east, north and west. Among them, there are mount Atago, in Arashiyama, the above mentioned Hiei, and the Daimonji and the other four hills that have engraved huge Chinese ideograms that every 16 of August are set on fire to culminate Obon, the Buddhist celebration of the return of the souls.
On top of the mentioned restrictions, the building conditions will become harder for new constructions inside a radius of 500 meters of catalogued buildings. For example, in the environs of Kyomizudera, roofs will have to be build using traditional Japanese tiles and in the Kirizuma, Yosemune or Irimoya styles.
The new measures to protect Kyoto’s urban landscape come ten years after the opening of the new central train station, a massive building of 60 meters of height per 470 of length, that was largely criticized for breaking the city style and its height limits. Today, Kyoto Station is already part of the city’s artistic patrimony and one more of its tourist attractions.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Architects under suspicion

• The Japanese Government forces two Kyoto hotels to close because they were constructed with false anti-seismic data.
• The country registers every year more than 1.000 tremors.
On February 5, the hotel chain Apa Group Hotel suspended the activity in nine of its establishments because the existing preoccupation with the security of the buildings. The closing took place 10 days after two of the hotels of the chain, in the city of Kyoto, were forced to evacuate their guests after it was discovered that they had been constructed using falsified information of anti-seismic resistance. The construction projects were signed by Mitsuo Mizuochi, one of the 2.500 architects recognized in Japan as experts in the calculation of structures, which added preoccupation in a country obsessed with earthquakes.
More sentences.
The problems of Apa Hotel aroused just a month after former architect Hidetsugu Aneha was sentenced to five years in prison for falsification of anti-seismic data in the projects of four apartment buildings and two hotels. The fraud affected hundreds of owners, who saw their apartments declared inhabitable. Aneha, as well as the people in charge of the real estate promotions, the constructor and the company authorized to review the construction, declared before a parliamentary commission in televised sessions, followed like the great news of the country during weeks.
After the sentence criticism of the Administration appeared repeatedly. “It was the deregulatory policy of the Government, allowing private agencies to certify the designs of buildings from 1999, which induced the designer to abuse its special skill ", accused the newspaper Japan Times in an editorial.
According to the Infrastructure Ministry, both APA Kyoto hotels have an anti-seismic resistance less than 80% of the required by law. In June, the ministry discovered alterations in several of Mizuochi’s projects in other provinces, and ordered the investigation of 42 constructions in which he had been involved. Among these were both Apa hotels, with inconsistencies and alterations in their documentation. In particular, the result of the resistance, obtained by computer, had been corrected with a text processor. Mizouchi recognized to be the author of the changes, but he said that it introduced them after recalculating the structures by hand. “The computers are not 100% correct. They can have viruses and other problems with software ", the architect said to justify his actions.
Japan is in the confluence of three tectonic plates, what causes that more than 1.000 tremors are registered every year and earthquakes of more than four degrees in the Richter scale are not rare. Throughout its history, the country has undergone great earthquakes, like the Kanto earthquake, that killed 140.000 people in 1923, or the one in Hanshin earthquake, that caused the deaths of 6.000 in 1995.
How to confront earthquakes.
Earthquakes are present in the life of the Japanese in form of constant reminders of the necessity to be prepared to confront them. All around the country there are maps with designated evacuation zones; evacuation drills are frequently rehearsed; and every time there is an appreciable tremor, overprint alerts appear in all television channels. For that reason, any doubt on buildings resistance to tremors creates alarm.
In spite of the obsession with security, a recent study of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper affirms that only a 20% of the buildings constructed with norms previous to the reform that took place in 1981 have been reviewed. According to the civil employees in charge of the inspections, they sometimes face owners afraid of seeing a decline in the value of their assets if any deficiencies are identified.
In the 1995 earthquake, a great part of the buildings that collapsed had been constructed according to the old norms. In the 2005, the blocks raised according to those rules were still almost one fourth of the total of buildings in the country. And, more worrisome still, in December of 2006, an investigation revealed that one of each 14 buildings of 10 or more floors appeared not fulfill the minimum security parameters.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Japan goes to the Oscars with foreign directors

