Posts Tagged ‘japan’

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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.

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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.