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投稿者 クエスチョン 日時 2004 年 7 月 21 日 22:20:32:WmYnAkBebEg4M

(回答先: ◎夏休み特別企画。提案!こうして英語をゲットしよう。+天声人語対訳ファイル付録【クエスチョンの呟きシリーズ第13回】 投稿者 クエスチョン 日時 2004 年 7 月 20 日 18:53:09)



>投稿者 クエスチョン 日時 2004 年 7 月 16 日 06:51:50:WmYnAkBebEg4M



Some profound thoughts as October ebbs

With October nearly over, it's time again to offer some quotable quotes.

Seizo Tajima, a painter and creator of picture books, always takes a bag on his strolls to collect fruits, nuts and berries that have fallen from trees.

``In May, there are magnolias,'' he said. ``They come a bit after wild cherries. Later, there are ego, yashabushi and mayumi. As for taizanboku tree nuts, I pick up them on the grounds of someone's villa. As for acorns from oak trees, I only get sheaths because that is what squirrels and raccoon dogs have left uneaten.''



Critic Shuichi Kato: ``All my life, I have always found something to entertain myself with. There were no good concerts or art exhibitions to enjoy during World War II, but I delighted in looking at the sky, the clouds and the colors of flowers.''


Chinese novelist Zheng Yi, who lives in self-exile in the United States: ``I have lately come to appreciate my life in exile as a blessing,'' he observed. ``I know I am never going to get rich or famous, and I don't even have a readership, and yet I keep writing. I suppose I am coming closer to understanding what a literary career is really all about.''


Novelist Genichiro Takahashi: ``To politicians who promise us they will make Japan a top nation in the world, or create new history, or secure a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, my comment is, `Don't bother. Forget it.' Isn't it more fun to aim for a nation that is small, serene and already well past its prime?''


Hideki Shirakawa, winner of the 2000 Nobel chemistry prize: ``Some research projects are like planting seeds without knowing what they will grow into. You don't know how long you have to wait for anything to happen, if ever. The question is whether the government has the sense to fund such research.''


Miki Taira has battled leukemia for 15 years and developed a heart problem. Only a heart transplant can save her, and she is waiting for a donor.

``I have been baring my heart and soul to people on my own Web site, and many new human relationships have sprung from it. Confined to my hospital room as I am, the Net is like the door that opens to anywhere in the popular Doraemon cartoon.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 30(IHT/Asahi: October 31,2003) (10/31)
Attack on Baghdad Red Cross an escalation

When Japan applied for membership in the International Red Cross early in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the government was asked if similar charitable service had been rendered in the past.

In response, the government cited an example in which well-known warlord Kusunoki Masatsura rescued about 500 drowning enemy soldiers and gave them clothes and medicine during the Nanbokucho Era (1336-1392), according to Yaichi Haga, a Meiji Era scholar of Japanese literature.

Commenting on the inquiry in his book ``Kokuminsei Juron'' (Ten discourses on national character), he bitterly wrote that Japan was probably viewed abroad as a barbaric country.



Apparently, the move to join the International Red Cross met objections even within the government. Sanjo Sanetomi, who headed the government as dajo daijin, or prime minister, was opposed to the introduction of the cross emblem of the International Red Cross in Japan, calling it ``an emblem of Christianity,'' according to Tadamasa Fukiura's Chuko paperback on the Red Cross and Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross Society.


The emblem of the Red Cross is patterned after the national flag of Switzerland, Dunant's native country, only with its colors switched. The adoption of this emblem sowed the seeds for problems in later years.

A different emblem, a red crescent, was adopted for use in the Islamic world where strong objections to a cross were expected. For this reason, local organizations call themselves Red Crescent Societies. All the same, they are members of the International Red Cross.


The headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad came under terrorist attack on Monday. It is unlikely that the group that executed it knew nothing about the Red Cross. The bombing can only be viewed as an act snubbing its historical role.


Insurgents in Iraq are ominously widening the scope of their guerrilla strikes, attacking not just occupation forces but also international agencies that are playing intermediary or buffer roles.

The attack on the Red Cross that carries out relief activities, with battlefield neutrality guarantees, represents a provocative escalation.


All this is saddening. At the same time, I have a strong feeling that the occupation policies may be basically flawed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 29(IHT/Asahi: October 30,2003) (10/30)
Judge for yourself--a formula for voters

It is probably no surprise to anyone to be told that politicians have ``uniquely simple personalities.'' But when this is what researchers say in an authoritative science magazine, you sort of nod vigorously. At least that was my reaction when I saw the February 1997 issue of Nature.



But the magazine had me fooled. Although the title of the article was ``Politicians' Uniquely Simple Personalities,'' I realized, as I read on, that it was really about how people use only simple factors to judge the personality traits of politicians.

In the late 1990s, a team of researchers at the University of Rome asked about 2,000 people of varied backgrounds to determine the personalities of famous athletes, entertainers and politicians.


Let me sum up how this research was done: The researchers listed 25 adjectives describing personality traits and grouped them into a set of five ``factors.''

All five factors were picked by the survey subjects in assessing the personalities of athletes and entertainers. But only two factors applied to the politicians.


Those two factors were ``active and reform-minded'' and ``honest and trustworthy.'' The researchers concluded that when people try to decide who to vote for, they tend to apply a simple standard by which to judge politicians.


One of the politicians named in the survey was former Italian Prime Minister Romano Brodi, who won the 1996 general election by uniting the center-left forces. The election was dubbed the ``manifesto election,'' in that Brodi issued a set of explicit election pledges-namely Italy's participation in the European currency unification and fiscal reform at home.


The campaign for the Nov. 9 Lower House election kicked off Tuesday. Party manifestoes are said to figure prominently in this election. If the parties are really going to battle one another on policy to define their differences on focal issues, it is all well and fine, even if voters will eventually use only two simple factors by which to judge the candidates-``reform-oriented'' and ``trustworthy.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 28(IHT/Asahi: October 29,2003) (10/29)
Too much power attached to viewer ratings

When something important happens, the public comes out divided in its response. To many people, it is something incredible. To many others, it is something they have expected all along.



The same seems to hold true of the public response elicited by news reports about the use of bribes by a Nippon Television Network Corp. (NTV) producer to boost viewing rates.

The first thought I had as an ordinary television viewer was that even an overzealous employee would not go to such lengths. But a passage I found in a book has made me credulous about the reports.


``A man followed a collector of viewing survey records to monitoring households,'' the passage reads. ``This man visited the selected families himself and asked them to watch certain programs, handing over money as a token of thanks for their cooperation.''

The NTV producer reportedly hired the service of a credit inquiry agency to do the sleuthing. Except for this, the deeds of the producer were quite similar to what the book says of his ``predecessor.''


The book was published 20 years ago under the title of ``Shichoritsu no Shotai'' (The Reality of Viewing Rates). Video Research, the television viewing rate survey firm, was its author-editor.

The quoted passage is preceded by an introductory phrase: ``To cite a case that happened years ago.'' Together with the date of publication, this seems to suggest that bribery has been a time-honored practice.


Referring to the four households reportedly bribed by the producer, the NTV president told a news conference that the damage done did not extend beyond the fact that they accounted for 0.67 percent of Video Research's 600 monitoring households in the Kanto district.

This borders on an attempt to play down the significance of the case by deliberately citing a figure smaller than the decimal point. It must be pointed out that a program watched by the four households statistically meant that as many as about 110,000 households watched it.


The world of television broadcasting is, so to speak, an empire where time is the king. It is a world ruled by a 24-hour-a-day limitation on its activities. It is an absolute framework that no one can extend.

Inside the networks, what programs to air and what programs to take off have been a matter of constant and arduous dispute, with everyone looking to viewing ratings for guidance about what to do. But the central role of ratings has now been shaken to the root.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of television broadcasting in Japan. I believe it is time to sit down and consider the significance of viewing rates as a yardstick, pondering about whether too much importance is attached to them and the habit needs to be changed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 26(IHT/Asahi: October 28,2003) (10/28)
What's so ignoble about the Ig Nobel Prize?

The season of Nobel Prize nominations has ended.

The same is true for the Ig Nobel Prize, a prize that may be called a ``counter-Nobel award.''

This prize is awarded for serious scientific research or achievements. But one cannot receive it for just being serious.



In an article published in Nature magazine in 1988, a French scientist reported an amazing finding: Water has the capacity to remember.

Many scientists thought it absurd. Thousands conducted similar tests, only to find that the claim was far from true.


Later, Nature magazine retracted the article. But its author was awarded the First Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1991. He reportedly lamented that orthodox scientists obstructed new research.


An American engineer with a taste for barbecue carried out a number of experiments to see how fast charcoal could be lighted. He eventually reduced the time required to less than four seconds.

The use of liquid oxygen-rocket fuel-made it possible. The only trouble was it consumed the barbecue grill as well. Still, the engineer was awarded the 1996 Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry.


The British Royal Navy received the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for ordering sailors to stop using live cannon shells during artillery exercises and to just shout ``Bang!'' instead. The change meant savings of £5 million (925 million yen) over three years. Besides the savings, it was regarded as a step that contributed to peace and serenity in the area of the firing grounds.

Japanese scientists have often been awarded Ig Nobel Prizes. One received the 2002 peace award for inventing a ``Bowlingual'' machine for translating dog ``talk'' into human words.


The Ig Nobel Prize was set up by a Harvard University graduate who had gone on to become a magazine editor. The idea, it is said, was to give people something to think about by first provoking their laughter.

The ``Ig'' in the award's name is derived from the word ``ignoble.'' But the contrary is true. In fact, it is quite a worthy prize.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 22(IHT/Asahi: October 27,2003) (10/27)
Finding a better measure of the elderly

If something seems wrong now, I believe it all started with the 1996 Lower House election, when the Liberal Democratic Party guaranteed former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone a ``lifetime No. 1 slot'' on the party's proportional representation roster for the North Kanto bloc.



A lifetime guarantee literally holds throughout the person's life, never mind what shape he is in. Given the sheer responsibility of what it means to sit in the Diet, the LDP certainly struck an ``unusual'' deal. It actually came across as a hardly honorable and desperate trick, a trade-off even, that was pulled in order to get Nakasone to move out of his constituency.


Did this guarantee lose effect when the LDP set 73 as the age limit for members eligible for official party endorsement for proportional representation districts? Obviously, Nakasone himself did not think so.

An irate Nakasone told the media Thursday the party effectively broke its ``pledge to the voting public'' by rescinding that lifetime guarantee.

I can appreciate his anger. However, if he truly means to stand up to the present party regulation and resist being forced into retirement so rudely, he could let Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi have it by running as an independent from a single-seat constituency.


The reactions of the two LDP elders-Nakasone and former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa-make me think of old age as a period in which one goes back and forth between mellow maturity and stubbornness. In old age, one lives each day with an acute awareness of changes in one's mind and body, not to mention changes in one's environment.

It is not an easy period. And precisely because of it, I believe one acquires the sort of mature gentleness that is quite different from simple passivity, as well as the stubbornness that should not be confused with misguided willfulness.


There are old-timers in all walks of life who, unconcerned about their status, are living examples of the experience and wisdom that come only with age. Such veterans must be contributing enormously to society, except society is never quite sure how to measure their contribution.

Unless one sees it this way, life is going to be miserable and unrewarding in our ``super-senior'' society.


The Japanese word rogai (elderly harm) implies the elderly are a drag on society. But I would like to coin a new word-roeki (elderly benefit)-meaning there are benefits to society that only the elderly can provide.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 24 (10/25)
No governance without public support

Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset argued in ``The Revolt of the Masses'' (``Taishu no Hangyaku'' in Japanese, published by Hakusuisha) that even though Napoleon invaded Spain and kept the invasion going, he did not rule Spain for a single day.



Ortega elaborated that while Napoleon held power, he was incapable of ruling precisely because power was all he had. To put it another way, it is impossible to govern a nation without the support of public opinion-a timeless truth that applies just as aptly to the world of today as that of 10,000 years ago.


Ortega's words ring in my mind every time I hear what is happening in Iraq. The U.S. and British armed forces have completely ``vanquished'' Iraq. But are these victors actually governing the land? Do they have Iraqi public opinion on their side? Is the situation any different from Spain under Napoleon? I have to wonder.


Frictions of all sorts seem to have arisen in Iraq, not only from the continued guerrilla attacks against the occupation forces. The use of bomb-sniffing dogs by the U.S. military has grated on the Iraqi sensitivity-just one example of the American disregard for Islamic culture that considers canines unclean. There are also reports of Iraqi sabotage against water- and oil-supply systems.


In a Madrid newspaper article published in 1929, Ortega quoted French statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand as warning Napoleon that a bayonet could make one almighty, but nobody could ever sit comfortably on a bayonet. Ortega's newspaper article was published in book form the following year.


An international conference on Iraqi reconstruction begins Thursday in Madrid. Money is expected to be the main topic, but I hope the delegates also appreciate Ortega's understanding of ``rulership'' in envisioning the reconstruction of Iraq.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 23(IHT/Asahi: October 24,2003) (10/24)
Nation's Iraq stance endangers all Japanese

It is never pleasant to be identified by name and threatened.

But in a taped message from an individual claiming to be international terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, Japan is mentioned by name as one of the nations he intends to retaliate against for the war in Iraq.



The tape's authenticity is open to question.

Still, the threat does reflect the understanding of the world that Japan has taken a clear position on Iraq by committing money and Self-Defense Forces personnel.

The Japanese government's decision certainly stands out amid the ambivalence and doubts expressed by the international community.


But the world is not gushing over Japan in the way U.S. President George W. Bush has thanked Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

A recent issue of The Financial Times says in an editorial: ``It is hard to think of a more unlikely way to bring order to Iraq than to send a few hundred reluctant Japanese troops to keep the peace.''

I was also informed by an acquaintance, who had just met with sources close to the U.S. Congress, that Washington's reaction to the SDF dispatch was cool and detached at best.


And even a U.S. commander in Iraq hinted not so long ago that he did not really need any more foreign troops.

No multinational military collaboration in a hot zone is ever easy. What use are the SDF troops going to be in such a situation? There are simply too many questions.


A decision of the Japanese government is regarded as a decision of the Japanese people.

We should not be intimidated, but it is still a fact that we are now being targeted for terrorist attack simply because we happen to be Japanese. One always runs such risks when taking sides.


Koizumi has made quite a display of his ``willing contribution'' to the Bush administration. But more than anything, we demand that he explain to us why we are being made to risk our lives.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 21 (10/23)
Many could be swept up in swirl of Fujii flap

Going over the career of Haruho Fujii, president of Japan Highway Public Corp., the picture of a typical Japanese bureaucrat emerges. He might have retired as someone who has steadily risen through the ranks, yet ending up an ordinary civil servant all the same.



Fujii worked hard. His life was literally all work. ``I could do with two hours of sleep when I was in my 20s,'' he would reportedly tell his subordinates. ``I got along on three hours of sleep in my 30s, and four hours of sleep were enough for me in my 40s.''

But he had to spend a lot of time fawning on politicians and selling other lawmakers and senior bureaucrats on their legislative proposals. It was the fate of all bureaucrats to behave this way.


Fujii's day would begin with an early-morning trip to the office of an influential Diet member to make tea. He would ``petition'' politicians at their homes until late at night. Getting back to his office, he would consult with his colleagues from 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. To win budgetary appropriations, he had to make daily trips to the Finance Ministry. He needed to be mentally and physically tough to endure this life.


A typical bureaucrat also needs to take risks. Fujii was an adviser to the old Construction Ministry when Eiichi Nakao, a former head of the ministry, was arrested in an aggravated bribery case. A sum of 6 million yen, paid into his bank account by a construction company, came to light in connection with the scandal.

Fujii got himself off the hook by claiming that he had returned the money. Life as a bureaucrat in Japan teems with pitfalls, and he came close to being tricked into one.


For someone who has climbed the bureaucratic ladder to the top, the post of administrative vice minister, the question is how to land a post-retirement job in a way that does not draw an attack from the public. Fujii got himself appointed vice president of Japan Highway Public Corp. when he decided that it was the right time to make his move. Some time later, he won a promotion to the presidency. It was a ``birthright'' promotion for him.

One day, however, Fujii was summoned by a Cabinet minister as young as his own son and urged to resign as president. He refused and boldly made a case in his own defense.


Fujii is a survivor in a world where one can get by only by accommodating both good and evil. If he is to strike back by putting his bureaucratic career on the line, his struggle against the government should take on proportions wider than his departure. What happened at last Friday's hearing-a law-prescribed procedure for dismissing Fujii-was just the opening skirmish.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 18(IHT/Asahi: October 22,2003) (10/22)
VOX POPULI, VOX DEI: Is it now U.S. leaders' turn to come to Tokyo?

``Perhaps because I was excited, I had trouble going to sleep last night, and I tossed and turned in bed until about 4 a.m.,'' wrote former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in his diary. ``I was awakened shortly after 8 a.m.''

This was in January 1965, and Sato was in Washington for talks with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, his first summit talks with an American president. The quoted passage from Sato's diaries (published by The Asahi Shimbun) shows how tensely he was bracing himself.



Until that time, Japan-U.S. summit talks had mostly been held in Washington. Tokyo became the venue of such talks for the first time in 1974, with U.S. President Gerald Ford coming over to confer with Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. With a note of slight excitement, the joint communique issued after their talks said the first visit to Japan by an incumbent U.S. president added a new page to the history of friendly relations between the two countries.


Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida met President Harry S. Truman for the first Japan-U.S. summit in 1951. From then on, Japanese and U.S. leaders held 60 summit meetings until the 1993 summit between Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and President Bill Clinton.

Washington was the venue for 27 meetings, and 14 meetings took place in other U.S. cities, with the figure for Tokyo falling to eight, Kazuhiro Asano says in a book titled ``Nichibei Shunokaidan to Gendai Seiji'' (Japan-U.S. summit talks and contemporary politics).

Even though Japan-U.S. summit talks being held in Tokyo stopped being a rarity from the 1980s, U.S. President George W. Bush stands out among the American leaders who have come here to attend them, following up his first visit in February last year with a second last week.


Bush's second visit was actually a stopover for refueling Air Force One, the presidential plane. This limited the time available for his meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. After dinner, the two leaders beamed and looked pleased.

Dinner was sliced Japanese beef grilled on an iron plate, as reportedly requested by Bush. Were he and Koizumi beaming as they had enjoyed eating the delicacy in a room with a horigotatsu dug-in-the-floor foot warmer?


The two leaders appeared to be thoroughly relaxed. It was a light moment for them. But the promises they exchanged there were of a contrastingly grave nature. Were they aware of concerns and objections about sending Self-Defense Forces on a potentially deadly mission in Iraq and dishing out huge sums to help rebuild the country?


My hope is that after his refreshing experience in Tokyo, Bush will divert some of his newly gained vigor to listen to what people are saying about his policies.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 19(IHT/Asahi: October 21,2003) (10/21)
Nobelist's advice: Change system from within

It could not have been easy for the Nobel Committee to choose this year's Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the symbolic guardian of peace in this year of war. Nor could it have escaped the committee's attention that some past Nobel peace laureates have since fallen on adverse times.



South Korea's Kim Dae Jung won the prize three years ago for pulling off a historic summit with Kim Jong Il of North Korea. But suspicions later arose that money had changed hands to ``buy'' the summit. And the Korean Peninsula is still far from stable, thanks to the North Korean nuclear program.

The 1994 Peace Prize was shared by two Middle East peace negotiators. Today, this is as good as ancient history.


Should the prize ever be awarded to a politician? This question has haunted the Nobel Committee since the honor was bestowed upon U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Controversy raged over the 1973 choice of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.


Then, there is another pattern of selection. In 1935, the awarding of the prize to Carl von Ossietzky, a German journalist and radical pacifist who was in a concentration camp at the time, created an international sensation. Adolf Hitler had a conniption. (The actual awarding of the prize took place in 1936.)

Similarly controversial choices after World War II included dissident Soviet physicist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov and the 14th Dalai Lama. The former provoked the Soviet Union, and the latter raised China's hackles.


The 2003 choice fell to Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi, a champion of women's and children's rights. There are obviously many conservative Iranians who are embittered by her crusade, and the Iranian government itself is ambivalent about the Nobel Committee decision.

