Monthly Archives: June 2011

Hot town, summer in the city

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Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city…

With the mercury regularly nudging 30 and occasional rainstorms wrapping Tokyo in a wet blanket, this is no weather for frenetic activity.

Happily, ten minutes hate is on holiday, lazing on the beach, soaking up the atmosphere of the new home and falling deeper in love – if that were possible – with Tokyo.

This photo was taken at the end of my road and serves as a wonderful reminder of how far I have come and the world that is now on my doorstep, waiting to be explored.

Back soon!

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Scorcery

ten minutes hate is moving to a new location and, unfortunately, unlike in my dreams last night, my possessions are not jumping into boxes of their own accord to this soundtrack…

Which is one very elaborate way to say that posts here might be light over the coming weeks.  So, in the meantime, why not amuse yourself by catching up with some of the hate you might have missed:

  1. Marvel at the warnings from history that saved the ‘miracle villages‘ of Iwate from the tsunami
  2. Ponder whether writing can ever flow so well as Dudley Moore playing the piano in this clip, as well as the genius of Jonathan Miller
  3. As I reach my 10-month anniversary in the country, why not check out this one written a few days before I got on the plane to Japan
  4. 10mh used to be a political blog, in the days before earthquakes started happening in its vicinity. This is an old but good post from me and Mark Woff, in which I think we predicted the whole Summer of Discontent thing
  5. It isn’t Sunday, but any excuse for some ska

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Obon festivities

Often in class I find I am learning as much as the students.  While they pick up the essentials of English grammar and usage, along with certain vignettes about British life, I am gaining too.  Not merely an insight into Japan and its culture but also an alternative perspective on what it is to be human spinning around on this big rock we call home.  Aside from all the surface differences, I am realising that people are people, with more in common than not.

This week I was given an insight into the Obon holiday.  If I had thought about it at all it was as a nice long break in the middle of Japan’s hottest season, a chance to head home, cool my blood down a few degrees and catch up with much-missed friends and family.  To sleep in my old bed under my mother’s roof again, stuff myself with sausages, roast potatoes and maybe a few Jaffa Cakes, luxuriate in the first two-week holiday since the Christmas break and tell my tales over pub tables, was my plan.

A lot of people think that Oban is just an excuse for a holiday, a chance to go overseas.  They are forgetting what it means

I was told.  And I thought, how comforting.  I am sure a lot of regular church attenders would say the same about Christmas and how it has become an excuse for too much food, bad TV and winter sun.  Every year the same predictable whines from certain quarters about people losing their connection to the true spirit of the season in favour of a rampant bout of consumerism.  Remember your grandparents being happy with a tangerine and a handful of sweets for their present and feel suitably chagrined.

So, to make up for my ignorance, here is what I learnt about the real meaning of Obon.  It is a three-day holiday when ancestors who have departed return to earth from heaven for a visit.  Families gather, food is prepared and tombs are attended to.  Stories are told about the ones who have gone.  On the last day, before the ancestors must leave for heaven again, there are parties and parades, with fireworks and fires to light their way back.  It sounded lovely and again I felt comforted that, perhaps instinctively, I had stumbled into doing the right thing by deciding to visit my ancestral home during the holiday.

Then I learned something else.  If the relative has died within the last year, pictures of Japan’s scenery are prepared for them, alongside the food.  Japanese people love nature, adore their nation’s mountains and forests, and the feeling is that maybe the ancestors – although they have been in heaven – will be missing what they had to leave behind.  So they get pictures instead, to remind them of what they used to experience when they were living.

The picture an ancestor of Kyoto would wish to see?

And then I thought of all the people who have left Japan this year, many of whom will be forever without a tomb.  Those living in evacuation centres who may wonder if their ancestors will find them now that the family home has been destroyed.  The bereaved for whom giving their relatives’ spirits a happy send off at the end of the holiday might be too much to ask, their pain too raw so soon after the shock of the initial departure.  I wondered if this year’s Obon will be a comfort to them or not.

Then I heard about an appeal that went out across Japan this week (site in Japanese) for donations of black clothing so that people could be suitably attired for a remembrance event.  I could only find news reports in Japanese, but found this English translation here):

Our team have visited tohoku areas and talked with local people who have told us that they urgently need these clothes as there is a ceremony on 18th June 100days after the disaster 震災100日め慰霊祭 and we would like to deliver as many items as possible by that date

I realised that for many, the formalities of mourning, the familiar rites and prayers being performed as close to ‘normally’ as the circumstances can allow for, will provide comfort.  They meet a psychological need as important as the more immediate and sometimes more easily addressed physical ones now facing the people of Tohoku.  I imagine that it would be tempting to tone down the festivities this year out of respect but I hope that they can be allowed to run to their fullest course.  I also hope that they can provide relief to those who need it most.

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The ‘miracle villages’

When addressing the questions asked last week about rebuilding Japan’s destroyed communities, some villages are clearly ahead of the curve.