In 2006 Japanese cinema dominated again in the box office, after 21 years
Japan will be represented this year in the Academy Awards ceremony in two non Japanese films, Iwo Jima kara no tegami (Letters from Iwo Jima), by the American director Clint Eastwood, nominated in the best film category, and Babel, by the Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu, who aspires to seven prizes in six categories, among them also best film.
Eastwood­'s movie is spoken mainly in Japanese, turned on Japanese locations and with a Japanese casting headed by Ken Watanabe. On the other hand, in Babel one of the four stories narrates the vicissitudes of a Japanese deaf girl, a role that has earned actress Rinko Kikuchi a nomination as best supporting actress.
González Iñárritu's film will be released in Japan in spring, but it has already caught the attention of the mass media and has turned the little known Kikuchi into a celebrity. If she gets the Oscar, she would be the second Japanese to do so, exactly 50 years after Mioko Umeki did it, in the same category, for his interpretation in Sayonara, another foreign film set in Japan.
Eastwood's success
Iwo Jima kara no tegami has fully fulfilled expectations in Japan, with 9 weeks in the top 10, 5 of them as number one. The critics and the public have praised the work for it's artistic qualities as well as for Eastwood's ability in presenting in an impartial way the battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest episodes of World War II, in which 22,000 Japanese and 6,800 Americans died.
In spite of the good critics, some commentaries point to the difficulty for the drama of Iwo Jima to beat Babel. "It is a film that can win, but Eastwood already won 2 years ago with Million Dollar Baby, so it feels like it is too soon. It is a film in Japanese. Until now none has been nominated in the category of best film. It is the first time, so it seems difficult for it to win", explained the prestigious critic Yuichi Maeda, for whom the favorite candidate is Babel, although the best film is Little Miss Sunshine.

The double foreign presence of Japan in the Oscars takes place after the announcement that in 2006 the Japanese films beat their foreign competitors in the box office, for the first time in the last 21 years. According to the Motion Pictures Producers Association of Japan, national films collected about 107 billion yen last year, 13 more than did the foreign films. The global success of the local industry is due, among other reasons, to the improvement of the promotion by the increase of productions associated with television channels and to the concurrence of 6 films with income of more than 5 billion yen and 28 films of more than 1 billion. The number one Japanese movie by income was the animated Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea), with more than 7 billion yen, followed very closely by Limit of Love, Umizaru, an action film about the Japanese coastguard. In spite of the success of the Japanese cinema, the three top earner films of 2006 were Harry Potter (10 billion yen), Pirates of the Caribbean (10 billion yen), and the The Da Vinci Code (almost 9 billion).

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Yakuza suicide

A head of the Japanese Mafia takes off his life in Tokyo.
A war between groups had reopened in the last weeks.
Jordi Juste.
The head of an important group of the yakuza, the Japanese Mafia, was found dead yesterday morning in his house in Tokyo, in what seems to be a suicide. Kazuyoshi Kudo (70) was the leader of the Kokusui-kai, the gang representing in Tokyo the Yamaguchi-gumi, the second largest criminal organization in Japan, based in Kobe, in the west of the country. In the last months, the Yamaguchi-gumi has been involved in diverse incidents with its main rival, the Sumiyoshi-kai, for the control of the capital.
The yakuza war had its algid point on February 5, with the murder, by shooting at ten in the morning in a street in central Tokyo, of Ryoichi Sugiura (43), head of the Kobayashi-kai, affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai. During last week, several shootings between members of the rival organizations followed in Tokyo. Nevertheless, in the last several informations pointed to an agreement to end the hostilities, initiated for the control of the illegal activities in the district of Roppongi, one of the main entertainment districts in the capital.
According to the daily Asahi Shimbun, last Thursday, leaders of the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Sumiyoshi-kai met to clarify the terms of the distribution of the protection business in Roppongi. "The original agreement established monthly payments of a percentage of the benefits to the Kokusui-kai, but recently single slum sum payments were made, only during the traditional gift seasons, in summer and year end", a police source explained in the Asahi Shimbun.
In their meeting with the Sumiyoshi-kai, the heads of the Yamaguchi-gumi would have admitted the responsibility of their affiliated in the murder of Sugiura and accepted to pay an indemnification. Yesterday’s suicide could be part of the agreement between gangs of criminals or an act of assumption of responabilidad on the part of the head of the Kobayashi-kai before its bosses in the Yamaguchi-gumi. The yakuza groups have a very strong internal discipline and often display their fidelity and contrition with sacrifices like the severing of fingers.
Until recently, the Yamaguchi-gumi had stayed in its stronghold in West Japan, but in 2005 it reached an agreement of affiliation with the Kokusai-kai and began to demand a greater part of the income from criminal activities in Tokyo, as well as more regular payments. On the other hand, the Sumiyoshi-kai and other groups based in the capital see with great distrust the attempts of the Yamaguchi-gumi to settle down in their region.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Manga diplomacy