Ebadi, however, told a news conference crisply that it is up to Iranian people to lead any human rights crusade in Iran.


Her statement was an exhortation directed at all people trying to change the system from within.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 12(IHT/Asahi: October 20,2003) (10/20)
A flight from a cultural crossroads into space

The Silk Road oasis town of Dunhuang is sometimes called a town of flying deities. Numerous paintings of such deities are found in local grottoes. In the West, flying deities are usually depicted with wings. Their Oriental counterparts have no wings. They dance in the air with fluttering robes.



China has successfully launched a manned spacecraft. The center where the liftoff took place is referred to as Jiuquan, which is the name of a Gansu province town that leads to Dunhuang. Jiuquan is famous for jade cups, but the town has never even come close to Dunhuang in fame.

This time, however, the whole world heard the name-literally as the base of flying gods.


Together with gunpowder, rockets are said to be a Chinese invention. According to ``Sekai no Roketto'' (Rockets of the world), a book written by Tomifumi Godai and published by the Japan Industrial Journal, China exhibited a model of its well-known Changzheng 3 rocket along with a replica of a simple rocket called ``fire arrow,'' an 11th-century invention, at the Tsukuba Science Expo in 1985. It was this fire arrow that ``traveled'' to the West via the Silk Road and continued to evolve.


Post-World War II rocket development during the Cold War was a contest in which the East and West vied for prestige. In 1957, when the Soviet Union put Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in space, Mao Tse-tung made his famous speech in Moscow about ``the East Wind prevailing over the West Wind.'' Rockets and artificial satellites developed by China were given names such as Changzheng (Long March) and Dongfanghong (The East is Red) in honor of the chairman and the Chinese Communist Party.


The spacecraft this time is named Shengzhou (Vessel of God). The astronaut's first communication with Earth was unpretentious-he said ``I feel good.'' He also hoisted both the Chinese and United Nations flags. Even though this space project was apparently meant to boost China's prestige, there was nothing pretentious about the astronaut's behavior.


This was a flight from the cultural crossroads of the East and West into space. I want this to bring peace and harmony to the world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 17(IHT/Asahi: October 18,2003) (10/18)
The reins of power are hard to relinquish

Retirement from politics must be a tough call for politicians. The Liberal Democratic Party sets 73 as the age limit for party members eligible for election from proportional representation districts. But there are two former prime ministers who are way past that age, and the party is stuck with having to decide whether to treat them as a special exception to the rule and let them run in the upcoming Lower House election.



Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone is 85. Some years ago, he quoted his own haiku in stating he had no intention of retiring yet. The haiku went: ``Daylight has long faded/ But until it is time to die/ Cicadas keep singing.''

Nakasone intends to run in the Nov. 9 election, as does former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, 84. It is now up to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to make the final call.

 〈くれてなお 命の限り 蝉(せみ)しぐれ〉の句を引きながら、引退の意思のないことを表明したこともある中曽根元首相は85歳、宮沢元首相は84歳である。立候補に意欲を見せる2人に引退を迫るのかどうか、は小泉首相の決断に委ねられている。

Many centuries ago, there was a man who wrote a letter to his friend, urging him in strong language to retire from public office.

``If you are able to step down, do so immediately. If you cannot, just peel yourself off! You and I have already wasted more than enough time. Now that we are in old age, let us start making preparations so that we may be able to set out on our journey at a moment's notice.''

 はるか昔、手紙で激しい引退勧告をした人がいた。「出来るなら君は君のその職務からただちに引退したまえ。出来ぬなら、強引に身を引きはがせ! すでに十分以上の時を我々は浪費してきた。老年を迎えた今こそ、いつでも旅立てる用意を始めようではないか」

That was Roman philosopher, dramatist and statesman Seneca the Younger (Lucius Annaeus Seneca) writing to his friend Lucilius Junior in A.D. 65.

Having become a political heavyweight and amassed a huge fortune, Seneca decided he had had enough. He volunteered to renounce his entire fortune and begged Emperor Nero to let him retire.

Nero would not hear of it. But Seneca had his way and retired happily to a life of philosophical pursuit. The letter to Lucilius was written during that period.


Lucilius, also a learned man, was imperial procurator of Sicily.

In ``Roma no Tetsujin Seneka no Kotoba'' (Words of Roman sage Seneca), a book from Iwanami Shoten Publishers, author Koji Nakano notes: ``Because Seneca held a position of power that kept him busy for many years, his epistle to Lucilius reads to me like a poignant admission of his own remorse.''

 友人はシチリアの行政長官という高位にある人だったらしい。作家の中野孝次さんは、セネカが長い間多忙と権力の座にあった人だけに、その文章は「彼自身の内から発せられた悔恨であるかのように、悲痛にひびく」と書き留めた(『ローマの哲人 セネカの言葉』岩波書店)。

Conspiracies and machinations are routine in the world of politics. To this day, politicians could not be completely free of the ``remorse'' that must accumulate from remaining in that world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 16(IHT/Asahi: October 17,2003) (10/17)
Returnee Soga makes a case for her suffering

The term ``mother tongue,'' when spelled in Chinese characters, comprises the words for ``mother,'' ``country'' and ``language,'' Koichi Iijima notes in a poem titled ``Bokokugo'' (Mother tongue).

Iijima says he never wrote poetry while he was abroad, removed from his mother, his country and his mother tongue.



In the case of the Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea, they were removed suddenly from their mothers, their country and the Japanese language against their will and by violent means.

Hitomi Soga, who returned to Japan one year ago-on Oct. 15 last year, to be precise-with four other abductees, was tremendously shocked to learn her mother was not living in this country.


Soga's childhood recollection of her mother can be found in ``Kazoku'' (Family), a book compiled by the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea and published by Kobunsha.

In the book, Soga reveals that when she was an elementary school pupil, she stole some money from a chest of drawers and bought a sweater.

Soga was prepared to be scolded. But her mother's reaction was different. Shedding tears, her mother said, ``Hitomi bought a sweater because your mother couldn't buy a new dress for you.'' Responding in kind, Hitomi said: ``I am sorry, Mother. I promise I will never do this again, so forgive me.''


There was a strong bond between mother and her daughter. Soga has begun to talk about how she and her mother, Miyoshi, were attacked by kidnappers 25 years ago, apparently in the hope her account might provide hints for her mother's rescue.

When a Japanese politician made an unsympathetic comment on her mother, Soga said, ``Rather than anger, I felt pity for his inability to understand the feelings of the abductees.''


The returnee keeps saying, ``I wish people would have a deeper understanding of our sufferings as human beings, rather than leaving the task of attending to our sufferings to the government.''

Soga's remarks had a ring of poetry to them from the time she set foot in Japan again a year ago. It seems that when her bubbling thoughts find expression, they come out automatically as poetic language.


This may have to do with what Iijima says of poetry, ``Poetry has sorrow for its fountain.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 15(IHT/Asahi: October 16,2003) (10/16)
The day the wild-born Crested Ibis went extinct

Japan's last toki (Crested Japanese Ibis) born in the wild died last Friday at the Toki Preservation Center on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture. She was named Kin after her captor, Kintaro Uji. Uji apparently never got over his sense of guilt for having ``betrayed'' the bird.



Kin first showed up near human habitation in the summer of 1967. Toward winter of that year, Uji, a bird lover, was asked to watch and feed her.

Clutching a plastic bag filled with live dojo loaches, Uji plodded through the early morning snow for his daily visit with his namesake. He squatted on the ground and fed her one by one by hand, and watched over her all day until she returned to her nest at night.


Soon, Kin was coming to meet Uji halfway whenever he was late for breakfast. This went on for more than four months, until the government adopted a captive-breeding program for toki and instructed Uji to capture Kin.

Knowing how completely Kin trusted him, Uji's heart was torn, according to ``Habatake Toki'' (Fly, ibis), a book by Haruo Sato published by Kenseisha Ltd.


Uji died in 1984 at age 81. For years, he was known to visit a local shrine frequently to pray for a long life for Kin. His prayers were obviously answered, for Kin lived to be a centenarian in human years. She did not have any offspring, however.


German naturalist Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), who came to Japan in the final years before the Meiji Restoration (1868), contributed much to toki research. The specimens he sent from Japan to Europe for further study resulted in the bird's scientific name of Nipponia Nippon.

During the Edo Period (1603-1867), the wild toki population was apparently distributed widely throughout the nation. But by the time scientists realized the birds needed protection in the early 20th century, they were already on the verge of extinction.

Oct. 10, 2003, will be remembered as the day Japan's wild-born toki went extinct.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 11(IHT/Asahi: October 15,2003) (10/15)
Adolescents' behavior reflects ills of society

When it comes to categorizing people by race, we do not go much beyond Japanese, foreign nationals or foreign residents of this country. It's a very rough population map, but that's often the way we see it.

There are countries where things are more complicated and more difficult for those trying to decide how to refer to a certain group of people. In such countries, one has to squeeze through a set of proper terms, as if stepping through a minefield, according to Leonard Thompson, author of ``A History of South Africa.'' (A Japanese translation is published by Akashi Shoten.)



Afrikaners are descendants of Dutch settlers who colonized the country from the 17th century. They formerly called themselves Boers. Also categorized as whites are people of British descent and Jews. The offspring of their marriages with indigenous Africans, meanwhile, are often called ``coloreds.'' These people are distinguished from blacks and Indians.


A sense of discrimination often sneaks into race terminology. South Africa's complicated history and apartheid policy created the ``minefield.'' The works of John Maxwell Coetzee, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, have many parts that defy understanding by readers ignorant of the circumstances peculiar to the country.


The protagonist of his autobiography-like novel ``Boyhood: Scenes From Provincial Life,'' is a boy living in the apartheid-flourishing 1950s. (A Japanese translation is available from Misuzu Shobo.)

At the boy's school, Afrikaner students, the majority group, bullied Jewish students and subjected them to all forms of sly racial discrimination.


The boy was estranged from his father and heard his Afrikaans-accented speech with distaste. His mother spoke elegant English. Although he was heavily dependent on her, he wished she would not love him so much. Sometimes, he became incensed at his mother as he thought her love was a burden on him.


Delicately subtle boys like this might be found in any country. But what sets the protagonist apart is that his thinking and behavior mirrored the oppressive mood that prevailed in South African society in the days of apartheid.

Likewise, it is true of all countries that the behavior of adolescents reflects the ills of society.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 4(IHT/Asahi: October 13,2003) (10/13)
Oil and politics intertwine to power the world

Gallons and gallons of oil are guzzled for our world to function. To get a rough sense of the world's oil-consumption pattern, let's liken oil to our daily meals. The calculations below are based on pre-Iraq war figures.



Let's say Japan's oil-consumption volume translates into three meals a day. All three meals have to be ordered out (imported), and at least two meals are delivered from the Middle East, where Japan is an old customer.

China, whose population is more than 10 times Japan's, is also a three-meal nation. One meal is a takeout.


The world's daily oil consumption is equivalent to 44 meals. Germany, France and Italy sit down to only one meal or a meal and a half. The United States is by far the biggest eater-it gorges on 11 meals a day, half of which are ordered out.

Russia cooks four to five meals a day, but actually eats only a meal and a half. The uneaten food is sold overseas for hard currency.


Saudi Arabia is the world's top caterer. It prepares five meals a day, of which four are for delivery. It also boasts the world's biggest larder, or oil deposits.

Iraq was making one and a bit more meals every day and selling most of this. Its larder is second only to Saudi Arabia's.


The U.S.-Russia summit outside Washington D.C. late last month was dubbed an ``oil-rights summit.'' The partners were drawn together by mutual interests-Russia wants to expand its delivery chain, and the United States has an insatiable appetite.

For the United States, the summit was also a chance to woo Russia, which had sided with France and Germany over the U.S.-led war against Iraq.


Oil and politics intertwine to move the world today.

For Japan which relies on takeouts for all three meals, there is no choice but to get along humbly with the rest of the world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 5(IHT/Asahi: October 11,2003) (10/11)
Will Californians awake from their `dream'?

An American reporter requested an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Schwarzenegger himself called him back a little later.

``What's your old man's job?'' Schwarzenegger began, without preamble. ``Excuse me?'' the reporter asked, taken aback. Schwarzenegger repeated, ``What did your old man do?''



Bristling over Schwarzenegger's rudeness, the reporter recounted his experience to a colleague. But the colleague started laughing and explained this was a practical joke Schwarzenegger was playing on reporters as only a screen actor could: Running a tape of his lines from a movie.


In the California gubernatorial election campaign, it was apparently Schwarzenegger's strategy to stay away from the print media. His name was already a household word, so all he had to do was make as few mistakes as possible. Even reports of his former scandals did not really hurt him.


``I came here with absolutely nothing, and California has given me absolutely everything,'' he said in his victory speech Wednesday. His face was an interesting study of jubilation mixed with nervous tension.


When he left his native Austria for the United States in 1968, Ronald Reagan was the governor of California. Mostly a supporting actor, Reagan was a virtual nobody even to movie fans, and the Japanese media paid him little attention. He became known only after he sought Republican nomination for president that year.


Reagan went on to realize the ``American dream.'' As for Schwarzenegger's election victory, some people take the cynical view that Californians are merely projecting their own dreams. I wonder if they will awaken from their collective dream someday.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 9(IHT/Asahi: October 10,2003) (10/10)
End of the road for Mahathir, critic of the West

``The world has lost its way. The world is moving too fast. We need to pause, to take stock of things.'' This warning was sounded by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly last month.



Mahathir will retire at the end of this month after holding office for more than 20 years. The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), who met this week on the Indonesian island of Bali, reportedly held a farewell party to honor him. And so, the Malaysian leader, who has made a name for utterances challenging the existing world order, is finally making his exit.


A vocal critic of the United States and Europe, Mahathir charged that the very countries that increased their wealth and built up their power by running colonies were now preaching the benefits of market liberalization to put developing nations under their domination.

He put up resistance to what he viewed as the self-righteous attitude of the Western countries, seeing a disdain for Asia in it.

As for Japan, Mahathir kept urging it to become a trailblazer for Asia, noting that Japan had its own values, different from those of the United States and European countries.


As a Japanese, I found his criticisms of the West to be quite agreeable. At the same time, I was embarrassed by his tolerance of Japanese colonial rule. Referring to his experiences during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, he wrote of his respect for Japanese soldiers who never failed to pay him for purchases they made when he was peddling things at a market. (A Japanese translation of the book ``Message to Japan'' has been published by The Mainichi Shimbun under the title ``Asia Kara Nihon e no Dengon.'')


Mahathir had a strict upbringing in a Muslim home. A severe critic of present-day Islam, he pointed to the stagnation of Islamic societies and called for self-examination, saying, ``We are no longer a great people, as was once the case with our ancestors.''


In a recent interview with a Malaysian newspaper, Mahathir confessed that his office felt like a bog, with friends and relatives coming to him with requests for favors, including pleas for government contracts and donations.

So, he had a hard time dealing with relations swarming about him to seek favors, an age-old Asian phenomenon.

He might have found them to be a more formidable enemy than the Western countries.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 8(IHT/Asahi: October 9,2003) (10/09)
Don't let tigers become imaginary creatures

It must be just a coincidence, but there has been a spate of incidents involving tigers. One in Baghdad was particularly unpleasant.



Last month, an American soldier tried to feed a caged tiger at a zoo and had his fingers bitten off. The tiger was shot by another GI. According to news reports, the troops were having a drinking party after the zoo had closed for the day.

``Tora'' (tiger) is Japanese slang for a drunk. This Baghdad incident was a case of a real tiger biting a human tora. But this was no laughing matter, of course.


It was an example of the deterioration of morale and discipline among the U.S. troops deployed in Iraq. But more to the point, this ``accident'' was self-inflicted. I shudder at the knee-jerk violence of felling the animal on the spot.


In Las Vegas on the last weekend, a magician was badly mauled by a tiger during a show. The animal had gone for the man's throat. This was a very popular show that had been running accident-free for 13 years.

On the day of the accident, the audience was told this particular tiger was making his stage debut. The truth, however, was that it had several years' experience.

In New York, a man checked himself into hospital for what he claimed was a dog bite. But he was arrested when the authorities found out he was keeping a tiger in his apartment.


Tigers are protected as a rare species. The United Nations Environmental Program has repeatedly warned that wild tigers were on the verge of extinction. Their population was believed to exceed 100,000 in the 19th century, but the number has since dwindled to anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000.

Poachers keep hunting them for fur and folk medicine, as well as for sale to exotic pet dealers. It is also worrying that their natural habitat is disappearing.


Graceful and ferocious, tigers are the stars of many folk tales and legends.

We must not let them become imaginary creatures of old legends.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 7(IHT/Asahi: October 8,2003) (10/08)
Kan plans `Othello strategy' to topple the LDP

It takes only a minute to learn how to play Othello, but it takes a lifetime to master the board game. Those who say this of Othello point out that it is a profound game despite its apparent simplicity.



Othello is a game of surrounding your opponent's pieces with your own by putting your pieces on each side of your opponent's and turning them over.

Beginners are liable to succumb to the temptation to turn over many of the opponent's pieces from the first. It is said that doing the opposite-turning over only a few pieces initially-is the secret to victory.

Three of the four semifinalists at the 2002 world championships held in Amsterdam were mathematicians. This reinforces the view that Othello's simple rules require logical thinking by the players.


The board game was born in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, just after the end of World War II, according to the Japan Othello Association. The game was invented by Goro Hasegawa, a student at Mito Middle School, which no longer exists. (Middle schools were soon reinstituted as senior high schools as part of the postwar educational reforms.)

At first, Hasegawa used cardboard pieces to play the game with friends, replacing them with milk bottle stoppers later. Pieces like today's Othello set were first put on the market in 1973.


In Britain, a similar game, called Reversi, was widely played from the last years of the 19th century. In 1976, Time magazine wrote that Othello, the ``new'' Japanese game, closely resembled a British game known as Reversi. Despite the seemingly ironic implication of the wording, Othello went on to gain worldwide popularity.


Naoto Kan, leader of Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), the main opposition party, is known to play the board game go. ``Now I have to study not just go but Othello as well,'' he said just after reaching agreement on a merger with the Liberal Party. The first post-merger Minshuto convention was held on Sunday.

In a go match, Kan went on to say, the player who scores 20 points will end up the loser if the other side scores 30 points. In an Othello match, the more points you score, the fewer points the other side gets. So, he planned to pursue an Othello strategy, not a go strategy, in his battle against the Liberal Democratic Party.


What is scary about Othello is that a single move can drastically change the tide of the game. It remains to be seen whether the merger with the Liberal Party will prove to be the decisive move that alters the political tide in favor of Kan and Minshuto.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 6(IHT/Asahi: October 7,2003) (10/07)
Reflections on `the lake' within us all

The following are some notable quotes heard in September:

Sociologist Munesuke Mita: ``Everyone has a lake within himself. Until the last moment of his life, he keeps changing or enhancing the lake's depth, hue, coolness and transparency. Speaking to someone, I believe, means speaking to the lake within that person.''



Judoka Noriko Anno, who recently won the world championship: ``Ever since I was in high school, I could always tell my own condition. When I was in bad shape, everything shrank.''

Actress Etsuko Ichihara: ``Acting makes me lose sleep. That's because I become like a sleepwalker, searching for something almost to the point of being unable to tell who I really am.''


Speaking of a long-lost giant mural by artist Taro Okamoto (1911-1996) discovered in Mexico, Toshiko Okamoto, director of the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum, noted: ``The image of a human skeleton, cackling as it is being consumed by nuclear flames, does not represent a victim's mentality. Rather, it represents human dignity that explodes in anger. I believe this is a powerful message to a lethargic world that stupidly allows itself to be drawn again and again into war, as in Iraq.''


Recalling his time with Osama bin Laden, Antoine Sfeir, publisher of a review of the Arab world, said, ``I met (him) many times when he was still a young man, and I was quite impressed by the depth of his religious belief and how he lauded Americans as a people who respected God.'' He noted that bin Laden's ``dualism''-that only good and evil exist, with nothing in between-has much in common with the beliefs of the U.S. government.


``People who fight for a principle are the real problem,'' observed Spanish novelist Juan Goytisolo, who quoted a Spanish poet as saying, ``Those who invoke anything divine will not bring peace to the world.''


