Archive for May, 2009


Remembering Japan: A Day at the Lake Biwa Canal Museum (Kyoto, February 2008)

May 29, 2009

When I set off that day, my only intention was to get out of my tiny room and see the sun or nature or anything but the screen of my computer. I decided to head to northwest Kyoto, just to explore a new place and maybe check out the International Community Center. As I biked through unfamiliar streets, I came upon the Lake Biwa Canal Museum.

There was a gorgeous geyser spraying water high into the air at its front. There was a Stanley Dynamo proudly placed in a position of honor next to the entrance. And, most importantly, there was a sign with the English words “Free Admission” next to the stairs. I took this all in and thought to myself, “What self-respecting student/tourist would pass up a place like this?”

Armed with my camera and Nintendo DS with its oversized Mario stylus, I entered the building, looking up important-looking kanji and taking far too many pictures of the building and the geyser on my way in.

The museum is made up of three stories dedicated to the long history and inner workings of the Lake Biwa Canal. There were very few English words to help a lazy foreigner so I made ample use of my DS, learning many new, canal-related words that I naturally forgot within minutes. There were, however, plenty of old “Iron Pipe Junction Tools of That Era,” commemoration cups for the various tunnels, old maps, and fire hydrants that needed no translation to understand.

In the first room, I was dedicated to deciphering all the signs, furiously scribbling into my DS each and every kanji I couldn’t understand. I quickly learned that canal history is not quite as invigorating as one might expect. Perhaps that explained the few people I encountered there on a Saturday afternoon, ten at the most.

The ones that seemed to be having the most fun were a young, fashionably dressed young man and woman who held hands and whispered and giggled at each other as they slowly perused the exhibits. I wondered whose idea it was to go on a date at a canal museum. I can only hope to meet someone original enough to decide that a place like the 琵琶湖疏水記念館 would be a romantic outing.

Sadly, when I played the children’s computer game that sent them into peals of delighted laughter, I didn’t receive nearly the same thrill. Despite all the helpful furigana and my DS-assisted briefing on canal history, Chotsu-kun, the not-so-friendly boy lightning bug, kept appearing to tell me I was wrong. But I decided to be proud of my score of 50% for questions related to Lake Biwa Canal history anyway.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Yawns

May 29, 2009

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” Thus starts Seth Grahame-Smith’s new, quirky version of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice.

To tell the shameful truth, I was wickedly excited when I first heard about this novel on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. I like the occasional silly book as much as the next reader (well, more actually), so I went and found myself a copy as soon as the book became available.

I think it comes as no surprise to anybody that this book was a massive disappointment. There was simply no way for Grahame-Smith to keep up the humor that came at the beginning. I suppose the opening pages are funny merely for their shock value – after that is over, the whole book becomes dull and inane.

However, I do not wish to to take away from the sheer awesome-ness of the first few chapters. As a fan of both Jane Austen and ZOMBIES, these first few chapters had me giggling hysterically at my kitchen table, utterly incapable of swallowing my dinner.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies follows almost exactly the same path as the original, with most of the wording precisely the same. The only difference is that the a mysterious plague has hit Britain and Elizabeth and her sisters have been trained to be deadly zombie slayers since childhood. When Mr. Darcy snubs Elizabeth at the party, the only thing stopping her from killing him and recovering her honor was a sudden attack of zombies.

However, it’s impossible to enjoy the book by that point because the whole thing is so deadly dull and monotonous. Seth Grahame-Green simply doesn’t do enough to change the novel into something fresh and new. So my recommendation? Go read the first few pages on the preview and then move on. It’s not even worth going to the library for.


Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West

May 29, 2009

Daniel P. Aldrich’s Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West is an extraordinarily comprehensive overview of the factors surrounding the placement of unwanted facilities in Japan and France, with some brief mention of conflicts that occurred in the United States. He focuses on three types of facilities in particular: dams, airports, and nuclear power plants. These facilities are both “public goods” and “public bads” in that they provide diffuse benefits to the majority of society in the form of clean drinking water, power, and transportation, but the create high costs that must be paid by a small, geographically isolated chunk of the population. His argument is a simple yet powerful one: civil society affects the placement of controversial facilities. He divides this argument into two main points. States handle initial conflict by avoiding areas with high levels of civil society and thus the most potential for resistance and, when encountering resistance, states use coercion and hard social control first.

As with any book mentioning civil society, Aldrich handpicks his own definition, describing it as “sustained, organized social activity that occurs in groups that are formed outside the state, the market, and the family”(15). This definition is sufficiently vague enough to allow its application to Japan without requiring any messy argument over the existence of a Japanese civil society. He spells out clearly how he measures civil society – through “quality,” the depths of connections between individuals and through “relative capacity,” the number of individuals in a particular civil society. Throughout his examination of controversial sitings in France, Japan, and the US, he shows how these qualities of civil society are the most important in facilitating effective resistance.