As Japan Times writer Edan Corkill reports, the village of Yoshihama was spared the most terrible effects of the 11 March tsunami because of decisions made generations ago, after previous big disasters in 1896 and 1933, to relocate to higher ground.  It is an incredible story of warnings from the past, left on stone markers built at the point where earlier giant waves reached:

High dwellings mean peace for descendants. Remember the disaster of the great tsunami. Do not build houses below here

In case after heartbreaking case, those who heeded the warnings not to return to the shoreline to build houses were saved, while those who didn’t were washed away.  Perhaps this third tragedy will be enough to see the lessons of the markers learned once and for all.

Next time I hope that they can all be miracle villages.

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Well Red magazine Issue 8

What a year it has been for Liverpool Football Club.  Ditching two managers, one sometimes loved, one universally loathed.  Jettisoning two feckless owners with the assistance of unlikely heroes in the form of investment bankers.  In the process beating threats of administration, the likely docking of essential points and a potential relegation from the top division for the first time since Bill Shankly got us there in 1962.

At times it has seemed like the football was getting in the way of the off-pitch shenanigans, while Liverpool fans were desperate to get their club back and return to the important business of chasing title number 19. King Kenny being returned to his throne has done much to shift the club’s trajectory and restore the smiles to players and supporters alike.  At the start of the season I couldn’t have dreamed that we would be where we are now, building for what should be our best shot at success for decades.

The optimistic atmosphere is reflected in the latest issue of Well Red, the independent supporters’ magazine.  Issue 8 is out now and contains commentary from journalists, fans, website owners and bloggers on where the club goes from here, as well as interviews, opinions and features – making it a must-read for all Reds.

And I would be saying that even if I hadn’t contributed an article for this issue!  I was lucky enough to able to write about the friendship that has grown between Japan and LFC in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake, as well as helping to promote Quakebook to Well Red readers…

With the bilingual print edition of the fundraising book now available and this fantastic magazine on newsstands, that should be all your reading needs covered until the Premiership starts again on 13 August.  And you will be much better informed than if you sit glued to the Sky News or Sky Sports News ticker tapes!

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Rebuilding Japan under uncertainty

It is depressing but not surprising to learn from those back home that Japan has been largely ignored by the news recently, in favour of stories of footballers doing something somewhere to someone no-one can tell you anything about.

Meanwhile back in reality, as the clear up and relief efforts continue, others wonder what follows for the coastal regions of Tohoku and their vanished communities.  Architectural practice Bakoko this week considered the options for rebuilding available to the Japanese government, asking three critical questions:

  1. Rebuild on higher land at higher cost in a new location?
  2. Rebuild flood-proof buildings on existing plots?
  3. Rebuild as before and put faith in higher sea walls?

Returning to shoreline homes may seem inconceivable to many having seen the devastation inflicted on them on 11 March.  As Bakoku notes, if your life and that of preceding generations has been tied to the ocean, it may not be so simple to turn your back on the shore, even when the ocean has treated you so brutally.  Few people can live close to the sea for long without gaining respect for its power and love for its variability.  Those ties, coupled with the high cost of available land in Japan, are likely to mean that many will choose to return.

That being the case, the architects emphasise the importance of good evacuation procedures and drills.  Many people believed that they were safe on low-lying land because those areas had escaped previous tsunami damage.  Preventable deaths were also caused by a lack of wheelchair access at shelters.  In a country with so many elderly people, this seems little short of murder.  The son of the woman mentioned in the story is likely to have been in his 60s or 70s himself, faced with a terrible choice by the failure of the authorities to provide adequate facilities.

Rebuilding homes and workplaces is of prime importance, yet it will be useless without the regeneration of communities.  Education geared towards a better state of preparedness is also crucial.  It is my hope that in future situations such as this, which appeared in the Daily Yomiuri’s Troubleshooter column last week, can be avoided:

I tried to escape with my grandmother as the earthquake and tsunami hit our town. But at one point she sat down and said she couldn’t run anymore. I wanted to carry her, but she firmly refused, and angrily told me, “Go, go!”

I ran away alone, apologizing for leaving her. Three days later, her body was found some distance from where we had separated.

My heart goes out to all those who had such heartbreaking decisions to make, given brief moments to decide whether to run and save themselves or to stay and perish with their loved ones.  I have heard of and read so many similar stories since 11 March, yet their effects do not diminish.  Rebuilding efforts for towns and buildings must go hand-in-hand with care and support for the less-visible damage to the hearts and minds of the survivors, if it is to achieve anything at all worth having.

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Weekend links

ten minutes hate has been on holiday in Tokyo this weekend, showing a friend the sights, including a display of bonsai at the Meiji shrine:

Feeling rested and refreshed and wanting to share the feeling, here are some links for a lazy Sunday…

  1. Ben Six wonders if one Henry Kissinger is the right man to clean up football
  2. This is a great story from Nick Bryan about the perils of Facebook
  3. Caroline Josephine of Spooning with a Schoolboy has discovered the true path to a Japanese lad’s heart (clue: it involves fish)

Have a great Sunday!

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