And lastly, from mathematician Tsuyoshi Mori: ``Too many people tell others to feel OK and be strong. But why does everyone have to be high every day? It's perfectly OK not to feel OK.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 29(IHT/Asahi: October 4,2003) (10/04)
`The lady' vanishes from Miyakojima island

Ogo-madara, a kind of butterfly indigenous to the Okinawa region, glides so gracefully that its admirers call it ``the lady of the south seas.'' One of the largest species of lepidoptera known in Japan, ogo-madara is also famous for the rare, golden color it has in its pupal stage.



More than 1,000 butterflies, including ogo-madara, were reportedly obliterated by Typhoon No. 14, which ravaged the Okinawan island of Miyakojima last month. Hurricane-force winds completely destroyed the 1,600-square-meter Chocho-en (butterfly pavilion), a popular island tourist attraction and one of the largest of its kind in Japan. The pavilion housed a lush tropical jungle where butterflies danced freely.


The pavilion formed the core of the Miyako Paradise complex that also features a herb garden. ``I imagine the butterflies were either crushed by the collapsed roof, or blown away by the winds,'' noted a pavilion keeper.

The herb garden was reopened to the public Wednesday. Visitors can now see some butterflies there-those that were being raised in a different facility from the pavilion. But there are no plans yet for rebuilding the pavilion itself.


Typhoon No. 14 left a trail of devastation from Miyakojima to South Korea and all the way up north to Hokkaido. Miyakojima recorded a maximum wind velocity of 266.76 kph, the seventh fiercest in history. At an Air Self-Defense Force base adjoining the butterfly pavilion, the anemometer reportedly read an extraordinary 311.04 kph. Officially, however, the nation's record is the 307.08 kph registered in 1966, also on Miyakojima.


I wonder how those butterflies behaved while the typhoon raged. Did they flutter in a frenzy, sensing impending doom? Or did they remain stock-still under the tropical foliage? In my mind, those fragile creatures form a sharp contrast to the ferocity of nature unleashed by a storm.


Unlike in spring, there is something poignant about butterflies in autumn. A haiku by Seira goes:

``In autumn winds/ White butterflies dance frantically/ To the end.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 2(IHT/Asahi: October 3,2003) (10/03)
It's `high-flyer' Koizumi vs. `meticulous' Kan

Many leading professional go board game players are known by names-not exactly nicknames-that sum up their styles in a nutshell.

Among such names are ``killer,'' ``computer,'' ``nimaigoshi'' (amazingly indomitable), ``uchu-ryu'' (player of the universe school), and ``bigaku-ha'' (player of the aesthetics-first school).

Those who can conjure up the face of each of the pros bearing these names are pretty familiar with go games themselves.



Go is a game in which players vie to take more territory, while struggling to get more pieces from the opposition. It should not be too difficult to imagine how the pros labeled as ``killer'' and ``computer'' play in such a game.

Masaki Takemiya is the pro known for his ``uchu-ryu'' style. He plays ``generously,'' not particular about having his way in skirmishes, but occasionally, he makes totally unexpected moves. Hideo Otake, the ``bigaku-ha'' pro, prefers to indulge his sense of beauty of the stones' movements over winning.


Many politicians love playing go. In the old days, Tsuyoshi Inukai, the prime minister who was assassinated by young military officers in 1932, was famous for his love of go. In an article that appeared in Mita Hyoron this July, Kunio Kawamata wrote: ``It was said that while the political world might have a better go player, no one would be more refined than Inukai.''


As for postwar politicians, former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda held the exalted rank of eighth grade as a go player. Osamu Inaba, who handled the Lockheed payoff scandal as justice minister, was a sixth-grade holder. But he always said, ``You can't take a Diet member's grade at face value.'' This was in reference to the fact that politicians were often given an ``honorary grade.''


He argued that since he gave Fukuda a handicap of three points, he was in theory playing as an 11th-grader in a match against the former prime minister. (An 11th grade does not exist.)

While listening to the debate in the just-opened Diet session, I pondered what to say about the styles of the speakers as go players. Naoto Kan, who mounted a ``calculated attack'' on the government as leader of the main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), may be called ``chimitsu-ha'' (player of the meticulous school). He clearly falls short of being a ``computer-like operator.''

Defending himself, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi showed some of his talent as a ``hiyaku-ryu'' (high-flying school) player by letting his imagination soar on his favorite topics.


Kan and his new partner, Ichiro Ozawa, are said to be go pals. Ozawa has long been called a ``muscleman.'' So, in the upcoming Lower House election, the focus will be on whether the alliance of Kan, the meticulous player, and Ozawa, the muscleman, will be able to shoot down Koizumi, the high-flying operator.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 1(IHT/Asahi: October 2,2003) (10/02)
Tea lounge another side of postal services

A tea lounge opened in a corner of a small post office. Nothing fancy-just one tsubo (two tatami mats, or 3.3 square meters) in size with a bench and tea accouterments. The lounge was the idea of the postmaster who wanted it to be a friendly community space where customers could drop in and chat over cups of tea.



A new community project was hatched from this lounge. Called ``Operation Yellow Postcards of Happiness,'' it was a drive to get residents of homes for the elderly to send postcards to one another. A young social worker, who happened to drop by, became instrumental in the project's successful launch.


The postmaster, Shuichi Honma, is a former newspaper reporter. At age 50 he quit journalism to head a small community post office in Gunma Prefecture. In ``Boku no Rakudai Nikki'' (Diary of an F student) published by Shinpusha Inc., Honma recalls his decade in running a post office. He cites numerous steps that could only be taken at a small post office such as his, one that was closely integrated into the local community life.

At the same time, Honma also pulls no punches in recounting the ``waste'' and ``aberrations'' inherent in the little bureaucracy he ran.


He was appalled by the sheer volume of paper that turned up on his desk and by all the rules he was supposed to follow to the most minute detail. He complains that no postmaster would have any time for legitimate work if he dutifully did everything faithfully according to those bureaucratic procedures.

Aside from the regular postal, savings and insurance services, Honma points out, there is the ``fourth service'' category known privately among postal workers as ``special savings.'' Essentially, this has to do with cooperating with Diet candidates at election times. The service includes compiling lists of supporters and even organizing membership drives on behalf of the Liberal Democratic Party.


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi screamed and gesticulated Monday as he defended his pet policy of postal privatization. In a nutshell, he said the privatization must get rolling first at all costs, so he could decide later how to go about it.


The privatization may eliminate some of the bureaucratic wastes and aberrations. But what would happen to ``extra'' community undertakings such as the tea lounge project Honma implemented?

Honma's wish is that the prime minister would be more attuned to the ``realities'' which are not discussed in his postal privatization argument.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 30(IHT/Asahi: October 1,2003) (10/01)
Said spent life arguing for the Palestinians

When I think about the Middle East where the cycle of eye-for-eye violence continues, two people, Palestinian-born American thinker Edward Said, and Israeli author Amos Oz, always come to mind. Both grew up in Jerusalem.



Said's criticisms of Israel and the United States from his pro-Palestinian standpoint grew more relentless in recent years. He is said to have been viewed as public enemy No. 1 in the Jewish community in America.

Oz also belongs to the generation who grew up when Israel was surrounded by an Arab world committed to a declared policy of killing ``all Jews.'' While working for peace in the Middle East, he remains strongly on guard against the Arabs.


Said and Oz are leading proponents of two mutually hating positions. Is it possible for them to join hands? Novelist Kenzaburo Oe, a Nobel laureate, was probably looking for an answer to this question when he exchanged letters with them. Translated into Japanese, the letters can be found in ``Boryoku ni sakaratte kaku'' (Writing despite the threat of violence), published by The Asahi Shimbun, together with letters Oe exchanged with other eminent intellectuals.


Oz writes about ``humor therapy'' he proposes to cure ``fanaticism'' that inspires action by both Israelis and Arabs, saying he has never met a fanatic with a sense of humor. He preaches the importance of compromise, an inconceivable idea for fanatics.


Said's motto was that people must stop expecting everyone to get together unconditionally and without criticism. In a different book, he said it was important to call on the soldiers in the Israeli reserves who have refused to render military service. (This quote appears in ``Senso to Puropaganda-2,'' the second volume of the ``War and Propaganda'' series, published by Misuzu Shobo.)


The letters show that Said and Oz, while sticking to their respective stances, explored a point where they could find common ground.

Incidentally, 27 Israeli soldiers announced Wednesday that they would refuse to participate in military operations. I wonder if this announcement reached the ears of Said, who died the following day.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 27(IHT/Asahi: September 30,2003)

Fountain pens survive the age of computers

For many people, the fact that word processors are out of production is cause for lament. They say word processors were convenient as they were simple writing machines.

Now is the age of personal computers and cellular phones. These are the machines everybody counts on. While word processors are disappearing, some conventional writing instruments are tenaciously surviving, among them the fountain pen.



This spring, French President Jacques Chirac presented British Prime Minister Tony Blair with bottles of expensive wine on the latter's birthday to mend soured relations between them. Blair is said to have given Chirac a British-made fountain pen by the name of ``Churchill,'' for Chirac's birthday last year.


World leaders still cannot do without fountain pens, which are indispensable for signing treaties and the like. British-made fountain pens were presented as an official gift to the leaders of major industrialized countries who participated in summit talks in Britain in 1998.


Unique fountain pens were used by the leaders of the United States and the then-Soviet Union when they signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty in Moscow in 1991. The pens were made from parts of dismantled missiles. Then-President George Bush, father of the current U.S. president, signed for the United States and then-President Mikhail Gorbachev signed for the Soviet Union.

Essayist Yoshikata Shiraiwa's book, ``Kareinaru Mannenhitsu Monogatari'' (Tales of gorgeous fountain pens), is about masterpiece fountain pens, as its title indicates. The author tells tales by way of introducing photographed masterpieces.

The book, published by Graphic-sha, also includes samples of the handwriting of famous authors and musical composers. It shows that French novelist Alexandre Dumas, known as ``Dumas fils'' to differentiate him from his father of the same name, wrote in a flowing, beautiful hand. Composer-like rhythm distinguishes the hands of Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. The saying that ``your handwriting is what you are'' is quite true.


Shiraiwa says in the book, ``The pen is mightier than the (piano) key.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 22(IHT/Asahi: September 29,2003)(IHT/Asahi: September 29,2003)

TB comeback a calamity for the elderly

In 1949, medical doctor and critic Michio Matsuda described tuberculosis as a ``national scourge'' in the postscript of ``Kekkaku o Nakusu Tameni'' (To eliminate tuberculosis), a book in the Iwanami Shinsho paperback series.

The publisher, Iwanami Shoten, resumed its Shinsho publications after the end of World War II.



For a long time, TB was the leading cause of death in Japan. The postwar introduction of streptomycin and other anti-TB drugs helped, but it was years before the disease was brought under control.

In the late 1990s, however, it became apparent the disease had not been eradicated, as everyone thought. There were signs of a resurgence, and the government declared a ``state of emergency'' in 1999.


The Ibaraki prefectural government disclosed Wednesday a TB outbreak occurred recently at a local hospital. Three patients are reported dead, all octogenarians. Historically, TB was considered an affliction for young people. Today, it is the elderly who are contracting it in growing numbers, because their resistance to diseases is down.


TB continues to rage in the developing world. In that sense, Japan is pegged as a ``semi-developed'' nation. Whereas the disease rate is around five for every 100,000 people in Sweden and Australia, the rate in Japan is nearly 30 people per 100,000, which is extremely high for an industrialized nation.


In the mid-Heian Period (794-1185), author Sei Shonagon referred to a ``chest disease,'' along with a disease induced by some evil spirit and a leg disease, in her essay collection ``Makura no Soshi'' (The Pillow Book). TB has been a frequent topic for the literati, whose numbers have been thinned over time as writers battled the disease to their deaths while penning hauntingly beautiful works. Poet Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) and novelist Tatsuo Hori (1904-1953) are just two examples.

 「やまひは 胸。物の怪(け)。脚の気(け)」と『枕草子』にもあるように、胸の病、結核はしばしば文学にも登場してきた。壮絶な闘病生活を送った正岡子規をはじめ哀切で美しい作品を残した堀辰雄など枚挙にいとまがない。

Poet Michizo Tachihara (1914-1939), who died of TB at 24, wrote: ``Autumn/ Beyond the blue sky/ Sorrow has departed/ Not to return.'' The disease was often seen to represent what the Japanese call yosetsu no bigaku-the ``aesthetics of premature death.''

Today, it appears to have become a calamity that strikes the elderly. The nation observes the TB Prevention Week until Sept. 30.

 「秋 青い空の向うに/かなしみは行き かへらず」。こんな一節を残した詩人立原道造も結核のため24歳の若さで亡くなった。「夭折(ようせつ)の美学」をいわれたこともあった。いまは「お年寄りを襲う災害」のようでもある。30日まで、結核予防週間だ。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 26(IHT/Asahi: September 27,2003)

Questioning `perfection' in world politics

Article 99 of the United Nations Charter stipulates, ``The secretary-general may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.''



Although Kofi Annan spoke before the General Assembly rather than the Security Council, his address Tuesday came across more as a stern warning than an attempt ``to bring (such matters) to the (assembly's) attention.''

The U.N. secretary-general denounced unilateralism without Security Council support as a ``fundamental challenge'' to the principles of the U.N. Charter.


In a manner of speaking, the world's heavyweight ``sheriff'' was awaiting his turn on the floor to justify his crusade against ``outlaws.'' But it was as if Annan beat him to it by pointing out that the sheriff himself might have broken the law.

The Guardian newspaper observed Annan was ``calm, balanced, rational, sharp-and utterly convincing.''


As a career U.N. official, Annan must have suffered unbearable anguish over the disastrous terrorist attack in August against the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Yet, he spoke as he did Tuesday, presumably because the president of the United States-the nation that played a central role in the creation of the United Nations-was scheduled to address the General Assembly later.


Toward the end of World War II, then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945, only two weeks before the new world body's founding members were due to meet in San Francisco. Roosevelt was a key player.

According to ``Kokusairengo Seiritsu-shi'' (A History of the Founding of the United Nations) published by Yushindo Kobun-Sha Publishing Co., Roosevelt sent a message to the House in early 1945, noting to the effect that any abuse of power, often passing for an exercise in ``power politics,'' must not become a factor to rule international relations in the future world.


Annan admitted the imperfections inherent in the United Nations itself. Nothing made by humans is ever perfect. Nobody expects the United States and Britain to be perfect. All we ask is that they have the courage to doubt their own ``perfection.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 25(IHT/Asahi: September 26,2003)


Voters must look behind politicians' masks

The mask worn by a Noh actor is called omote. In Japanese, this name sounds like ``the front side.'' For those watching a Noh performance, seeing the mask in this way, the name is a temptation to imagine the face behind the mask.

The Liberal Democratic Party's new executives and the new Cabinet ministers, picked recently by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, met the news media following their appointments. As I watched them on TV, I wondered if they were really the LDP's ``faces'' or its masks.



In his book ``Le Droit de Rever'' (The right to dream), Gaston Bachelard, a philosopher on science, says, ``When we try to know what a person's face really looks like by identifying the self concealed below, we find ourselves tacitly viewing that face as a mask.'' (A Japanese translation was published by Chikuma Shobo.)


I did not cite the Noh mask and Bachelard to argue that Koizumi's new teams constitute a kamen taisei (masked system). That would be unfair.

But as Koizumi selected members of the new teams, there was a phase in which something like a mask was involved. The focus was on whether Taku Yamasaki would be retained as LDP secretary-general. Eventually, Koizumi named him party vice president and appointed Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe to succeed him as secretary-general.

In elevating Yamasaki, the prime minister appeared to put the ``convenient and vague'' mask of the vice presidency on him-convenient because the post is prestigious enough, but vague because the authority of the vice president is not clearly defined. To play on relevant Japanese words, was it not fukumen jinji (auxiliary mask appointment), with fukumen not to be interpreted as ``masked face,'' as would more commonly be the case?


Beginning with Koizumi and the new LDP secretary-general, many of the current Diet members are second- or third-generation lawmakers. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. Politicians are rated for their merits and demerits. With such legislators aboard, the new Koizumi Cabinet seems like an omokage Cabinet, with omokage referring to the faces of their fathers and grandfathers showing up in their job performances.


In the TV broadcasting world, a situation that requires people to finish a job without fail by a certain deadline, due to a scheduled air time, used to be referred to as ketsukatchin, or so I have heard. This reminded me that the new Cabinet may be viewed as a team that will last only until the Lower House election expected in November, depending, of course, on the LDP's showing.

There is good reason to call this Cabinet a ketsukatchin Cabinet: It was brought into being to meet a set schedule, namely the Lower House election, and to assure the LDP's victory in that contest.

If Koizumi is determined to press on with reforms, as he has repeatedly stated, why did he need to reshuffle his Cabinet? For what purpose did he change his team?


To all appearances, his commitment to reforms is a ``mask.'' Look behind it and you will get a glimpse of manju (sweet bean paste buns)-remember the rumors of ``poisoned manju'' deals used to pull off Koizumi's victory in the LDP presidential election?-and tools of other such trickery.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 24(IHT/Asahi: September 25,2003)

Will Koizumi become the Gorbachev of Japan?

Going through overseas newspapers Monday to see how they covered the outcome of the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election, I was somewhat surprised by their general tone of cool indifference. Gone completely was the ebullience seen when the foreign media hailed the birth of the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi two and a half years ago.

In fact, the absence of enthusiasm over Koizumi's latest election victory became more pronounced when I recalled the field day the overseas news organizations had last week over the clinching of the league pennant by the Hanshin Tigers.



An Australian newspaper still depicted Koizumi as a ``lone wolf,'' obviously not having bothered to keep a tab on him and learn he has since formed a pack around himself. A Singaporean newspaper described new LDP Secretary-General Shinzo Abe as ``always nattily-dressed and every hair in place,'' and summed him up as a hawk just like Koizumi.


Several newspapers predicted the Koizumi administration will be around until 2006, if the LDP wins the upcoming Lower House election. This will make it one of the longest-lived administrations. The question, though, is whether it is the sort of administration we can trust to steer the nation through its many difficult problems.


It is often said that people change when they are given a position of responsibility. It means that they will grow or mature into what the position requires of them. But in reshuffling his Cabinet, Koizumi has gone the opposite route, as if he believes people should change the posts and the overall organization to fit their mold.

Specifically, his appointment of Abe-hardly a seasoned heavyweight-to the key post of party secretary-general is bound to change the very nature of that post and the party itself.

Koizumi's stated resolve to reform the Foreign Ministry, which he stressed two and a half years ago by giving the foreign affairs portfolio to Makiko Tanaka, is all but history now. And Heizo Takenaka remains state minister in charge of financial, economic and fiscal policy to face his ultimate test.


But the real focus of our interest is Koizumi himself. Will he be able to change the LDP and Japan? U.S. Time magazine editorialized that ``Koizumi may be remembered as the Mikhail Gorbachev of this era in Japan,'' meaning he will go down in history as someone who broke old tradition, but his presence will be only transitory.


In his second term as LDP president, I wonder if he will be capable of living up to the Confucian precept of ``act with swiftness, speak with restraint.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 23(IHT/Asahi: September 24,2003)

Foes may have outmaneuvered Koizumi

``I will destroy the Liberal Democratic Party (if necessary).'' That set the tone of Junichiro Koizumi's bid for Liberal Democratic Party chief in 2001. This time, turning himself around, he took to issuing a clarion call for party unity. The Koizumi re-election drama played out quite differently from his first ascent to the top.

The prime minister's style of speech, long marked by speaking at the top of his voice, also changed. In his acceptance address to LDP members and at a following news conference, he spoke rather quietly, choosing his words carefully.



Looking back, it may be said that Koizumi did pretty well in playing politics within his party through recourse to classic tools-``divide and rule'' and ``the carrot and the stick.''

He successfully applied the ``divide-and-rule'' strategy to drive the largest intraparty faction into a corner. For now, there is no way to know how he applied the ``carrot-and-stick'' strategy. But this much can be said: Many LDP members thronged to join his camp, arbitrarily seeing a ``carrot'' or a ``stick'' being dangled before them.