Most refreshing is his examination of all stages of the selection process. Rather than merely looking at cases and times when civil society reacts to a public bad, Aldrich looks at what occurs before that, examining the reasoning behind a state’s choice of a certain site. He argues that, while technical feasibility is an obvious major factor behind siting decisions, it is not the only one. Rather, states behave in a Machiavellian manner by purposely seeking out sites with the least potential for resistance.

As clear-cut and articulate as his argument is, it is difficult to imagine a negative critique of this book. Aldrich carefully covers all his bases with clear explanations of all his data and painstakingly illustrates every step he took to get to his conclusion. This book will be an excellent read for all those interested in state strategies against resistance, no matter their country of focus.


Dental Amalgams and Mercury

May 29, 2009

Did you know that the “silver” dental fillings are made out of mercury? I was about to do a bit more reading on Minamata disease at the library the other day, but I stumbled upon a book called Mercury Free by Dr. James Hardy and managed to get about halfway through it before the lights abruptly went out and I ran out of there before they locked me in.

I’m doing more research. I’ve become particularly interested in mercury poisoning after reading about the many environmental disasters in Japan during the 60s. There’s a lot of people who say that one can get mercury poisoning from dental amalgams (the silver fillings in one’s mouth) or from vaccinations (the vaccinations supposedly cause autism). The thing is, though, there’s no incontrovertible proof. Mercury Free is full of patients’ stories about the good health they experienced after removing their dental fillings, but it’s not terribly scientific. Still, there were some amazing cases of MS patients who claim to have really begun to heal after the mercury was removed from their bodies.

The American Dental Association definitely lied and twisted the truth when they released pamplets about mercury in amalgams in the 80s. Some said that the amalgams had no mercury (they are at generally 50%-70%). Some said that human bodies required small amounts of trace minerals to function and that mercury was a trace mineral (mercury is definitely not a required trace mineral, but they didn’t mention that).  Right now, the ADA website says, “the mercury in amalgam combines with other metals to render it stable and safe for use in filling teeth.” Dr. Hardy says this is a lie. I want to do more research on this. How can combining mercury with a few other metals make it safe and stable? It still releases mercury vapor. It can definitely still be broken. The leftover amalgam is not to be touched by dentists or dental assistants and improper disposal can cause significant environmental damage. But it’s ok to have in one’s mouth?

The proof problem plagues the vaccine controversy as well. I read about this in the book, Evidence of Harm. The overall point of that book is simply that there’s not enough of it. But is anybody really looking hard for it?

Anyway, I definitely don’t trust the ADA very much right now and am glad I’ve never had any “silver” fillings. The history of the ADA is  certainly interesting. The first professional dental association, the American Society of Dental Surgeons, was begun in the nineteenth century as a society of dentists with actual training. Supposedly the main reason they didn’t last more than a decade was because of their opposition to poisonous, but cheap, mercury fillings. The ADA started as a group of laymen who discovered they could quit blacksmithing and carpenting and make a good buck off of dentistry, especially through mercury fillings. Is it true? Wikipedia sort of says it is, but, again, that’s Wikipedia and Dr. Hardy has a definite agenda, so I’d like to do more reading.

Now I’m reading about the European Union’s Zero Mercury Global Campaign. Dental amalgams are one of the top ways humans use mercury. The presentations at that conference recommend that all mercury use in dentistry be phased out for the good of the environment. They never come out and answer this question though: what happens to one’s silver fillings after one dies? Is there some sort of procedure for removal or are they just disposed of with the rest of the body?

In any event, the lies continue, as I saw during my last dental appointment. In every room of the tiny East San Antonio dentist’s office I go to, there hangs “Crest’s Guide to the History of Dentistry” stamped the American Dental Association seal of approval. It’s a timeline replete with pictures and explanations of the most important events in dental history. Most interesting to me is the year 1895: “G.V. Black perfects the formulation for amalgam for dental fillings: 68% silver with small amounts of copper, tin, and zinc. Expansion and contraction of fillings can now be controlled.” Next to this surprising statement is a little picture of three gray tubs labeled “Copper,” “Tin,” and “Zinc.”

I was blown away! I had read about the out and out lies published by the American Dental Association in the nineties, but this was my first time coming into contact with such a thing. This poster was printed in 1991, a year after 60 Minutes did a widely viewed story on mercury in dental amalgams.