The International Manga Museum opens in Kyoto
Japan tries to benefit from the international success of its comics
Jordi Juste. Kyoto
Japan has, since November, the Kyoto International Manga Museum, promoted and managed by the City council of Kyoto and Seika University, as an instrument to elevate Japanese comic to the cultural rank that it deserves. Although the sector has inflows of more than half a trillion of yens (3,300 million euros) every year, and despite the fact that many Japanese wait every week the issue of their favorite comics, manga has had, until recently, a bad reputation amongst many cultured people, who considered it a form of subculture, a pastime that could not be compared to true literature. Nowadays, manga is recognized as a form of expression worth being used in public information campaigns, textbooks and the like.
Recently, the Foreign Affairs minister, Taro Aso, himself a reputed manga reader, announced that he is going to use comics for the promotion of Japan. "We live in times where the popular voices, that come from normal people, can change the foreign policy of a country. I want to make sure that our popular culture is in our side", said Aso in reference to the manga.
The word manga in Japanese is equivalent to comic, but in the last years it has been internationally adopted to talk about those created in Japan or in other countries following it’s style. In it’s present form, it has the origin in World War II. Many experts recognize native artistic influences, like ukiyoe, but the birth of manga would not be understood without the influence of foreign comics, mainly American ones. Both elements are identifiable, for example, in the work of the father of the modern manga, Ozamu Tezuka, creator, among other characters, of Astro Boy.
The new museum, located in an old school building in central Kyoto, wants to offer the public a vision of manga as a substantial part of the Japanese culture. " Elements of expression in Japanese manga, which have become increasingly popular around the world, are already found in picture scrolls produced in the Heian period (794–1192). I think it is extremely significant that the Manga Museum will be established in Kyoto, where traditional culture still thrives", said the director, Takeshi Yoro, in his inaugural speech.
For Ron Stewart, an Australian manga researcher, the museum needs a coherent speech, "it’s too eclectic", but it still remains a valuable cultural instrument. "It is good because Japan lost a part of its history. Many collections were thrown away. The best collection of the postwar period is in the University of Maryland, thanks to the materials collected by the American censors. Now manga is studied in an academic way here. This place should be good for research ", indicates Stewart.
The entrance only costs 500 yens (little more than three euros) for adults and 100 for children (75 cents) and allows reentries during the day to enjoy the numerous volumes arranged in the reading rooms. In addition, manga workshops are held regularly, as well as performances of kamishibai (literally, paper theater), a traditional storytelling art in which the narrator shows the audience illustrated cardboards.
Some comics from around the world can be found already at the moment in the museum, but it seems more dedicated to attract the Japanese public to manga than to become an international reference in the field.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Japan keeps hanging criminals

On Christmas 4 men were executed
Opposition to the capital punishment is weak
Jordi Juste. Kyoto
On Christmas Day, 2006, four men were hanged in Japan. There were no protest watches, international signing campaigns or petitions against the executions. Everything was made, as whenever there are executions, discreetly, without announcements. Not even to the families of the executed. Actually, news of the executions came up only once the death certificates were signed.
And they did not cause any remarkable reaction in the public opinion, beyond the usual criticism from some opposition politicians and members of groups opposed to the capital punishment. "It is Christmas, a special day even for those who are not Christian. I cannot understand why they chose to carry out the executions ", declared Nobuto Hosaka, of the Social Democratic Party.
The four executed were Hiroaki Hidaka (44), convicted for the death of four women in 1996; Michio Fukuoka (64), condemned for the murder, in 1981, of three people; Yoshiaki Akiyama (77), sentenced to die for the death, in 1975, of a businessman from whom he stole 10 million yens (60,000 dollars); and Yoshio Fujinami (75), condemned for the murder, in 1981, of two of his ex wife’s relatives.
Executions every year
The four executions take place after a parenthesis of 15 months due to the resistance of the previous minister of Justice, the Buddhist Seiken Sugiura, to sign the execution orders. Therefore, Japan keeps the pace of carrying out a minimum of an execution every year, retaken in 1993 with the end of the moratorium imposed by minister Masaharu Gotoda.
The present Justice minister, Jinen Nagase, declared, when taking possession in September, that he understood "that there are voices against the capital punishment", but he added he was inclined to pay greater attention to the feelings of the victims and "to maintain the order in the society". After the executions of Christmas, Nagase declared that he had made his decision "with great care and in agreement with the law". Japan’s jails have almost 100 interns in death row waiting for the signature of the minister, the only person authorized by the law to issue the order.
Between the inhabitants of the row are criminals as famous as Chizuo Matsumoto, known as Shoko Asahara, the leader of Aum, the sect behind the poisonings gas sarin gas in Tokyo’s subway that, in 1995, caused the death of 12 people and wounded thousands
After the executions, sources in the Ministry of Justice expressed their concerns about the overpopulation of the death row, due to the rise in the number of sentences and the greater care ministers take in choosing cases that do not generate public controversy.
Indeed, on December 27, it was known that Nagoya’s High Court denied the possibility of a retrial for Masaru Okunishi, an 80 years old man condemned in 1961 for the death, by poisoning of five women, a crime that he first confessed but later affirmed to have admitted under pressure from the police.
Excessive secrecy
People in the death row are informed of their executions the morning of the day in which they are going to be carried out, and their families receive the notification only when they are already a fact. According to the Ministry, they proceed this way to avoid the suffering of the criminals. Amnesty International has criticized repeatedly the practice as a form to avoid open debate on the capital punishment. The fact is surveys show that near 80 % of Japanese accept this form of punishment. In Japan’s culture the idea of paying with death is well rooted, and there are, periodically, cases of assassins who request to be executed.