Koizumi could innocently get away with describing these members as ``people voluntarily giving me support.''


Split by Koizumi's strategy, the largest intra-LDP faction, nominally headed by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, was unable to put up its own candidate and let its members vote freely in the presidential election.

The intramural division led some members to whisper a doku manju (poisoned bean-jam bun) theory: that post-election appointment to Cabinet or other posts had been promised to the fellow members who had thrown their support behind Koizumi. This behind-the-scenes theory was the only thing that gave a little jolt to the boring re-election drama and stirred talk in the public.


There is a well-known rakugo comic story titled ``Manju Kowai'' (I fear bean-jam buns), which tempts me to replace its main characters with two lawmakers. On the assumption that one is like the comic story's protagonist and denies the conspiracy theory, a conversation between them would go as follows:

``I have a confession to make. I fear being appointed to a post.''

``You must be kidding.''

``No, I'm not kidding. I have the unstoppable shakes when I hear someone talking of a post for me.''

``Are you thinking of a key post, like secretary-generalship?''

``Well, that's the one I fear most.''


It may be possible to say that Koizumi was the one who was tricked into eating the poisoned bun. By this, I mean his new commitment to kyoto taisei (all-party cooperation system) and zento ichigan (all-party unity). These terms are tricky.

When you eat the poisoned bean-jam bun, the body first feels heavy. You feel the same way about the mouth. When you try to move about, you feel as if you were tied here and there.


Should Koizumi have felt such symptoms in contemplating new LDP executives and Cabinet ministers, he would have to watch out.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 21(IHT/Asahi: September 23,2003)

At 77, Nonaka fights on to stop Koizumi

It is hard to say whether for the man who was born in 1925, things have been good in his life. In that year, two major pieces of legislation were enacted-the universal suffrage law and the notorious security maintenance law to crack down on socialists and communists.



Born the oldest son of a farmer, he attended middle school and worked for a railway company. Drafted into military service, he was a 19-year-old soldier stationed in Kochi Prefecture when Japan surrendered in World War II. Stunned, he thought of committing suicide, but an officer persuaded him not to.

Only later, he realized that Japan had recklessly plunged into war because its people had been educated to such an end before they knew what was happening. He said he was frightened by the character of Japanese, who allowed themselves to be manipulated like that.


Based on his prewar and wartime experiences, Hiromu Nonaka, former secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, described himself as a man who constitutionally detested any attempt at uniformity. He said, ``An organization made up of like-minded members is bound to make crucial mistakes.''

Nonaka was slow to rise as a politician. He made his start as the leader of a young men's association. That led him to gain a seat in a town assembly. Then, a town mayoralty came his way, followed by a seat in the Kyoto prefectural assembly and the deputy governorship of Kyoto Prefecture. He was 57 when he was first elected to the Lower House of the Diet.


These postwar footsteps, recounted by Nonaka himself in an autobiography, may not necessarily constitute the career path of the average man of his generation. In his autobiography, published by Bungeishunju under the title ``Watashi wa Tatakau'' (I have carved out my career by fighting), Nonaka said he would quit politics when his term as a Lower House member ends.


In announcing his decision to retire, the 77-year-old LDP heavyweight bitterly said he had been betrayed by everyone. With his voice shaking as he said this, he was a picture of mortification. For me, it was a reaffirmation of how ruthless the political world is.

Nonaka looked comical and even pathetic (forgive me for saying this), but I also thought I was going to miss the man, who has continually denied ambitions of becoming LDP chief and wrote in his autobiography, ``Your desires are what keep you from saying what you want to say and what you think is right.''

Discussing his political enemies in the book, he also says: ``Don't be afraid of being the loser. Have the courage to be the loser. Then, you will be able to kill your enemy in exchange for your own life.''


Is he putting this lesson into practice-giving up his political life to block Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's re-election as LDP president? At 77, he is still a fighter, far removed from what Confucius was like when he was 70. According to the Analects of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher said, ``By age 70, I had learned not to go beyond the natural way of life, even as I behaved as I pleased.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 15(IHT/Asahi: September 22,2003)

Koizumi's intoxicating words lose their buzz

``Haiboku no bigaku'' (aesthetics in defeat) is a Japanese expression favored by people who believe in sublimating defeat into an aesthetic experience.

However, even they would readily admit that nothing beats ``shori no bishu'' (tasty sake of victory) or the intoxication of victory.

This past week must have been intoxicating indeed for all long-suffering fans of the Hanshin Tigers. The perennial cellar-dweller team clinched its first Central League pennant in 18 years.

In the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, where many members have decided to share the intoxicating cup of victory in the party presidential election, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has already declared himself the winner. But the campaign is not even over yet, and I must say Koizumi is being a spoilsport.



Speaking of the influence of alcohol, an experiment was conducted years ago at a university in the United States. The test subjects consisted of alcoholics as well as social drinkers, and they were split into two mixed groups, A and B.

The subjects were told that Group A was being served an alcoholic beverage, while Group B was being given alcohol-free carbonated water. In reality, however, some of the glasses given to Group A contained nothing but carbonated water, while glasses of booze were included among the supposedly alcohol-free offerings for Group B.


As everyone had been asked to abstain from drinking prior to the test, some of the alcoholics came to the test site complaining of the shakes and other withdrawal symptoms. But where those in Group A were concerned, their shakes stopped the moment they started drinking. But this was not the case with Group B.

According to the researchers, this difference had nothing to do with whether those particular individuals had actually imbibed alcohol. The researchers also revealed that Group A members had drained more glasses than their Group B counterparts.


The conclusion drawn from this experiment was that the influence of alcohol is largely a matter of what you think you have drunk, rather than what you have actually drunk. In other words, it's mostly in your head. Ergo, you can get high even from water, depending on the situation.

Given the giddy elation of those Hanshin Tigers fans over the past week, I should imagine they could well have got quite mellow without booze.


From the start of his administration, Koizumi had a way of intoxicating people with his words and action. In retrospect, however, I strongly suspect the people were getting drunk on just plain water.


Those who have since awakened from their ``stupor'' are now watching closely how Koizumi is going to distribute the post-election ``cups of victory.''

Specifically, the question is this: After those cups have been passed around his cronies, how many will there be left for us ordinary citizens?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 19(IHT/Asahi: September 20,2003)

Failed WTO talks reflect shift in global order

From the days of ancient city states, duties and various charges were slapped on goods being transported or traded via land or sea. There was a word that denoted such fees, and the English ``customs'' is derived from it, according to ``Sekai Dai-hyakka Jiten'' (World encyclopedia) published by Heibonsha Ltd.



The latest negotiations on tariffs and other trade issues have collapsed. On farm trade, the United States and the European Union clashed head-on with Brazil and other developing nations that formed a unified front. A frustrated EU delegate noted to the effect, ``The developing world and the developed world are on different orbits. Nothing will be accomplished while the developing nations continue their space travel. If they want to negotiate, they should return to Earth.''

The World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, highlighted North-South confrontation.


From time to time, hostilities over trade have resulted in wars. France and Holland went to war in the 17th century after France more than doubled its import duties on Dutch woollen textiles in a single sweep, according to ``Furansu-shi'' (French history) published by Yamakawa-Shuppansha. And the post-World War I trade protectionism and emergence of economic blocs eventually led to World War II.


Having learned a bitter lesson from such mistakes, the world began to try to set trade rules.

It seems like ages ago, but there was a time when Japan was adamant about ``not allowing even a grain of foreign rice'' into its market. At Cancun, Japan came under attack again for its domestic rice protection policy. Do Japanese politicians still see one vote in every grain of rice?


Cancun was the venue of the 1981 North-South summit. The Mexican government prevailed upon then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan to come to the summit, where the leaders of 22 developed and developing nations discussed North-South problems.

But this time, Cancun became the scene of North-South confrontation and failed trade negotiations.


This is a rather ironic twist of fate. However, I would like to think of the failed WTO talks as ``customs'' levied on the world for its transition to a new stage of global trade order.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 18(IHT/Asahi: September 19,2003)

A day to remember for abduction victims

On Sept. 17 last year, word arrived from Pyongyang that five Japanese nationals were living in North Korea, but that eight others had died there. I sensed that the shock and anger felt by everyone at the reported fate of those abducted to that country reverberated across the Japanese archipelago. And now I recall another Sept. 17.



On that date in 1988, I was at the stadium where the curtain was about to rise on the Seoul Olympic Games. South Korea hosted the Olympics in part to change the dark image held about the country as a result of its history of successive military governments.

The opening ceremony was a spectacle, rich in local color. South Korea made a powerful and fascinating debut on the world stage.


On the other hand, the country north of the stadium and not so distant was silent. During the previous year, a Korean Air Lines plane had been blown up by North Korean agent Kim Hyung Hui. South Korean Olympic officials had North Korean flags and national anthem tapes ready, even though they knew the North would not participate. Pathetic as it was, I sensed that there was togetherness deep down between the two divided Korean states. But many Japanese had been abducted to North Korea by that time.


In November last year, I took a walk in the vicinity of the spot in Niigata Prefecture from which Megumi Yokota had been spirited away exactly 25 years ago. A straight road ran from the junior high school she was then attending to her home. I followed the road farther and reached the Sea of Japan. Sado Island, home to Hitomi Soga, one of the five returnees, could be seen across the sea.


During her train ride home, Soga wrote a note: ``The minds of people, the mountains, rivers and valleys-everything looks heartwarming and beautiful. The sky, land and trees are whispering to me, `Welcome home, you have done well under adverse circumstances.''' The four other returnees probably had the same thoughts.


On that day in 1988, beyond the seemingly quiet peaks north of the stadium in Seoul, Soga and other abduction victims were praying for the day of homecoming to Japan. I will remember to keep this in mind.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 17(IHT/Asahi: September 18,2003)

To Ishihara: Put your remarks in mothballs

Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, recalling his days as a Diet member in ``Kokka naru Genso'' (A phantom that is called a nation), published by Bungeishunju Ltd., notes that in Japan's political world, ``words are lonely.'' But Ishihara's recent utterances are better described as ``ominous,'' rather than ``lonely.''



Reacting to news about an explosive planted at the home of Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka earlier this month, Ishihara said, ``(Tanaka) had it coming.''

In explaining himself to the media Friday, Ishihara said it was ``obviously wrong'' to plant a bomb, but nevertheless insisted in effect that it was a case of the Foreign Ministry getting what it amply deserved.


Ishihara emphasized the magnitude of public frustration and anger with the Foreign Ministry. I can understand that. But surely, there is a huge difference between being frustrated and angry with someone and planting a bomb to threaten that person.

The governor seems to be somewhat unaware of that decisive difference.


Asked his view on how the culprit might have taken his ``Tanaka had it coming'' remark, the governor replied he hadn't thought that through. That was irresponsible of him. Didn't Ishihara see that he could well have given the culprit an out-that in planting that bomb, he was merely acting out on behalf of the angry and frustrated public?


But even though Ishihara often comes across as an arrogant and abrasive individual, he apparently suffers from one serious phobia. ``There is nothing I dread more than moths,'' he confesses in ``Waga Jinsei no Toki no Hitobito'' (People from various periods of my life), also a Bungeishunju book. ``The moment I see a moth fluttering around the room, I jump out of my chair and scream in terror ...''


We must not send moths to Ishihara, no matter how much we resent his words and deeds. Such an act can never be condoned, just as planting a bomb must never be condoned.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 13(IHT/Asahi: September 17,2003)

Visiting places on an imaginary world tour

Mankind's first round-the-world voyage was completed on Sept. 6, 1522. To mark the day, I decided to make a similar trip on paper, a trip that follows events that have cropped up in the news.



First, I headed west to the Asian Continent, just as the great Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan had. Fragments of Buddhist sutras, apparently dating back to around the seventh century, have been found in the ruins of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. According to the great Chinese Buddhist priest Hsuan Chuang, the two giant stone images of Buddha at the ruins, blown up by the Taliban, were radiantly golden with their ornaments glittering, when he visited them around that time. This account can be found in a Toyo library book known as ``Daito Saiiki Ki'' (Travels in great Tang China's western marches).


Next I went further west to Iraq, where a senior officer of an anti-U.S. armed group calling itself the ``Iraq Islam Liberation Army'' claims its membership has recorded a tenfold increase since its foundation in May, while Iraqis cooperating with U.S. forces have grown by the same number.


Looking north, Israeli military planes have flown in formation over Auschwitz in Poland. Officials at the memorial museum that administers the site of the Nazi concentration camp were opposed to the flight, saying Auschwitz was now a graveyard, a place where visitors quietly remember those who were killed there. The Israeli action is regrettable because it looked like a show of military power by those who were trampled on by the Nazis.


Far away to the west is a tiny Caribbean island country by the name of St. Kitts and Nevis, home to Kim Collins, who won the 100-meter title at the athletics World Championships in Paris. Beginning next year, the day he took the gold medal will be celebrated as ``Kim Collins Memorial Day'' on the island, a colony that has the British queen as its sovereign and whose official language is English.


The Portuguese navigator Magellan was killed in a battle before his globe-circling voyage could be completed. It took his crew three years to finish the trip.

In a sense, the trip brought the world together. But it also helped spur Western powers to grab up more colonies.

In the course of the nearly 500 years that have passed since then, history has seen a cycle in which major powers have been changing places, some countries surging and others falling out of their circle.

But little has changed in one respect: The reigning powers at any given time invariably try to drag the whole world toward their goals.

This is one thought that struck me during my brief globe-circling imaginary tour.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 7(IHT/Asahi: September 15,2003)

Deaths recall 20th century's twin monsters

The moment the man began his oration, the woman was ``mesmerized,'' she recalled. She felt it was an ``apocalyptic moment'' she would never forget. The orator was Adolph Hitler. The woman was Leni Riefenstahl, who died Monday, aged 101.



Typical of a person who claimed her mistake in life was that she kept telling the truth, the legendary German filmmaker admitted honestly to her attraction to Hitler's bizarre magnetism. The films she was commissioned to direct by the dictator-``Triumph of the Will,'' which documented the 1934 Nazi rally at Nuremberg, and ``Olympia,'' about the 1936 Berlin Olympics-were not without a bizarre beauty of their own.


The day after Riefenstahl's death, physicist Edward Teller, known as ``Father of Hydrogen Bomb,'' died at age 95. A Hungarian Jew who emigrated to the United States to flee Nazi persecution, Teller participated in the development of atomic and hydrogen bombs at Los Alamos.


The shared resolve of the scientists involved in the so-called Manhattan Project was to develop atomic and hydrogen bombs ahead of the Nazis.

But when the first nuclear test proved a success, many must have shared Robert Oppenheimer's feeling-``I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'' This episode is included in Richard Rhodes' book ``The Making of the Atomic Bomb.'' (Its translated version ``Genshibakudan no Tanjo'' is published by Kinokuniya Co.)


Riefenstahl later noted that while she regretted having made Nazi propaganda films, there was no reason for her to regret having lived through the Nazi era, let alone be blamed for it.

Teller eventually admitted it was a mistake to have bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but he insisted Joseph Stalin would have overrun Europe had it not been for high technology including nuclear weapons. Teller never lost his faith in nuclear power.


The Nazis and nuclear weapons were the twin monsters that the 20th century gave birth to. The deaths of two involved people-one an artist, another a scientist-reminded me anew that the 20th century was indeed a tragic century.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 12(IHT/Asahi: September 13,2003)

Labels reveal what Koizumi really wants

Consider a sign that says, ``Do not throw stones at this notice board.'' If you happened upon it, what would be your reaction? Would you chuckle? Or puzzle over the message, wondering whether it is a joke or some abstruse message designed to make you contemplate why notice boards exist at all?

British novelist and playwright Sue Townsend came across such a notice board and recounts her experience in ``The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman,'' a Penguin book.



I have a British book titled ``The World's Stupidest Signs.'' Published by Michael O' Mara Books Ltd., it gives examples of exactly what the title says. Here are a few gems:

A sign at a New York restaurant proclaims, ``Open seven days a week (except Mondays).''

A launderer boasts: ``We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.''

``We can repair anything,'' says a sign on a repair shop door. But written in small print at the bottom is the message, ``Please knock hard on the door-the bell doesn't work.''


A poolside sign at a resort in the Philippines reads: ``Swimming pool suggestions/ Open 24 hours/ Lifeguard on Duty/ 8 a.m. to 8 p.m./Drowning absolutely prohibited.''

A pudding label warns, ``Product will be hot after heating.''

A chain saw label instructs users, ``Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands.''


```Smarts' is the most exclusive disco in town. Everyone welcome,'' says a sign at a disco entrance. In spirit, this message would be good on a notice board proclaiming the imminent Liberal Democratic Party presidential election.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pretends to seek support only from members who back his reform program, but in reality everyone is welcome-even those who resist his reform program-so long as they support his campaign.


A packet of sleeping tablets bears the message: ``Warning: May cause drowsiness.'' Applied to Koizumi's election campaign, it could be rephrased as: ``Warning: May lead to reform.''

A label on a child's Superman costume disclaims, ``Wearing this garment does not enable you to fly.'' A variation of this, again in Koizumi's case, could read, ``Supporting me (in the party presidential election) does not guarantee your victory in the (upcoming) election.''


I suppose what Koizumi really wants to say is, ``Do not throw stones at this notice board.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 6(IHT/Asahi: September 12,2003)

Contributions for Iraq seem like tributes

Often, when we actually see a person we usually see only on television, that person strikes us as unexpectedly small. The White House struck me the same way when I saw it in the U.S. capital for the first time.



Of course, it was a stately and elegant edifice. But I thought it was small for the symbol of a superpower. In fact, I heard some Americans say in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that one of the reasons the terrorists did not target the White House was that its small size made it difficult to aim a hijacked airliner at.


The small White House has sent out massive ``bills.'' While asking Congress to appropriate an equivalent of about 10 trillion yen to finance operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, U.S. President George W. Bush on Sunday urged Japan, Europe and states in the Middle East to make financial contributions as countries that ``will benefit from the success of freedom'' in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The United States resorted to military action in Iraq despite misgivings expressed by a considerable number of countries. Getting bogged down with the Iraqi occupation, Washington seeks massive financial contributions from other nations, even letting it be known that it will collect the sums it has asked for.

Criticisms are prominent in the American and European media that the war in Iraq was based on overly optimistic prospects and that Bush has switched the focus from weapons of mass destruction to the war on terror.

The mess in Iraq has fundamentally resulted from the Bush administration's pursuit of unilateralism.


In his farewell address, George Washington, the first American president, said, ``Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. ... Nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.'' (A Japanese translation of the text of Washington's address is available in the form of a collection of American presidential speeches, published by Hara Shobo.)


About 200 years have passed since then. The times and relations between the United States and the rest of the world have drastically changed. But Washington's farewell address holds out eternal lessons to be learned by all leaders.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 10(IHT/Asahi: September 11,2003)

Labels reveal what Koizumi really wants

Consider a sign that says, ``Do not throw stones at this notice board.'' If you happened upon it, what would be your reaction? Would you chuckle? Or puzzle over the message, wondering whether it is a joke or some abstruse message designed to make you contemplate why notice boards exist at all?

British novelist and playwright Sue Townsend came across such a notice board and recounts her experience in ``The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman,'' a Penguin book.



I have a British book titled ``The World's Stupidest Signs.'' Published by Michael O' Mara Books Ltd., it gives examples of exactly what the title says. Here are a few gems:

A sign at a New York restaurant proclaims, ``Open seven days a week (except Mondays).''

A launderer boasts: ``We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.''

``We can repair anything,'' says a sign on a repair shop door. But written in small print at the bottom is the message, ``Please knock hard on the door-the bell doesn't work.''


A poolside sign at a resort in the Philippines reads: ``Swimming pool suggestions/ Open 24 hours/ Lifeguard on Duty/ 8 a.m. to 8 p.m./Drowning absolutely prohibited.''

A pudding label warns, ``Product will be hot after heating.''

A chain saw label instructs users, ``Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands.''


```Smarts' is the most exclusive disco in town. Everyone welcome,'' says a sign at a disco entrance. In spirit, this message would be good on a notice board proclaiming the imminent Liberal Democratic Party presidential election.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pretends to seek support only from members who back his reform program, but in reality everyone is welcome-even those who resist his reform program-so long as they support his campaign.