So what’s the truth? There was a dentist named Greene Vardiman Black who did concoct a recipe for the dental amalgam in 1895 that would prove popular until the 1950s or so. However, his formulation would call for about 61% mercury with the remaining percent a mix of other metals, including a small amount of silver.

How many people out there have “silver” fillings in their mouths right now? Compare that to the number of people who know what these “silver” fillings are actually made of. It’s crazy, especially considering the number of alternatives to dental amalgams that currently exist. Dentists need to abandon the use of dental amalgams. At the very least, they need to tell their patients what these toxic metal these “silver” fillings actually are made of.

Here’s an interesting article on informed consent.


Pollution disease transfer?

May 28, 2009

H mentioned something interesting in class that I’ve been unable to verify, though I could definitely believe it. We were discussing environmental damages and the fate of the companies that commit the worst violations. She said that the company that caused the infamous cadmium poisoning in Japan was forced to shut down after the country became economically secure enough to no longer need it (and people became more educated and able to fight back against this gross violation of their right to live).

However, she says the factory was bought up by a Korean group and shipped over to begin operations there, where the country was not so economically secure and its citizens still lacked the ability to effectively protest against the grievous wrongs committed against them by polluting corporations. So cadmium poisonings occurred there as well, and continued to occur until the country’s economy developed to the point where the government was willing to stop overlooking the pollution/poisoning/murder and those particular operations were shut down. But the factory was still very useful and so it was then shipped off to China where the whole cycle of cadmium poisonings occurred once more.

She claims to have remembered this from an article she read in Korea in the 1980s. I’ve only done a few searches on the Internet, but I still can’t find any similar story.

Perhaps she didn’t mean cadmium poisoning?  The 1960s was a period of high profile environmental destruction in Japan with many human casualties. The other high profile pollution diseases included mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. But you think it would be easier to find some sort of documentation about this kind of pollution cycle. I’ll just have to continue searching. It’s perfectly possible that H merely misremembered or that the article she read in the 80s was mistaken.


Translation Project: The Tale of the Mother in Hell Freed by the Lotus Sutra

May 28, 2009

So for my final translation project I wanted to do something crazy and modern like a couple of chapters from Yoshi’s Deep Love, one of the most popular cell phone novels in Japan. But the course focused on pre-modern Japan and, though the professor would have let me get away with it, I felt weird doing something modern when the rest of the class was way back in time. So I went way back in time with them and chose a story from the Konjaku Monogatari, or, as it is commonly translated, Anthology of Tales from the Past.

Now, we’re talking majorly old here so there was no way I could translate the original. I have enough trouble with modern Japanese. But I chose this story because the modern Japanese translation could be easily found here. Looking at the tiny print in their tiny books, I don’t know how the more myopic Japanese do it. How can they possiblyread a book if so many kanji are tiny black blobs? But I haven’t been to my optometrist since before my study abroad in Japan so maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this story. It’s a pretty typical Japanese folk tale with a typical Japanese folk tale format that firmly establishes where the story happened, tells the story, and then gives a little bit of proof that the story was real. I added a few translation notes at the end.

Read the rest of this entry ?



May 28, 2009

I really like Hiromi Go. He’s a pop singer who made it big in the seventies, but still manages to release hits today like the big hit, Goldfinger ’99, a Japanese version of Livin’ La Vida Loca.

Anyway, one night I did karaoke with Ugochi and this song got stuck in my head. I sang it while riding my bike on the way home, passing a police officer who probably thought I was drunk. It’s so easy, I decided to try translating it.

Obviously, there are parts that don’t make any sense. Like how do you seduce someone’s hair? I thought maybe the hair was doing the seducing, but that doesn’t fit. I’m going to have ask my sensei about that on Monday. EDIT: I am baka. Hair is not being seduced – it’s flowing because of the wind! Also there’s no indication of who wants to entrust whose happiness to who, so I just made that up. Darn that Japanese and its lack of subjects!

I had so much work to do at the time and I don’t know why I wasted time on a silly little song. But isn’t it just adorable? I want to translate the long version sometime. This video is a slightly longer version – they removed the version I was using to translate before from Youtube.


君たち女の子 僕たち男の子
一度の人生 大事な時間
髪をなびかせて GO GO GO GO!
男と女の子 心がふれあえば

Boy and Girl

You are girls. We are boys.
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey, let’s go play!
Let’s run towards our world
I want to entrust my happiness to you.
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey, dreams are overflowing
One life, precious time
Ah ah, ah ah, in the blue sky
Ah ah, ah ah, the sun is shining
Inside the bright wind
Your hair flows then GO GO GO GO!
Boy and girl, if hearts touch
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey, let’s hurry!
Let’s go barefoot towards our world