A packet of sleeping tablets bears the message: ``Warning: May cause drowsiness.'' Applied to Koizumi's election campaign, it could be rephrased as: ``Warning: May lead to reform.''

A label on a child's Superman costume disclaims, ``Wearing this garment does not enable you to fly.'' A variation of this, again in Koizumi's case, could read, ``Supporting me (in the party presidential election) does not guarantee your victory in the (upcoming) election.''


I suppose what Koizumi really wants to say is, ``Do not throw stones at this notice board.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 6(IHT/Asahi: September 12,2003)

Deaths recall 20th century's twin monsters

The moment the man began his oration, the woman was ``mesmerized,'' she recalled. She felt it was an ``apocalyptic moment'' she would never forget. The orator was Adolph Hitler. The woman was Leni Riefenstahl, who died Monday, aged 101.



Typical of a person who claimed her mistake in life was that she kept telling the truth, the legendary German filmmaker admitted honestly to her attraction to Hitler's bizarre magnetism. The films she was commissioned to direct by the dictator-``Triumph of the Will,'' which documented the 1934 Nazi rally at Nuremberg, and ``Olympia,'' about the 1936 Berlin Olympics-were not without a bizarre beauty of their own.


The day after Riefenstahl's death, physicist Edward Teller, known as ``Father of Hydrogen Bomb,'' died at age 95. A Hungarian Jew who emigrated to the United States to flee Nazi persecution, Teller participated in the development of atomic and hydrogen bombs at Los Alamos.


The shared resolve of the scientists involved in the so-called Manhattan Project was to develop atomic and hydrogen bombs ahead of the Nazis.

But when the first nuclear test proved a success, many must have shared Robert Oppenheimer's feeling-``I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'' This episode is included in Richard Rhodes' book ``The Making of the Atomic Bomb.'' (Its translated version ``Genshibakudan no Tanjo'' is published by Kinokuniya Co.)


Riefenstahl later noted that while she regretted having made Nazi propaganda films, there was no reason for her to regret having lived through the Nazi era, let alone be blamed for it.

Teller eventually admitted it was a mistake to have bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but he insisted Joseph Stalin would have overrun Europe had it not been for high technology including nuclear weapons. Teller never lost his faith in nuclear power.


The Nazis and nuclear weapons were the twin monsters that the 20th century gave birth to. The deaths of two involved people-one an artist, another a scientist-reminded me anew that the 20th century was indeed a tragic century.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 12(IHT/Asahi: September 13,2003)

Contributions for Iraq seem like tributes

Often, when we actually see a person we usually see only on television, that person strikes us as unexpectedly small. The White House struck me the same way when I saw it in the U.S. capital for the first time.



Of course, it was a stately and elegant edifice. But I thought it was small for the symbol of a superpower. In fact, I heard some Americans say in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that one of the reasons the terrorists did not target the White House was that its small size made it difficult to aim a hijacked airliner at.


The small White House has sent out massive ``bills.'' While asking Congress to appropriate an equivalent of about 10 trillion yen to finance operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, U.S. President George W. Bush on Sunday urged Japan, Europe and states in the Middle East to make financial contributions as countries that ``will benefit from the success of freedom'' in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The United States resorted to military action in Iraq despite misgivings expressed by a considerable number of countries. Getting bogged down with the Iraqi occupation, Washington seeks massive financial contributions from other nations, even letting it be known that it will collect the sums it has asked for.

Criticisms are prominent in the American and European media that the war in Iraq was based on overly optimistic prospects and that Bush has switched the focus from weapons of mass destruction to the war on terror.

The mess in Iraq has fundamentally resulted from the Bush administration's pursuit of unilateralism.


In his farewell address, George Washington, the first American president, said, ``Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. ... Nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.'' (A Japanese translation of the text of Washington's address is available in the form of a collection of American presidential speeches, published by Hara Shobo.)


About 200 years have passed since then. The times and relations between the United States and the rest of the world have drastically changed. But Washington's farewell address holds out eternal lessons to be learned by all leaders.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 10(IHT/Asahi: September 11,2003)

Koizumi `recipe' offers nothing for the future

Painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is known for his vivid portrayal of Paris life. In one painting done by a friend, Lautrec is shown displaying his culinary flair before the kitchen oven.



Lautrec, who died on Sept. 9, 1901, loved to cook and entertain. His culinary repertoire was extensive. After his death, many of his daringly original and tempting recipes were compiled into a cookbook by Maurice Joyant, a friend and art dealer.

The book is titled ``The Art of Cuisine,'' and its Japanese edition, ``Rotorekku no Ryori-ho,'' is published by Bijutsu Koronsha.

Introduced at the end of the book is an imaginary concoction described as a veritable tour de force. It bears the somewhat irreverent name of ``Saint on the Grill.''


This recipe requires the assistance of the Vatican in procuring a real saint. The book goes on to note with biting sarcasm that when the saint has been grilled on one side, he would offer his other side to be grilled, too.


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is reported to be leading in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election campaign, announced his set of campaign pledges Monday. These pledges are effectively Koizumi's recipe for how he means to ``cook'' Japan.


Given his typical pattern of speech and behavior, I was imagining a ``recipe'' like this: ``First, deep-fry the party's anti-Koizumi elements in a batch. Then add the party factions and public corporations separately in a blender to crush them. Combine all ingredients, and there's your `Trinity Combo' that will electrify you with the deepest emotion!''


My version was inspired by the artist's ``tour de force'' recipe. I was expecting Koizumi to come up with something more persuasive and dynamic. His announcement was devoid of even his usual ``elan.'' From his insipid recipe, there is no telling what he intends to dish out to the Japanese people.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 9(IHT/Asahi: September 10,2003)

Award-winning `Zatoichi' is pure Kitano

Takeshi Kitano won the Silver Lion award for best director at the Venice Film Festival with his entry, ``Zatoichi.'' A second Golden Lion for best film did not come his way this time. Still, to be honored with a Golden Lion and a Silver Lion is an amazing achievement.

The movie is about a fictitious blind masseur who is a fearsome swordsman. The word ``zato'' is a generic term for the man's profession, while ``Ichi'' is the name of the hero.

``The story of Zatoichi is something like kusaya,'' Kitano said before the opening of the Venice Film Festival. Horse mackerel dried in the sun, kusaya was viewed as a delicacy in the old days. But it gives off a rank smell because it is first dipped in special saltwater containing fish guts. Apparently, he meant that it was difficult to present the story in an appealing way while being true to the traditional treatment. ``So, my primary concern as director was how to cook the stinking fish (without departing too much from the traditional patterns).''

His comment upon learning he had won the Silver Lion award was also characteristic: ``Am I really worth the honor? People will think of me as being brazenfaced.''



This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Venice Film Festival. The first festival took place in 1932, but because of cancellations over the years, the ordinal number is less than the number of years that have passed.

In the early years, the festival was very much under the influence of the fascist government that held power in Italy at that time, as indicated by the fact that a Mussolini Cup was presented. It is said that the Cannes Film Festival, rated as the largest of its kind in the world now, was launched primarily to rival the ``political'' film festival in Venice.


The First Cannes Film Festival was scheduled to open on Sept. 1, 1939. With preparations completed, Gary Cooper and other film stars had arrived. But German forces invaded Poland that day-World War II had begun. The festival was called off after only one film was screened, according to ``Kannu Eigasai no Gojunen'' (50 years of the Cannes Film Festival), a book published by Aspect.


On Sunday, I saw the movie ``Zatoichi.'' Although I arrived at the movie theater 30 minutes before show time, only the seats down in front of the screen were unoccupied. Perhaps because I was seated close to the screen, I felt as if I had got a good spraying of blood from all the mock killings. Jokes provoked laughter, and the audience clapped when the movie came to an end.


Here is a selection from the original novel, ``Zatoichi,'' by Kan Shimozawa: ``Ichi (the blind masseur) twitched his cheeks a bit. Everyone held their breath. In that instant, a sake bottle standing in front of Sukegoro (the bad guy) broke apart, sliced through the middle. The sword that did it like a flash of lightning was already back in its sheath. The sound of the sword guard sliding home seemed to ring eternally in the air.'' (Translated from a book in the Chuko paperback library.)


The movie retains the flavor of the original novel. At the same time, I found it to be pure Takeshi Kitano.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 8

Bombings straining the nerves of U.S. troops

Four months have passed since U.S. President George W. Bush's declaration that major combat operations in Iraq were at an end. The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq during this time has surpassed the death toll of 138 cited from the opening of hostilities to their cessation in May.



Michiya Kumaoka, president of the Japan International Volunteer Center, a nongovernmental organization, recently returned to Japan after taking a first-hand look at this extraordinary state of affairs, in Baghdad and elsewhere. He noted a palpable fear of explosions, visiting just after the devastating terrorist strike on United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

Even more worrisome, Kumaoka said, was the behavior of U.S. troops on guard duty. To him, they appeared on the verge of breaking.

``Watching them, I was concerned that even something trivial could trigger an excessive reaction from them,'' he said.


The volunteer center has been in touch with Iraqi children through exchanges of pictures and messages. Its activities are detailed in ``Kodomotachi no Iraq'' (Iraq in the eyes of children), recently published as part of the Iwanami booklet series.

The booklet was written by Maki Sato, the center's official in charge of Middle East affairs. In late July, she visited the Baghdad office of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).


Sato asked an old acquaintance there by the name of Chris for prompt action by UNICEF to repair a facility for children called ``Sindbad Children's Club,'' which had been damaged by looters.

Even though the facility had not reopened, she told Chris that robbers still kept coming, adding that a child of a security guard there had been beaten to death by a robber. Chris gave her his word that UNICEF would carry out the needed repairs.


On Aug. 19, a car bomb destroyed the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Sato found the name of Christopher Klein-Beekman on a list of victims. He was 32. Mourning his death, she said, ``He struck me as a person who was looking at children the same way as we did. He had such a charming personality. It was so easy to be friends with him.''


Even a mosque has come under terrorist attack. Not just the lives of soldiers but those of civilians are being lost in Baghdad.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 31(IHT/Asahi: September 8,2003)

Vengeful spirits charging the political air?

In olden days, people used to chant ``kuwabara, kuwabara'' to escape lightning. The incantation is believed to have derived from a legend concerning Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and court official in the Heian Period (794-1185).

Michizane, who died a painful death while in exile in Kyushu, is said to have taken the shape of the god of thunder and repeatedly struck Kyoto to take revenge on his foes. However, Kuwabara, his domain, escaped lightning. Hence the incantation.



The Tokyo area was struck by a violent thunderstorm during the evening of Sept. 3. Listening to the loud crash of thunder, I thought I understood why people in olden times associated it with intense fury and deep-seated grudges. Lightning also struck the Diet building. It must have set off rumors that a vengeful spirit was at work.


Some people may have been reminded of the funeral service of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. Three years ago, when the funeral procession passed near the Prime Minister's Official Residence, lightning struck the building with a loud crash. Perhaps others may remember the words of former Prime Minister Takeo Miki. When he was named to take over the administration after the resignation of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, he expressed his surprise, saying, it was ``a bolt from the blue.''


The horror of lightning was driven home to us by the tragic deaths of 11 students of Matsumoto Fukashi Senior High School in Nagano Prefecture, who were struck by lightning while climbing the northern Japan Alps in 1967. In 1987, six people, including senior high school students, were also killed by lightning while surfing in Kochi Prefecture. There appears to be no end to lightning accidents.


In Japan, perhaps because of their topographical features, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures are particularly prone to lightning. Globally, for some reason or other, Zimbabwe is known for frequent lightning accidents with about 150 deaths reported annually.


According to experts, the best way to escape damage is to take shelter in strong buildings or trains. But there is no way to prevent rumors of vengeful spirits haunting the political world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 5

Are convenience stores too convenient?

Sometimes I suddenly become uneasy while traveling abroad. That is when I feel thirsty or hungry at night, feeling more so when I realize there is no refrigerator in my hotel room. At a time like this, no convenience store is to be found in town.



In Japan, the number of convenience stores of Seven-Eleven, a leading chain in the industry, has surpassed 10,000. The industry as a whole has more than 40,000 stores going and is approaching a level double the number of post offices-25,000-across the country.

With their bright lights on, many of these stores wait for customers around the clock.


Convenience stores are certainly convenient. But they sometimes make me uneasy, wondering whether we may be losing something in exchange for the convenient service they provide.

The ubiquity of convenience stores has spared us the trouble of cooking and made it unnecessary to stock up on food. We no longer have to go on empty stomachs. The question is, ``Is it morally right to leave so much of our life to convenience stores?''


It seems to me that the combination of convenience stores, cellular phones and growing Internet use is radically changing people's perceptions about time and space. Now that it has become possible to get in touch with someone or obtain necessary things ``anytime and anywhere,'' a new world is emerging. It is a world in which divisions are lost about time and space, and the sense of ``being removed from one another'' diminishes as a result.


Someone coined the phrase ``losing the sense of loss'' about an era in which people indulge in the affluent and convenient times to the point of ``losing the sense that something is wanting.'' While counting so much on my cellphone and convenience stores in my everyday life, I intend to do my best not to lose ``the sense that something is wanting.''


Let me quote a relevant poem contributed to The Asahi Shimbun's tanka 31-syllable poetry column: ``Keeping an old signboard/ The old-fashioned tofu shop/ Stands aloof and quiet/ Facing straight across a convenience store.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 4(IHT/Asahi: September 5,2003)

A bad omen for Koizumi from monkey park?

A leadership change took place this summer at the Hagachizaki-en wild monkey park in Shizuoka Prefecture. The No. 2 and No. 4 monkeys reportedly toppled the old boss.

Over the years, it is said, leadership changes at this park have often been accompanied by similar political shifts in Tokyo. Does this mean an ominous fate is in store for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is seeking re-election as president of the Liberal Democratic Party this month. Or even the long reign of the LDP itself?



The world of monkeys has several formulas for succession to the leadership. Kojima island in Miyazaki Prefecture is known for ``boss'' monkeys serving a lifetime tenure. In the latest succession, a second-ranking monkey named Kemushi moved up to the top in 1999 after Noso, the boss who was older than 90 in human years, dropped out of sight, presumably dead from general prostration. There have been revolts, but they all ended in failure. And so, power is said to have been changing hands peacefully on the island.


Things are not that simple at Takasaki-yama natural zoo in Oita Prefecture where about 2,000 monkeys live. There are three factions named A, B and C, each with its own leader. Monkeys eat according to an order based on the relative power of the faction to which they belong.


About 10 years ago, the A faction, whose members were always the first to show up at the feeding places as the prerogative of belonging to the largest group, was brought down from the top by the C faction, which was the smallest bloc at that time. Apparently, the A group had it coming. Its boss and the second-ranking monkey were not getting along, resulting in an internal dispute over the succession issue.

Members of the A faction stopped showing up at the feeding areas last year, perhaps still reeling from the setback they had suffered.


The latest theories seem to agree that wild monkeys do not have bosses. They reason that the fact that monkeys find something to eat here and there makes it unnecessary to establish a strict hierarchy.

On the other hand, monkeys fed by people need a hierarchy because they have limited amounts of food to eat and only at certain places.


Certainly, there is a close resemblance between human society in which people engage in power struggles over the limited access to vested interests and the limited posts and the groups of monkeys living on food provided by human beings.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 3(IHT/Asahi: September 4,2003)

2 young athletes and their fixed vision

Mizuki Noguchi, a petite woman of 150 centimeters, won the silver medal in the women's marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Paris over the weekend by putting on a powerful spurt until the finish line.

Japanese runners placed second, third and fourth. Noguchi's run, in particular, was striking.



The way she swings her arms is most distinctive. At a glance, the two arms seem to move out of rhythm but actually, she uses her whole body to synchronize her movements. Including the swinging of the arms, the well-trained muscles of her upper torso seem to support her powerful run.


Shingo Suetsugu, who won the bronze medal in the men's 200-meter dash to become the first Japanese to win a medal in a major international sprint event, also uses an unusual training method that has to do with the swinging of the arms. According to Mizuno Track Club to which he belongs, Suetsugu got the idea from traditional Japanese martial arts. In the old days, it was common for Japanese to put their right leg and arm forward at the same time when running. Although he does not do so in actual races, Suetsugu introduced this method in his training to grasp the best timing to apply pressure in his arms.


Suetsugu has an excellent spring. When he was in senior high school, he could easily top 7 meters in the long jump in his bare feet. As a runner, he has to apply that power forward rather than upward. In addition to swinging the arms, he does 2,000 sit-ups everyday to train his abdominal muscles to maintain a forward-bent posture to the limit.


The two athletes tell us that in order to run fast, it is not enough to train their legs. They must also do seemingly useless exercises, which require strong will power.


``The more people count on me, the more power I can exert,'' Suetsugu said.

``I always try to think positively even when I feel down. I never brood over things,'' said Noguchi.

The two young athletes continue to run forward looking straight ahead.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 2(IHT/Asahi: September 3,2003)

Why `Yuyake Koyake' tugs at the heartstrings

``Yuyake Koyake'' is probably one of the best-loved children's songs in Japan. It recounts what was once thought to be a typical scene involving children at sunset.

More monuments have been erected across the country in honor of this particular song than any other, according to Michito Goda, the author of books on children's songs.

``Counting the ones I personally know, monuments inscribed with lyrics from the song have been put up at 13 locations,'' Goda says in ``Doyo no Nazo-3'' (The myths of children's songs-3). Another book says 14 is the correct figure.



Whatever the precise number, two of the monuments are located at schools in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward, the No. 2 Nippori Elementary School and the No. 3 Nippori Elementary School. I have visited both schools.

The song begins with ``Yuyake koyake de higakurete,'' a line that translates as, ``The sun is setting with the usual afterglow.'' At No. 2 Nippori, I found the monument inscribed with the lyrics in hiragana, the curvy form of the Japanese syllabary. It stood where cicadas were singing in chorus. The following line ``Yama no otera no kane ga naru'' can be rendered into, ``The bell at the mountain temple is tolling.'' The monument at No. 3 Nippori was inscribed in a script mixing hiragana and Chinese characters. It stood in the shadow of cherry trees.

 そのうちの二つ、東京・荒川の第二日暮里小と、第三日暮里小の碑を訪ねた。「ゆうやけこやけで ひがくれて」。かな書きの第二の碑は、せみ時雨の中にあり、「山のお寺の鐘が鳴る」と漢字交じりの第三の方は桜の木陰にあった。

The lyrics of the song were written by Uko Nakamura, who taught at the two schools in his youth. The scores were published in the summer of 80 years ago. A month later, on Sept. 1, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck. Most of the scores were destroyed by fire. But the song gained wide currency from the fragments that survived.


To be sure, ``Yuyake Koyake'' offered a song that could be sung by surviving quake victims as a requiem for the lives that had been lost or to satisfy people's nostalgia for familiar aspects of the town where they had grown up. Goda says in the book that many people identified it as their own song even as they struggled to recover from the temblor's terrible devastation. ``The simple and naive lyrics made it a song that touched the heartstrings of people,'' he writes.


Nakamura left nothing in writing that clearly indicates when and where he composed the lyrics. But there is no question that they sprang from his childhood experience. ``The sunset scene described by the lyrics was familiar to him,'' says a book compiled by the authorities in Hachioji, his birthplace in suburban Tokyo, and the municipal library of Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture, where he spent many years as a teacher. ``It was a familiar sight ever since he was a toddler growing up in a mountainous area. ... Nostalgia for the scene and other sentiments combined to produce the lyrics.''


In the song, the tolling temple bell tells children it is time to link hands and go home. The lyrics evoke the fortune of having a place to go back to with someone-it does not matter when or where-and the sorrow one experiences when such a place is lost.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 1(IHT/Asahi: September 2,2003)

Save the historical name of Asuka village

Different sets of Chinese characters and even hiragana, the rounded Japanese phonetic syllabary, are used to spell the word ``asuka,'' making it look different to the eye. But no matter what script is used, the word sounds exquisite to Japanese ears.

The good news is that Asuka, a village in Nara Prefecture, has decided against merging with nearby municipalities. If the proposed union materialized, the dear name of Asuka, rich in historical associations, would have vanished. Local authorities have received petitions requesting the retention of the name from around the country, with the signees numbering about three times the village's population.



The village is known as home to the Takamatsuzuka tumulus and the Kitora burial mound, which contain ancient artifacts. The great number of petitioners seems to suggest many people think the tumuluses serve as an excellent guide to the ancient world because they are located in the village of Asuka, a name that lends authenticity to things one comes across there.

My thoughts shifted to Pompeii, the ancient Italian city, because it resembles the Nara village in one respect: Both have preserved the ways ancient people lived.


The Italian city's ``Last Day'' came on Aug. 24, 79 A.D., when Mount Vesuvius erupted around noon. Apparently Pompeians did not flee at once. In time, vast amounts of ejecta fell on the city. The volcanic rocks and ash fixed fleeing people and aspects of the town at that time in a cast. When the city was excavated long afterward, the name of Pompeii came to signify a time capsule conveying information on how ancient people lived.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Pompeii in the second half of the 18th century. Writing of his tour of Italy, he says: ``We went to Pompeii on Sunday. ... Various kinds of disasters have occurred in the world, but we will never witness few cases that delight people of later generations like this Italian city.'' (A Japanese translation of Goethe's account is available in the Iwanami paperback library.)


For a moment, one could be puzzled by the word ``delight.'' It is not a word used to portray the scene of a great disaster in which thousands of people were killed. I think Goethe probably meant to say it was miraculous to be able to see how ancient people lived by visiting Pompeii, where the streets and stores remain intact and the colors of the murals are vivid as before.


The statues of victims, cast in plaster, are displayed at the ruins of Pompeii. While one cannot take delight in encountering them, I hear the ruins have been crowded this summer, thanks to the drawing power of Goethe's ``ancient miracle.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24(IHT/Asahi: September 1,2003)

Deep sorrow for precious lives cut short

During closing arguments in June in the trial of Mamoru Takuma, a defense attorney quoted Misuzu Kaneko's poem ``Ki'' (Tree): ``Flowers fall, fruits mature, the fruits fall, leaves fall, trees bud and flowers bloom.'' The lawyer then addressed his client, accused of fatally stabbing eight children and injuring 15 others at the Ikeda Elementary School in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, two years previously: ``You nipped the buds before they could bloom.''



Throughout her life, Kaneko (1903-1930) showed great affection for all living things. Takuma, on the other hand, brutally extinguished those eight young lives. Even to this day, he remains defiant and has said, ``I am not afraid to die.'' The difference between the two is so great that it is mind-boggling. Even at Thursday's court session in which a death sentence was passed, the defendant offered no apology nor remorse.


On the morning of the incident, second-grader Yuki Hongo had her favorite breakfast of fried eggs, nicely browned toast and cold tea as usual and left for school cheerfully. Her parents cannot accept her death easily. Their agony is described in detail in the book ``Niji to Himawari no Musume'' (Daughter of rainbow and sunflower, Kodansha) written by Yuki's mother, Yumiko.


They were told their daughter died instantly. When they later learned that Yuki collapsed after reaching the hallway from her classroom, they were shocked beyond words. Thinking about the fear, despair and pain that their daughter must have felt, their hearts broke with grief. The mother lay down beside a dried-up pool of blood on the school hallway to keep her daughter's spirit company. On the 8th of each month, marking the day Yuki died, the mother visited the school to ``talk'' to her daughter's blood.


She still cannot bring herself to pick up a knife because it reminds her of the brutal crime. When she sees elementary school girls, she ``sees'' a knife sticking in their backs. For a long time, she was troubled by these nightmarish visions.


The passage of time may help relieve the pain, if only by a little. But their grief will always be with them. As we think about the deep sorrow of the families, once again, our hearts go out to them.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 29(IHT/Asahi: August 30,2003)

Signs of autumn amid a summer late in coming

At last, a typical midsummer sky unfurled over Tokyo.

On Aug. 2, the Meteorological Agency reported, ``It appears that the rainy season is over.'' But weather patterns remained in rainy season mode.

The result was an easier summer to handle. But it felt somehow uneasy, the way one feels when one is missing something.



While the true arrival of summer was delayed, signs of autumn already began to appear.

Freshly harvested saury began to turn up in stores. So far, most of the saury have been caught off Hokkaido. The first hauls unloaded at Kesennuma port in Miyagi Prefecture contained mostly large fish with a lot of fat.

In a world marked by unusual weather and extraordinary events, I look forward to seeing the saury pile in-just like in a ``normal'' year.


I popped into a supermarket in central Tokyo and found saury selling for about 200 yen each. The price was 350 yen at a store boasting big saury.

A glossy section runs from the blue back of saury to their silver-white belly. It looks as if it is reflecting the blue waves and white spray of distant northern seas. The white trays on which saury are sold seemed inadequate for the neatly elongated shape of the fish. Their snouts and tails squashed, the fish looked a little cramped.


Saury have long been a familiar fish for Japanese.

During the Edo Period (1603-1867), there was the saying, ``when saury (sanma) become available, masseurs (anma) go out of business.'' It was not until after the halfway point of the Edo Period, however, when the fish began to be widely eaten.

According to Kuniyuki Tsukada's book ``Sakana Monogatari'' (Tales about fish), the widespread consumption of saury by common people began around when fish dealers started to sell saury by advertising them as ``long and inexpensive fish.'' Samurai, however, hardly ate them.


The appearance of saury at stores reminds one of ``Sanma no Uta'' (Song of saury), a poem by Haruo Sato (1892-1964).

But to welcome the midsummer, which arrived at least a month late, I turn to a passage from Sato's poem ``Natsu no Sora o Utaeru'' (Song about the summer sky): ``The summer sky brims with life/ That makes it powerful/ Magnificently splendid, it is also subtle/ It is bluer, and at once richer, than the sea below.'' (Translated from a version appearing in ``Nihon Shijin Zenshu,'' or Complete Works of Japanese Poets-a collection published by Shinchosha.)


Sato's poem conjures the image of saury swimming in the sea, shining blue.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 23(IHT/Asahi: August 29,2003)

Koizumi rewrites past to rewrite Constitution

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has reached all the way back to 1955, the year his Liberal Democratic Party was founded, to unearth justification for his call for constitutional amendment. According to Koizumi, the enactment of an independently drafted Constitution (as opposed to the pacifist Constitution, viewed by many as a basic law imposed on Japan by the United States) was his party's aspiration at its founding.

I have searched my memory for a reminder of whether this was the case when the LDP was brought into being through the merger of two conservative parties. Led by Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, the Democratic Party was in power then, despite lacking a parliamentary majority. After a number of twists and turns, it merged with the main opposition Liberal Party.



As secretary-general of the Democratic Party, Nobusuke Kishi, who was to become prime minister later, was one of those who pushed for the union. When asked to identify the highest hurdle to the merger, he recalled, ``In a nutshell, the most difficult problem was whom to appoint as president. That was the only real problem. The remaining issues were easy to handle.'' (The quote is taken from the book ``Kishi Nobusuke Shogenroku'' or ``Records of testimony by Nobusuke Kishi,''published by The Mainichi Shimbun.) It is testament to the truth of the saying that ``the distribution of posts is the key in politics.''


Looking back on the merger, Motoo Goto, who covered it as a political reporter for The Asahi Shimbun, says: ``I don't think the two parties merged to stabilize the political situation or assure the course of the nation. Rather, it was overwhelmingly contrived as a means of assuring the passage of bills through the Diet.... People began to talk about the significance of the merger after the fact, nor before.'' (Goto's book ``Sengo Hoshuseiji no Kiseki'' or ``The footsteps of postwar conservative politics'' is published by Iwanami Shoten.)


In its Declaration of Founding, issued in November 1955, the new party vowed to follow ``the great road of government based on parliamentary democracy.'' It also stated that ``we consider respect for the freedom and dignity of individuals as the basic condition for maintaining social order.'' But the term kaiken, or constitutional amendment, is nowhere to be found in the declaration.

The term is also missing from the LDP platform that was adopted at the same time. One has to wait for the appearance of the phrase jishu kenpo, or independently drafted Constitution, which shows up in less important documents that outline ``the party's mission'' and ``the party's policies.'' In 1955, importance attached to it was not so great as to deserve Koizumi's claim that it was his party's ambition at its founding.


To be sure, Hatoyama was advocating constitutional revision as well as restoration of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. But peculiar political dynamics were then at work. He was an archrival of Shigeru Yoshida, who had set a ``follow-the-U.S.'' policy line in the occupation years following the end of World War II. Antagonism to that line led him to move in the opposite direction, advocating a principle of self-determination in writing a new Constitution.


The international environment has drastically changed since then. We cannot help feeling that the claim that an independently drafted Constitution was the LDP's ambition at its founding-after leaving it on the shelf all these years-is but a temporizing ploy.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 27(IHT/Asahi: August 28,2003)

North Koreans' displays of allegiance backfire

A chill spread through the opening ceremony of the 2003 World University Games at the World Cup Stadium in Taegu, South Korea, on Thursday as soon as the American and Japanese athletes entered the stadium. The North Korean cheerleaders who were passionately cheering suddenly became quiet. The abrupt change in the attitude of the cheerleaders took me by surprise. I couldn't help but ask myself what they were thinking.



Just prior to the start of the Summer Universiade, North Korea said it would boycott it. It appears the decision was made in protest to the burning of the North Korean national flag and Kim Jong Il's photograph at an anti-North rally in Seoul several days before. On Sunday, North Korean reporters crashed into another anti-North rally at the Universiade venue, giving rise to a skirmish. Some people were injured.


These developments must be a result of a display of ``allegiance'' to the Kim Jong Il regime. But surely the North Koreans must realize that when they act like that under the watchful eyes of the world community, it will have the opposite effect. The more they show their ``allegiance,'' the stronger the impression they give to international society that theirs is ``a strange country.''


In Japan, harassing incidents to pro-Pyongyang organizations keep occurring. If the people responsible for the incidents think they can do what they like because they are dealing with ``a strange country,'' it is tantamount to renouncing their right to criticize it.


The Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se Hyun as saying, ``Just as North Korea should understand the diversity of South Korean society, we must also make an effort at understanding the uniqueness of North Korean society.'' I agree. At the same time, however, the more we come to recognize its ``uniqueness,'' the more difficult the country appears to get along with.


Meanwhile, the North Korean ferry Man Gyong Bong-92 entered Niigata-Nishi port and six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear development will convene shortly in Beijing. We are facing the moment of truth on how to accept North Korea as part of international society.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 26

Now is the best chance to view Mars up-close

Even through the thin veil of clouds, a brightly shining star is clearly visible in the southern sky.

That star is Mars, and this week it will make its closest pass to Earth in about 60,000 years.

But urbanites may regard it as a lonely light in the absence of a starry firmament.



Excluding the moon, Mars is the most familiar star for inhabitants of Earth. As for Martians themselves, we can even imagine what they might look like-aliens with mushroom-like heads and octopus-like legs, as conceived by British novelist H.G. Wells in the late 19th century.


In the world of fiction, Earth has been attacked by Martians countless times since Wells' ``The War of the Worlds.'' In one well-known incident, a radio drama based on the famous scientific fantasy broadcast in the United States by the CBS network in 1938 caused panic because so many people believed a Martian invasion was taking place.


In Frederic Brown's ``Martians, Go Home,'' Earth is thrown into great confusion by an invading army of mean Martians. (A Japanese translation is available in the Hayakawa Library.) The secretary-general of the United Nations announces ``surrender'' in a radio broadcast and calls for an end to all wars, saying it is time for hate groups to stop fighting. People all over the world chant ``yes'' in unison. The collective response booms as if it could be heard on Mars.


Many of the stories told about Mars in the West are related to war. This reflects the fact that Mars is the god of war in Roman mythology. At the same time, Mars has been thought of as something like a mirror-a next-door star urging self-reflection on ceaseless strife on Earth.


Imagine what it was like on Earth 60,000 years ago. It must have been a pitch-dark world at night, with stars filling the heavens.

I wonder what Neanderthals thought as they looked up at Mars, a particularly radiant star in the cosmos.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 25(IHT/Asahi: August 26,2003)

Poor harvest a reminder of days of hunger

I received a letter from M in Tochigi Prefecture about the food shortages in 1945, during the last days of World War II.

When M, who was a junior high school student at the time, picked weeds by the wayside to fill his empty stomach, he was scolded by farmers for stealing grass from horses and cattle, the letter states.



M remembers the time he was given 1 sho (1.8 liters) of polished rice by his friend's family. Such luxury was so rare that it was almost like a miracle.

M took a small portion of the rice to make porridge, ate it and saved the rest in a bottle for his father who was at the front. He kept the bottle under the floor but the rice got wet and started to turn bad. He had no choice but to eat it before his father's return. The letter recounts M's unforgettable memory of eating nothing but rice.


What luxury to stuff oneself with polished rice. The days when people were seized with such powerful hunger are long over. However, as bad weather continues and we hear reports of a poor rice harvest because of an unseasonably cold summer, I cannot help but feel uneasy reflexively.


In 1993, when the rice harvest was said to be the poorest since the end of the war, then 91-year-old writer Sue Sumii wrote: ``Yesterday, we had a light rain. Today, it is drizzling again. Without sunlight, it's chilly. This is serious.'' When she spoke of her apprehensions that there might not be enough rice to go around, her family laughed and did not take her seriously, saying she was overanxious.


That year, the government made emergency imports of rice and took its first step toward ``import liberalization'' at the same time. We no longer live in an age when a poor harvest leads to starvation. But as we face a poor crop, I don't think we should laugh off as anachronistic Sumii's reminder to re-examine the importance of ``farming and life.''


Mokichi Saito, a native of Yamagata Prefecture, left the following tanka poem: ``Every grain of rice is the fruit of hard work / That is to say each grain contains sorrow.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 19(IHT/Asahi: August 25,2003)

Artists who face their objects straight on

Each picture of insects and flowers lining the walls has a magnifier hanging beside it. The drawings are so precise and real that visitors looking through a magnifier can almost hear the insects buzzing as they appear ready to fly out of the picture at any minute.



I visited an exhibition of artwork by Chikabo Kumada, a 92-year-old painter who specializes in depicting nature, at the Konandai Takashimaya department store in Yokohama. The painter used brushes with a fine point to patiently and minutely draw his subjects. At 70, Kumada's work was accepted for the illustrators' exhibition of the Bologna International Children's Book Fair in Italy.


He is also known for his work in illustrated versions of Jean-Henri Fabre's ``Souvenirs Entomologiques'' and ``The Adventures of Maya the Honeybee'' by Waldemar Bonsels. Kumada also draws such pictures that show a mantis catching a grasshopper or a dragonfly feeding on a fly. They show the artist's determination to accurately portray the working of living creatures close to us without sparing the harsh reality.


The exhibition also showed Kumada's works before World War II, when he was a graphic designer. They included a collage of photographs taken by Ken Domon. The two met at Nihon Kobo (Japan Studio) directed by Yonosuke Natori, a pioneer of Japanese photojournalism, and worked together.


Domon died in 1990. According to Kumada, in his later years, while using a wheelchair, Domon firmly held Kumada's hand and told him, addressing him Goro, his real name: ``Goro-chan's realism excelled mine.''

``I told him photographs and pictures do not share the same realism but Domon was crying,'' Kumada recalled.


I also went to an exhibition of Ken Domon's photographs at the Nihonbashi Takashimaya department store in Tokyo. I was moved once again by the way he squarely captured his subjects. Kumada depicts insects and flowers while Domon focused on people, times and Buddhist images. Although they specialized in different areas, I thought the way they approached their subjects to the maximum extent possible, straight on, was common to both.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 5

(Both exhibitions closed Aug. 11.)(IHT/Asahi: August 23,2003)

U.N. at the mercy of a negligent superpower

In the book ``Douglas MacArthur Reminiscences,'' MacArthur touches on the consequences of military occupation. In most cases, writes the commander in chief of Japan's post-war Occupation, history shows that it plants the seeds for another war.



The suicide bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad took many lives, including that of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. special representative in Iraq.

This is a new type of attack from past onslaughts on occupational forces. The United Nations may not be perfect. Nevertheless, it is an important organ painstakingly built by humanity for the sake of world peace and civilized coexistence. We are outraged by this atrocious assault on this institution.


Vieira de Mello reportedly accepted the post for a limited period, four months. He probably did so because he knew the job would be difficult and dangerous. Still, after taking office he stressed the need to put the fate of the Iraqi people in their own hands as soon as possible.


Perhaps what moved Vieira de Mello to accept an assignment from which most people would cower was a conviction he expressed upon being named the United Nations high commissioner for human rights last fall: Human rights is about securing dignity, equality and safety for everyone. Vieira de Mello's job, he said at the time, is to serve the unprotected, those suffering from the ravages of war, poverty and oppression.


In ``Reminiscences,'' MacArthur also notes that when a military occupation continues longer than necessary, or fails to take appropriate precautions from the start, one side becomes the slave while the other assumes dominance. No one wants to submit themselves for long to an arbitrary authority providing little security.

The occupation of Iraq is the inevitable result of a pre-emptive attack. Be that as it may, the occupational forces are to blame for failing to protect the United Nations.


The ``world,'' as embodied by the United Nations, appears to be at the mercy of a superpower that behaves as if that world isn't necessary. It is time we took a hard look at the way recent developments have distorted this globe of ours.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 21

Kyogen play offers a model for reconciliation

The Asahi Shimbun

A prominently displayed photograph showing a Jewish cleric standing side by side with an Islamic leader, seemingly in a relaxed manner, caught my attention in the Financial Times, a British newspaper. Personally close to each other, the two men have been working to reach an accommodation between the Jewish and Islamic communities in Britain, according to the story that accompanied the picture.

While reading the story, I recalled a Kyogen drama, a comic interlude performed as supplementary entertainment during a Noh program.



The drama is titled ``Shuron'' (Religious argument). It depicts two monks from archrival denominations traveling together. It identifies one as hokke-so, or a monk who believes salvation lies in chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra, known as Hokekyo in Japanese. Pitted against him is jodo-so, or a Pure Land monk who believes in chanting the name of Amida Buddha, a deity who promised afterlife deliverance in Pure Land for those who do so.

In terms of personality, the hokke-so monk is aggressive, while the Pure Land monk is gentle. So they clash over everything. The Kyogen players provoke laughter by greatly exaggerating their differences.


A hilarious scene unfolds the morning after their stay at the same inn. The two monks launch into their morning ritual, the Pure Land monk chanting ``Nanmaida, nanmaida,'' a clipped form of ``Namu Amidabutsu'' that he is supposed to say, and the other chanting ``Rengekyo, rengekyo,'' also a clipped form of ``Namu Myo Horengekyo.''

As they become absorbed, they begin to dance. Then, they begin to mix things up, with the Pure Land monk chanting ``Rengekyo'' and the hokke-so monk chanting ``Nanmaida.''


In a television production I watched the other day, the monks were performed by players from two Noh groups, Shigeyama Sensaku of the Okura denomination and Nomura Mansaku of the Izumi denomination. The added duality-players from different groups performing as monks from different religious sects-piqued my interest in the production.

I thought the last mix-up scene would be difficult for Shigeyama and Nomura to perform because it takes subtle timing to succeed. They did it excellently, living up to their reputation as leading performers of the Okura and Izumi denominations. As the amusing drama came to an end, it struck me that the two groups had identical roots.


Getting back to the Financial Times picture, almost the same thing can be said of Judaism and Islam. The two religions have been too ignorant about each other. It is said that the more they learn about each other, the more they will realize they have many similarities. Fundamentally, they have identical roots.


Is it futile to hope that the day will come when the Palestinian conflict becomes something to laugh about, as in the Kyogen drama?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 20(IHT/Asahi: August 21,2003)

War takes toll on cultural properties, too

An exhibition with an explicit message, as evident from its title-``Recovering Missing Treasures of Afghanistan and Iraq''-is now being held.

I visited the show that runs through Sunday at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi. (Afterward, it will tour Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.)



The exhibition has a subtitle: ``Urgent Appeal From Ikuo Hirayama.'' Hirayama, a well-known painter, refers to cultural properties lost in a war and other conflicts as ``cultural refugees,'' and the subtitle represents his wish to rescue ``refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.''

Among the items on display are cultural artifacts that were smuggled out of Afghanistan and collected in Japan.

There is also a display of Hirayama's artworks drawn in the two countries.


I was drawn to a foot carved in marble-a left ankle with the rear half missing, to be exact. I learned that what was officially known as ``The Left Foot of Zeus'' dated back to the third century B.C. It was excavated in the Ai Khanum ruins of northern Afghanistan in 1968.

The foot seems to have measured about 50 centimeters lengthwise before its rear half broke off. A brief explanation says the statue of Zeus itself was probably 3 to 4 meters tall. I imagined what such a statue of Zeus would be like, and then it appeared to me that everlasting time was pulsating in the numerous cracks cut into the foot and the powerfully sculptured toes of Zeus.


The foot represents the best flowering of Hellenic culture brought to Asia by Alexander the Great. The treasure, from the Kabul Museum, vanished during the Afghan civil war. Three years ago, a Japanese antique art dealer bought it and donated it to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Its safekeeping is the concern of the Japan Committee for Recovering Missing Cultural Properties.


The catalogue for the exhibition bears a message from Kosaku Maeda, a professor emeritus at Wako University: ``When the Left Foot of Zeus returns to Afghanistan, we will take it as evidence that peace has taken hold in the country, a mountainous motherland of cultural refugees.''


I fervently hope the time will come promptly to permit the wandering masterpiece to set foot in the soil of Afghanistan, long known as the crossroads of civilizations.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16(IHT/Asahi: August 20,2003)

Irony of low-tech prevalence in blackout

When eastern regions of North America were crippled by the massive power blackout last week, guests at a ritzy hotel in downtown New York had to sleep on the street. As I looked at television images and newspaper photographs showing the scene, a thought struck me: the vulnerability of what should be the most comfortable space.

The hotel's vulnerability was the result of its dependence on systems that electrically controlled everything, including the opening and closing of doors. The blackout left many lessons to be learned.



The upper floors of high-rise apartment buildings in normal circumstances should also provide elegant living quarters commanding the beautiful night view of Manhattan. But these apartments are the first to be affected in a power outage because high-rise buildings use power pumps to send up water from below. The higher an apartment, the more difficulty this system has delivering water to its occupants. Those who ordinarily enjoy comfortable living become the ones to suffer most in an emergency.


Candles and radios, items far removed from cutting-edge civilization, proved useful. These are essential items, not just in a power outage but also in a natural disaster. What is worrisome is that the use of candles caused many fires-reportedly causing a death in one. Does this mean that people have become less adept in the handling of fire-a primitive but basic skill?


When a massive power blackout hit New York in 1977, rampant looting followed, with nearly 4,000 people arrested this time. New York then was notorious as a crime-infested city. By contrast, looting was scarcely reported. Perhaps, a sense of solidarity, dating from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was at work among New Yorkers. The moral is that the shape of society in ordinary times escalates or checks a crisis.


Reporting what citizens of Baghdad are saying, The New York Times said they have fallen back on age-old wisdom to survive the terrible heat in the absence of refrigerators and air-conditioning. Two examples of traditional practice: To preserve something to eat, hang it in a basket, with a wet piece of cloth over the food; have a nap after pouring water over oneself without taking off clothes.


It struck me that the massive power blackout would lead Americans to think about the people of Iraq, doing so with a hint of irony about the outage's devastating effect on civilization.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 17


Being No. 2 is sometimes a matter of choice

It is common to hear mothers exhort their children to be No. 1.

In this context, a Chinese proverb is relevant: ``Better to be the head of an ass than the tail of a horse,'' is often directed at grown-ups to achieve more in life. By that, we mean one should endeavor to lead a small group, rather than be satisfied with occupying a minor position in a large organization.



So ours is a No. 1-oriented society with a pecking order for every strata.

Masahiro Kawai, a veteran infielder of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team, has struck back against the trend in a small way.

In his younger days, he regularly played as second batter in the line-up, playing the role in an unassuming manner. He was a master at rolling sacrifice bunts, a baseball tactic aimed at sending runners ahead, mostly from first base to second base. By equaling the American major league record in sacrifice bunts, he showed what an asset the unassuming second batter was to the team.


Like Kawai, Shigeru Chiba, who died last year, used to play as second batter when he was with the Giants. At one time, he was known as the best second batter ever to play in Japanese professional baseball. Wearing No. 3 on his uniform, he played second base. One of the team's powerhouses, he helped create a golden age for the Giants.

But Chiba had to be content with a rather obscure status. The star of the team was Tetsuharu Kawakami who was nicknamed dageki no kamisama (God of batting). He turned over his uniform number to Shigeo Nagashima, perhaps the most popular star of Japanese baseball, when the latter joined the Giants. In his final years, he seemed to fade from the public's memory.


In his recent book, Osamu Ikeuchi, a scholar of German literature, follows the footsteps of 16 people who chose not to be No. 1. Published by Shobunsha, the book has a long title: ``Niretsume no Jinsei-Kakureta Isai tachi'' (Lives in the second row-unknown people with unusual talent).

The title refers to people who were not blessed with fame and glory despite having unusual traits. Instead, they chose to carve out paths to their liking.

 ドイツ文学者池内紀さんの近著『二列目の人生 隠れた異才たち』(晶文社)は、華やかな名声とは無縁だったが、異能を携え独自の人生を歩んだ人たち16人の足跡を追っている。「一番を選ばない生き方」をした人たちだ。

Swimmer Shiro Hashizume is among the athletes taken up in the book. He was the principal rival of Hironoshin Furuhashi, a freestyle swimmer who amazed the world by living up to his nickname: ``Fujiyama no Tobiuwo'' or ``flying fish of the country of Mount Fuji.''

Although Hashizume once set a world record, the spotlight was always on Furuhashi. Even his hometown has done practically nothing to commemorate his feats, according to the book.


In the book's afterword, Ikeuchi says: ``The people I have written about have a common trait. They are removed from concern about what others say of them. They have something that fills their minds-something that crowds out talent to get along in the world.''

They have led the kind of life they could not have lived if they had opted to be No. 1.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 13(IHT/Asahi: August 18,2003)

On this day, recall the path that led to ruin

On the 15th of August 58 years ago, many people jotted down their thoughts upon hearing the radio broadcast of Emperor Hirohito's announcement that he had accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.



``It is finally over. Over. The war and everything else. It is over,'' wrote author Taiko Hirabayashi that day. Her entry is included in ``Hachigatsu Jugonichi no Nikki'' (Diaries dated Aug. 15), published by Kodansha. The book also quotes writer Hyakken Uchida: ``Hot teardrops kept falling from my eyes. I was unable to think what this flood of tears meant to me.''


Film actress Hideko Takamine was entertaining air corps personnel in Chiba Prefecture, according to ``Watashi no Tosei Nikki'' (My professional diary), published as an Asahi Bunko paperback. She listened to the broadcast with the men, who were lined up before the radio.

In the evening, handbills were dropped from a plane that flew so low that it almost skimmed the roof of the inn where she was staying. The message on the bills screamed: ``We will resist to the bitter end! We will fight to the death!''

Late into the night, Takamine kept hearing the roar of planes heading one after another out to the ocean beyond. She sensed the pilots were determined to go on a desperate suicide mission.


Shuji Terayama was a third-grader at an elementary school in Aomori Prefecture when he heard the broadcast in a bombed-out neighborhood. ``I had just caught a cicada,'' he recalls in a book of his included in the ``Sakka no Jiden'' (Writers' autobiography) series published by Nihon Tosho Center. ``I was clutching the voiceless cicada in my sweaty palm, and the insect's painfully labored breathing became one with the pounding ache in my heart.''


Haiku and tanka poets also reflected on that day. Hakusen Watanabe wrote: ``The crape myrtles are in bloom/ I long to own/ A new pair of undershorts.'' And here is one by Zenmaro Toki: ``Did you think we were going to win?/ My old wife asks me/ Poignantly.''

 俳人、歌人もその日をうたった。〈新しき猿又ほしや百日紅 渡辺白泉〉〈あなたは勝つものとおもつてゐましたかと老いたる妻のさびしげにいふ 土岐善麿〉。

That day was a long time ago. Yet, damage is still being done today by chemical weapons, for instance, abandoned by the Imperial Japanese Army in various parts of Japan and China. And there are many people at home as well as abroad who still ache from their physical and emotional scars.

Aug. 15 is a day of soul-searching for anyone who cares about our world of today and tomorrow, a day on which to humbly recall the path that led the nation to irrevocable harm.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15(IHT/Asahi: August 16,2003)

Liberia's chaos highlights an irony of history

Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, has an ironic history. Founded in 1847, Liberia was a haven for Africans who had been liberated from slavery in the United States and sought their own ``new world'' of freedom. Hence the name Liberia.


The west coast of Africa was at the heart of the slave trade with anywhere between 10 million and 20 million Africans shipped off to the New World.

At its peak in the late 18th century, the slave trade accounted for two-thirds of Africa's total trade value.

Many Africans began to return to their ancestral homelands in the early 19th century, aided by people who supported their cause.


They modeled their ``new world'' after the United States, building American-style towns and homes, speaking English, and using the U.S. dollar as their currency.

The pattern was eerily similar to how early British emigrants to America fashioned their new world in the image of their old country.


One major irony in Liberia's case was that even though the returned Africans and their descendants were a minority group, they monopolized power and continued to ignore the rights of the indigenous population.


In another ironic twist of history, a coup d'etat in 1980 toppled Liberia's 130-year-old dictatorship, but this served only to throw the nation into chaos.

Repeated tribal wars and civil unrest created refugees in growing numbers, and left a heavy toll. The situation went from bad to worse when Charles Taylor, who was born in Liberia - his father was American - stepped in by becoming president in 1997.


Taylor resigned on Aug. 11 and left Liberia. Whether his self-exile ends the chaos remains to be seen. Even though Liberia is far away, I felt I could not remain indifferent to its fate as I thought about the bitter and tragic history of Africa since the days of slave trade.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 14(IHT/Asahi: August 15,2003)

Preteen killer slipped through surveillance

More than a month has passed since a 12-year-old boy was taken into custody in Nagasaki in the slaying of a 4-year-old. The older boy took the kindergartner on a short tour before killing him on July 1. The other day, I went over the route they took.



Their trip through the city started when they stepped out from a home electronics discount store at the foot of the hill on which stands the Urakami Cathedral. They headed for a streetcar stop. The old cars running on the line make for a stark contrast with the discount store, which looks like a giant, square-shaped factory. The lettering on the body of the car I took said, ``Made in 1953.'' There was something quaint about the car, a quality that reflected its half-century of service.


The streetcar passed by ground zero, where the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.

The line lay close to Nagasaki port and Dejima, which was Japan's only trading post during its two centuries of virtual seclusion. It took nearly 30 minutes before the car reached the city's downtown.

The passengers seemed to feel very close to each other. I wondered how the junior high school student and the kindergartner had behaved during the streetcar ride.


I followed those getting off into an arcaded shopping area. Surveillance cameras mounted at the entrance probably caught the two boys on film. I saw more at a pachinko pinball game parlor down the street.

Finally, my trip took me to the crime scene. The older boy allegedly killed the 4-year-old by throwing him off the top of a multistory parking lot. I found my way to the road running below, only to discover that an altar and a great variety of offerings had vanished, contrary to my expectation. With the approach of a typhoon, the municipal authorities had removed them for safekeeping.


I asked municipal officials to allow me to look at the collection of scribblings left by mourners on the roadside. The batch included words written by children and other youngsters, judging from the handwriting. Some took the form of computer printouts.

Predominant among the words of mourning were these: kanashii (saddened), nidoto (never again), gomeifuku wo (rest in peace), tengoku de (in heaven), and wasuremasen (I won't forget you).

Evidently, these sentiments were penned by people who wanted to set their minds at rest, while mourning Shun, the murder victim.


While I was looking up at the top of the parking lot, the phrase tomei na sonzai (transparent being) came to mind. This is an expression coined by a 14-year-old who referred to himself as Sakakibara and brutally killed two children in Kobe. It occurred to me that Shun and the older boy were literally ``transparent'' on that fatal day in July.


They were seen by many people. They were photographed by surveillance cameras. Even so, the murder took place-as if they had slipped past the eyes of passers-by and recording equipment. What makes the case more worrisome is that the slaying was committed in a town where modernity and tradition make a proper mix, not in a big city with its vast sea of anonymity.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 10(IHT/Asahi: August 14,2003)

California election the ultimate political show

The curtain has risen on a new political show in the United States. I am given to wondering if there is a clear line between politics and entertainment, reality and fiction.



With movie actor Arnold Schwarzenegger running, the California gubernatorial race could hardly be described as an orthodox affair. For Californians, it is as if the circus has come to town, featuring the former world champion bodybuilder-turned Hollywood superstar.


Ballots are to be cast in October. This will also be a recall election to decide the fate of the incumbent Democrat governor, whose approval ratings have plummeted because of a massive budget deficit for which he is being held responsible.

President George W. Bush has said of Schwarzenegger, ``I think he'd be a good governor.'' Bush, who always likes to pose as a tough president, must have a weak spot for the ``Terminator.'' But I just wonder if Bush might not have been a bit too enthusiastic.


As if stimulated by the presence of a superstar in the race, the entire affair has turned into something of a free-for-all. The more than 150 candidates include a 100-year-old woman sponsored by a 99-cent store chain, and a police officer who just wants his grandchildren know that their grandpa ran for California governor. ``All walks of California society are taking their shot at the big time,'' notes a local newspaper.


Back to Schwarzenegger. He is definitely a high-profile Hollywood celebrity, but his prowess as a politician is anyone's guess. Needless to say, his immortality on the silver screen has nothing to do with his credentials to be state governor. The focus of this ``ultimate political show'' must lie in the extent voters will be able to tell fiction from reality.


Americans love show business. ``There's No Business Like Show Business'' went the title of a popular movie, but an election is hardly a frivolous affair.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 12(IHT/Asahi: August 13,2003)

A tortured soul forever changed by Nagasaki

When I arrived in Nagasaki, Typhoon No. 10 was roaring to the east, buffeting the city with strong gusts and heavy downpours off and on, even though it was relatively far away.

I visited Zenza Elementary School near ground zero of the 1945 atomic bombing and noticed that preparations were under way in the gymnasium for Saturday's ceremony to offer prayers for world peace-a citywide annual school ritual.



Kuninobu Noro, who was later to receive the nation's most prestigious literary award, enrolled at this school in 1944. In those days, it called itself Zenza Kokumin Elementary School. (The word kokumin means people or people's, and its insertion was ordered to mobilize the nation for war.) Noro was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for a novel ``Kusa no Tsurugi'' (Grass sword).

In the spring of the following year, after his father was drafted into military service, he moved to live with his mother's parents in Isahaya, about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki. The move spared him from falling victim to the Aug. 9 atomic bombing.


On that day, the sky was blue, with no speck of cloud. Noro went to a nearby park with friends to catch cicadas. It was while he was trying to catch insects that he saw a blinding flash in the direction of Nagasaki. ``In time,'' he wrote later, ``clouds eerily tinted with the color of blood spread against the darkening sky at sunset. The sky over Nagasaki remained bright even at night.'' In his book ``Okoku Soshite Chizu'' (Kingdom and map), Noro went on to say the tragedy that befell him was that he witnessed an apocalyptic catastrophe at the start of his boyhood.


Noro's classmates and his teachers at Zenza Elementary School, as well as the districts of Nagasaki that he knew so well, all perished in the atomic bombing that he witnessed from a distance. He grew up with a tremendous sense of loss.

``The areas that I can genuinely call my hometown vanished when the plutonium bomb flashed,'' he said in the book, published by Shueisha.


Part of a staircase from his elementary school is on display at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The concrete steps are embedded with shards of glass shattered by the blast. Looking at the exhibit, I recalled that the Isahaya Municipal Library described Noro as ``a master of words at landscape painting'' in its corner of hometown writers.


Noro's works abound in poetic portrayals of nature in Isahaya. But he died at the young age of 42. His premature death may have had to with that cruel experience, possibly embedded in his soul like broken pieces of glass.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 9(IHT/Asahi: August 12,2003)

Scary consequences of ubiquitous computing

Yubikitasu is the Japanese rendition of the word ubiquitous. The word is still unfamiliar to many of us, but one must really be behind the times to immediately associate it with yubiki, Japanese for parboil.

The National Institute for Japanese Language believes foreign words should be rendered into understandable Japanese wherever appropriate. The institute has proposed that ubiquitous be translated as jiku jizai-a state of being free from the confines of time and space. The term is used to refer to a thoroughly computerized society where practically nothing escapes an all-encompassing information network.



The word ubiquitous, which means omnipresent, is derived from Latin. It is often used as a common attribute of God. In its new usage, the word implies the computer is just as omnipresent and ubiquitous as God.


Here is one illustration of how the system works. A food item is ``implanted'' with a microchip that contains all vital information about it-its place of origin, the date by which it should be consumed, and so on-so that the consumer immediately knows all about the product, even if it is buried deep in the refrigerator. The information could even include helpful instructions, such as ``parboil this fish before cooking.''


Ubiquitous computing enables people to ``instruct'' household appliances to function while away from home. And builders of a ubiquitous society say it will no longer be a flight of fancy to expect household appliances to switch themselves on and off at their ``discretion.'' The term ``jiku jizai'' seems to imply the convenience promised by all this.


The ubiquitous society is believed to be achievable in the not too distant future. But opinions differ on whether this will result in an ultra-convenient society or one that is completely controlled. Professor Ken Sakamura of the University of Tokyo, one of the proponents of the ubiquitous concept, notes: ``We must hurry the technological development, but we need to go slow with its actual application to society.''


Even then, I cannot help imagining the worst. The very last thing I seek is a future where every single citizen has a microchip implanted.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 8(IHT/Asahi: August 9,2003)

Reality check shows change can be cosmetic

Is it all right to keep hoping for change, or is that a futile idea? I am not sure.



Kim Dae Jung was abducted from a Tokyo hotel on Aug. 8, exactly 30 years ago. ``The citizens of Seoul were horrified by yet another manifestation of raw authoritarian power, of naked power,'' observed a writer who at the time called himself T.K.

Everyone knew the abduction was the doing of South Korean secret agents, but nobody dared say so in public, T.K. pointed out. ``The public is completely powerless before the almighty government.''


T.K. revealed his identity last month. He is Chi Myong Kwan, a South Korean philosopher.

Without a question, South Korea has changed over the last 30 years. The transformation from military to civilian rule culminated in Kim's election to the presidency-Kim the dissident hero.

How about its neighbor up north? Is it preposterous to even hope for any change in North Korea?


The leader's pictures are displayed reverently in every village. Schoolchildren are taught songs extolling the leader. This was how South Koreans of 30 years ago worshipped President Park Chung Hee, as described by T.K.

But South Korea did change. Is this not cause for hope?


Just 10 years ago in Japan, the inauguration of the administration of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa on Aug. 9 halted the 38-year monopoly of power by the Liberal Democratic Party. To the Japanese people, this was effectively a political cataclysm, something the nation had been waiting for.

Hosokawa broke from tradition in ways that were refreshing to watch. All Diet members wear a pin that identifies their status, but Hosokawa held news conferences without one. And he would remain standing throughout, and point a pen in his hand at the media to designate questioners.


What has changed in the last 10 years? If Japanese politics were to be likened to a building, one could perhaps say the walls have been repainted and new furniture brought in. But the foundations still remain the same, or so I must conclude.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 7(IHT/Asahi: August 8,2003)

Telling tales about Hiroshima to save world

Shigeru Orimen, a junior high school first-grader, was looking forward to the lunch break, and he said so when he left home early in the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. He was elated because his lunch box was packed with a wartime treat-rice boiled with soybeans and barley.

He was heading for the center of Hiroshima. He had been mobilized for work to demolish houses there and create empty space for the purpose of preventing fires from spreading. But the atomic attack that came at 8:15 a.m. deprived him of a chance to eat his favorite food.



Over the years, storyteller Kankyusha Kumosuke has been telling this story under the title of ``Kurokoge no bentobako'' (Charred lunch box) as part of his repertoire of Hiroshima-related tales.

The lunch box in question is on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Kankyusha told the story at a symposium that was held on Sunday at a conference hall facing the museum. The theme of the symposium was ``Toward the Abolition of Nuclear Weaponry-Standing Up to the Theory of Power.''


It had taken time before the story of Shigeru's uneaten lunch came to be widely known through a book. His mother, Shigeko, donated the lunch box to the peace memorial museum, but she kept saying, ``I don't want to talk about it because it pains me to look back.''


Nevertheless, Shigeko changed her mind after turning 80 and began to provide a detailed account. According to Tatsuharu Kodama's book ``Makkuro na obento'' (Charred lunch), a few days after the atomic bomb was dropped, she miraculously searched out Shigeru's body and his lunch box from among a litter of unrecognizably mangled bodies. (The book was published by Shin-Nihon Shuppan-sha.)


Shigeru kept turning up in Shigeko's dreams. Initially, he would look back for a moment when his mother called, ``Shigeru!'' Then he would trudge away.

It was not until about five years later that Shigeru began to speak. Even then, Shigeko could not hold her son in her arms, according to storyteller Kankyusha's version of the tale.


A panel at the nearby state-run Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall states that about 140,000 atomic bomb victims died by the end of 1945, with a margin of error placed in the neighborhood of 10,000.

The magnitude of the death toll and the large margin of error attest to the extraordinary nature of nuclear weapons that cause immense destruction in a flash.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 6

Lesson to be learned from Tonkin Gulf history

It is often said that war is easy to start but difficult to end. This is reason enough not to go to war frivolously. Leaders who lie about or overstate their justification for war deserve strong condemnation.



In this connection, the Tonkin Gulf incident of 39 years ago immediately springs to mind. Official records say two U.S. Navy destroyers were attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The United States bombed North Vietnam in retaliation, causing the Vietnam War to escalate-and eventually turn into a quagmire.


The administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the attacks took place on Aug. 2 and 4, 1964. At the time, The Asahi Shimbun expressed reservations about the Pentagon's true intentions, and pointed out the whole affair was shrouded in mystery.

Later, it emerged that the administration's official reports were full of fabrication.


This was uncovered by The New York Times, which scored a major scoop by publishing the so-called Pentagon Papers, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg.

Ellsberg noted that had these classified documents been disclosed earlier, the Vietnam War might not have turned into a quagmire. He apologized to his fellow Americans for failing to live up to the responsibilities that went with his position.


More recent documents suggest that Johnson himself was doubtful about the actual sequence of events in the Tonkin Gulf. Years later, as is well known, former Pentagon chief Robert McNamara admitted that the Vietnam War was a complete mistake, and said he regretted having ever let it happen.

In 1964, incidentally, the Japanese defense chief in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda was Junya Koizumi-the father of present Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.


The justification used by the United States to attack Iraq remains highly suspect. There are lessons to be drawn from the Tonkin Gulf history.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 2(IHT/Asahi: August 6,2003)

Mixed signals in tidings from North Korea

Hearing from a blood relation who has not sent word in ages would naturally make most people happy.

The reaction of the five returnees from North Korea to letters from their children still living over there was rather more complicated, however. It was probably because the letters and photographs they received served as a stark reminder that they remain forcibly separated from their children.



In fact, the letters and photographs delivered out of the blue from North Korea doubly shook up the returnees. While assuring their parents that they were fine, the children asked them to return: It was as if North Korea were exploiting parental weakness.

Almost 10 months have passed since the parents returned to Japan, so it is quite natural that their children would make such an appeal.

Even so, returnee Kaoru Hasuike commented, ``I have the feeling that our children were forced to write that way.'' It would be outrageous if the North Korean government viewed the returnees' children as hostages it can manipulate like puppets.


Some of the photographs were reported to show the children smiling. But returnee Hitomi Soga said they weren't ``genuine.'' She cut a pathetic figure as she discussed the latest tidings from North Korea, speaking with motherly concern and anguish at a news conference.


Smiles and laughter can sometimes convey complex messages. People don't always smile out of positive feelings like friendship, sympathy, joy and happiness. Bitterness and a sense of resignation can also make people smile. It can be said that the letters and photographs from North Korea hit a raw nerve, conveying both positive and negative messages.


So, do the letters have anything to do with the fact that Pyongyang has sounded out Tokyo on the idea of letting the families of the five returnees come to Japan? Also, is there any connection to Pyongyang's decision to go along with six-nation talks on its nuclear development program?


Efforts to draw North Korea into multilateral talks are welcome. But it is painful to see that the lives of the returnees and their families shaken up depending on the designs of the North Korean leadership at a given time.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 4(IHT/Asahi: August 5,2003)

Sandwich family butters up supermarkets

A story on The Asahi Shimbun's home-life page the other day featured a homemaker's recollections about sandwiches.

An assortment of colorful and elegantly made sandwiches were put on the table when, as a child, she visited a large residence owned by a man who was her father's senior at his company. From there, she would go to a nearby beach to bathe. She would bring along her lunch-rice balls with half-dried Japanese apricots inside-which had been prepared by her mother. For the paper's home-life section, the woman reminisced about the vivid contrast the sandwiches made with the rice balls.



To the girl, the sandwiches symbolized a level of affluence beyond her reach that was enjoyed by those who lived in the residence.

More than 30 years on, sandwiches and rice balls are fierce rivals at convenience stores and other outlets. Recently, rice balls may be gaining the upper hand over sandwiches.


About what time did sandwiches become widely available in Japan? A passage in ``Dankyo'' (Broken bridge), a novel by Iwano Homei published toward the end of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), may offer a clue.

At Japanese National Railways' Sapporo Station in Hokkaido, the story's protagonist steps into a store selling bread and canned goods to buy sandwiches. He is told the sandwiches have not yet been made, so he settles for bread. The episode indicates sandwiches were quite popular at the time.


Sandwiches are said to have originated in 18th-century Britain. Legend has it that John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, had sandwiches made so he would not have to leave the card table for meals. Sandwiches are a rare case in which a food item bearing a person's name or title has gained worldwide currency.


The 11th Earl of Sandwich has started up a sandwich business, according to The New York Times. The paper quotes his second son, who controls the business, as saying the relationship between the Sandwich family and the food item has switched from a story to a brand.


The company supplies sandwiches with an Earl of Sandwich signature to supermarket chains.

The 11th Earl of Sandwich seems to be a man who goes in for some mischief. He buys some sandwiches at a supermarket, pays for them with a credit card. The trick of letting his signature be examined at the cash register never fails to astonish anyone.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 28(IHT/Asahi: August 4,2003)

Why is Japan raising its beef import tariffs?

The fish known in English as ``catfish'' goes by the Japanese name of namazu. But in Japan, the fish's identity is often cloaked under various other appellations, such as seisui-dai (clear-water snapper) used in catfish sashimi, or hirame (flounder), ainame (rock trout) or suzuki (sea bass). Some restaurants have even come up with the fancy name kawa-fugu (river globefish).



As can be surmised from these assumed identities, the catfish is a freshwater fish with a somewhat bland taste. In the United States, catfish breeding is a thriving business around the Mississippi Delta.

The American catfish is blander than the Japanese namazu. This is said to add to the catfish's versatility as food, and it is commonly served fried in America.


But an influx of cheap Vietnamese imports have churned the water, so to speak, in the U.S. market. U.S. authorities have banned the use of catfish appellation for the Vietnamese imports. The fish are now being called by such other names as basa and tra, but they certainly look no different from the American catfish.


Last month, the Commerce Department ruled that Vietnam had dumped catfish on the U.S. market and that the imports are to be subject to stiff anti-dumping tariffs.

Years after the Vietnam War, relations were normalized at long last between the two nations, and a trade and commerce agreement came into effect about 18 months ago.

Given this background, a recent U.S. newspaper editorial denounced the Commerce Department's ruling and said it constituted a ``rigging of global trade'' by politicians and domestic catfish breeders.


This is not an issue Japan can just sit back and watch. Japan will raise its beef import tariffs this month, effectively invoking the ``safeguard'' tariff that is permitted under Japanese law.

Beef imports remained sluggish after the much ado about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, but imports have since begun to rebound. The Japanese government maintains this ``surge'' in imports is big enough to warrant the safeguard tariffs.

But imports have not even recovered their pre-BSE level yet. Naturally, consumers want to know why the government is doing this.

 対岸の火事とはいっていられない。わが国では今月から輸入牛肉の関税を引き上げる。いわゆるセーフガードの発動だ。BSE(牛海綿状脳症)の影響で落ち込んでいた輸入が持ち直した。その増加の割合が大きいとして自動的に発動するらしい。従前の水準にまでも回復していないのになぜ? 消費者側が疑問を抱くのは当然だろう。

The government's explanation is anything but convincing, not only to Japanese consumers but to the whole world, too.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 1(IHT/Asahi: August 2,2003)

July was a month that gave pause for thought

A series of disquieting incidents occurred around the nation during July. Toward the end of the tsuyu rainy season in Kyushu, torrential rains and mudslides claimed more than 20 lives. In Okinawa Prefecture, where the tsuyu ended in late June, the mercury has registered 40 consecutive days of manatsu-bi (daytime highs of over 30 degrees) and nettai-ya (nighttime lows of over 25 degrees). Water shortages are feared in Okinawa.



The tremors that jolted the Tohoku region were so-called chokka-gata earthquakes that occurred directly above the epicenter. This was contrary to what seismologists had predicted-that the epicenter of quakes in this region would be off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. Apparently, there was an active fault that had been overlooked.

It was a blessing that nobody was killed. Even so, there was extensive damage and residents are still living in fear. This sort of catastrophe could befall anyone.


Aside from natural calamities, there were also extremely disturbing crimes. A 12-year-old boy was arrested in the slaying of a 4-year-old in the city of Nagasaki. In Tokyo, four 12-year-old girls were held ``prisoner,'' and the chief suspect committed suicide.


Also disturbing was a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey on hikikomori - people who withdraw from all social contact and effectively live like hermits. The survey found more than 30 percent of such people are past the age of 30.

There were also reports to the effect that more children are now suffering from depression, and that the situation warrants close examination. Mental illness is spreading across generations, with the age of the hikikomori population becoming higher and the age of patients of depression becoming lower.


On the political front, the highly divisive bill to send Self-Defense Forces to Iraq was passed by the Diet. A senior Ground Self-Defense Force officer noted, ``Our troops have not had sufficient training to shoot back in the event they are fired upon in Iraq. Should we kill anyone, I am not sure if public opinion will be on our side. This worries me.''

This is a deeply disturbing law in many ways.


History shows that dictators appear when the people are nervous and fearful. The following exchange occurs in a play by Bertolt Brecht:

``A nation without a hero is an unfortunate nation!''

``No, a really unfortunate nation is a nation that needs a hero.''

It is up to each individual citizen to decide for themselves, not leave it up to someone else.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 31(IHT/Asahi: August 1,2003)

Heartfelt thoughts as July draws to a close

As July draws to a close, it's time to offer readers some recent quotable quotes.

In accordance with tradition, two North Korean abductees, Yasushi Chimura and his wife Fukie, wrote their wishes on strips of fancy paper and attached them to bamboo branches when they attended a July 7 ``Tanabata'' Star Festival meeting of well-wishers.

The poem on one strip read: ``Meteors disappearing into space far beyond!/ I pray for the safety of my dear children.'' This was in reference to the children the Chimuras left behind in North Korea when they returned home last year. The couple's other poem read: ``The starry sky above!/ With all my heart, I am praying/ For the speedy return of my children/ So grant my wish for reunion.''


 最近の言葉から。拉致被害者の地村保志さんと富貴恵さんが「七夕のつどい」で短歌を短冊に記した。〈遥(はる)かなる彼方(かなた)に消える流れ星 愛(いと)しき子らの安堵(あんど)を祈る〉〈ひたすらに早く帰れと祈りたる 願いよ届け天の星空〉。

The father of a 4-year-old boy named Shun, who was slain in Nagasaki, wrote the following:

``Three weeks are about to pass since the death of my son, but I still cannot fully come to terms with the loss. Every night, my sleep is disturbed by Shun's cries for help.''


In a comment on the murder case, Sosuke Umeno, principal of Maruo Junior High School, a municipally run public school in Nagasaki, said, ``My heart aches whenever I think about it. Everyone has only one life to live. I wish the children at my school would grow up into adults who could listen to the chirping of a cricket or a bird.''


People are increasing who have not seen the blossoms of indigenous Japanese grass species, according to Hidetaro Sugimoto, a scholar of French literature. ``I am putting up resistance to the inroads of foreign species in a small way. I have grown waremokou (burnet) and fujibakama (boneset) in my yard,'' he said. ``Boneset leaves have a very good smell. Pluck some leaves and judge for yourself,'' he went on. ``In the old days, people used to treasure them, putting them in chests of drawers after drying them in the shade.''


Speaking of the Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto, costume designer Emi Wada said, ``Those who built this temple didn't have meticulously drawn blueprints. Everywhere, you can find sections that are not artificial, sections where nature remains intact. That is why you make new discoveries no matter how many times you go there. And I suppose that is why the temple has a healing effect on troubled souls.''


``Unwanted weeds are lumped together as zasso (miscellaneous grass),'' said horticulture researcher Munetami Yanagi. ``But even these have virtues. For example, they mirror the four seasons of Japan. Enokorogusa (bristle grass) looks best when it sways in the summer wind,'' he went on. ``Take a good look at any weed, and you will find something good about it. The trouble is that I often stop myself when I am about to pull out a weed.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 30(IHT/Asahi: July 31,2003)

Life force that suddenly blooms and withers

Standing tall and straight, the tree looked like a pine from the distance. But as I drew closer, there were clusters of flowers I had never seen before. The tree is called ryuzetsuran, a variety of agave or maguey.

It was planted 55 years ago in the Hamarikyu Garden in Tokyo's Chuo Ward. And for the first time in as many years, it was blooming.



Indigenous to Mexico, agaves are known to bloom only once in their lifetime. Nobody can tell when. Until that time comes, an agave is essentially a ``rosette'' of fleshy, aloe-like leaves hugging the ground.

All of a sudden, a stalk sprouts from that basal rosette. The stalk keeps growing skyward at a phenomenal rate. Then, blossoms appear suddenly. For a while, the tree is at its zenith. But this is short-lived as death follows quickly. The tree's life is dramatic indeed.


The ryuzetsuran at Hamarikyu was planted in 1948, three years after the end of World War II. After more than half a century, the stem began growing in early May. It grew at an amazing pace, about 10 centimeters a day, gradually gaining girth in the process.

When the stalk reached a height of 8 meters in late July, its branches began to bloom with thick clusters of yellow flowers.


From time to time, ``blossom reports'' arrive from various parts of Japan. Last summer, it was from Nara University of Education. This particular tree was reportedly planted by a professor who loved gardening.

In English-speaking nations, ryuzetsuran is known as the century plant-a somewhat exaggerated name, but it implies the plant blooms only once a century.

In the United States, a Connecticut zoo recently reported on its Web site that its 80-year-old century plant had finally bloomed.


At Hamarikyu, where I was Monday, bees swarmed around the ryuzetsuran flowers, obviously frenzied with joy. Perhaps there is something inexplicably alluring about any flowering plant that bursts into life for the first time in 55 years.


In haiku poetry, ryuzetsuran is a keyword for summer. Toshiko Koba writes: ``Morning on the beach/Ryuzetsuran blooms/ In the Sky.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 29(IHT/Asahi: July 30,2003)

One day Koizumi may have a straight answer

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi would never think of calling on members of the Self-Defense Forces at their homes. But if he unexpectedly did, he might have the following conversation with an irate wife.



Q:Mr. Prime Minister, will the government send SDF troops to serve in a combat zone (in Iraq)?

A:The Japanese contingent will serve in a non-combat zone. That rules out the use of force by SDF troops.

Q:Will you tell me where fighting is going on and where it is not?

A:How should I know? You can't expect me to answer that question.

Q:With all due respect, Mr. Prime Minister, I must say that's a strange thing to say. Where will you send the contingent (without breaking your word) when you can't identify a non-combat zone?

How Koizumi, as SDF commander-in-chief, would answer that last question is what everybody wants to know.


Koizumi's answers mirror the responses he gave to Diet lawmakers. On that occasion, he added that, ``Some of our troops might be killed. On the other hand, they might also have to kill.''

We wonder if he would be able to face SDF members and their families and say the same things to them.

The prime minister stifled debate on non-combat zones by defiantly insisting it was impossible to say where they are. That was followed by a free-for-all among Upper House members as the SDF dispatch bill was rammed through.


The bill still needed to be approved by a plenary session. The unseemly melee would have given a normal parliament pause for thought. Members would rightly have worried about whether going ahead with the bill was the right thing to do.

After all, the safety of SDF members and the shape of the nation were at stake. The bill affects not only the future of the Japanese but the Iraqi people as well. The cause of the U.S.-led war in Iraq itself has come to be badly clouded.


The nation has been assailed by a succession of major natural disasters peculiar to Japan-heavy rains and big earthquakes. While victims have to be promptly rescued, substantial assistance for reconstruction is urgently required in the stricken areas.

In Kyushu, SDF members waded through deep muddy water to search for missing flood victims. Units have also been called in to provide post-quake assistance in Miyagi Prefecture. With their manpower and equipment, SDF units are a dependable presence in areas hit by large-scale disasters. As human beings, men in uniform would like to do their utmost for people who really need their help.


The government has managed to secure passage of the bill to send SDF members to Iraq, but a host of serious doubts about it remain. The day may come when Koizumi says, ``I am prepared to answer any questions about the Iraqi mission.'' When will that be?


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 27

Sending SDF troops into a certified war zone

Military officers are usually noted for their candor. We can sometimes benefit from paying attention to what they have to say, especially if the person doing the talking has the kind of cool-headed approach necessary to fulfill his mission of safeguarding the lives of those under his command.



Gen. John Abizaid, who has taken up the flag at the U.S. Central Command, seems keenly aware of his responsibilities as the officer in charge of the conduct of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Speaking at a recent news conference, Abizaid emphasized the importance of making it clear when the U.S. troops now in Iraq will be able to come home.

``It's very important to all of us to make sure that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines know when they're coming home. I know this personally,'' he said.


``My son was stationed in (South) Korea,'' the general said. ``He was told he was coming home in 12 months. Two days before he was to get on the plane, he was told he was going to stay another three months. My wife immediately cried.''

``My son-in-law was in Afghanistan,'' he went on. ``He was told he was coming home in so many months. He got extended two more months, and my daughter cried.''

Abizaid gave these personal examples to underscore the fact he is aware of the anxiety of troops on the ground as well as their relatives and loved ones waiting for them to return.


Discussing the present situation in Iraq, the general was candid in acknowledging his forces are confronting a guerrilla war. He said U.S. and coalition forces are facing organized opposition by Baathist remnants throughout Iraq. And he said they are conducting ``what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us.'' He went on, ``It's low-intensity conflict in our doctrinal terms, but it's war, however you describe it.''


Abizaid is a Lebanese-American. He is an expert in Middle East issues. Fluent in Arabic, he has a master's degree from Harvard University. Citing these qualifications, many people say he is the perfect choice for his latest assignment.


The legislation created to permit dispatch of members of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq is moving through the Diet. Abizaid's assessment that Iraq is in the middle of a guerrilla war has serious implications for the SDF dispatch plan. It seems to me that lawmakers have failed to adequately consider the risks involved in the course of considering the bill.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 21(IHT/Asahi: July 28,2003)

War rages even as rebuilding effort speeds up

``I am not rejoicing. I mourn the death of anybody, but it has to be said that it is a very great relief for all Iraqis,'' British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was quoted as saying on the demise of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay.



Straw's restrained comment stood out amid the overwhelming applause with which that news was received by the governments of the United States and Britain.

Perhaps the deaths of the two men serve as a much-needed assurance that the Saddam regime will never return. Still, the question lingers: Was there no way they could have been captured alive? Given the fact they were holed up in a private residence that was subjected to a relentless missile attack, I am forced to conclude that capturing them alive was not really a consideration.


Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, told a news conference:

``On whether this (mission) was a failure, absolutely not. I would never consider this a failure. Our mission is to find, kill or capture. In this case, we had an enemy that was defending, it was barricaded, and we had the measures that were necessary in order to neutralize the target.''

Asked if he could have had the house surrounded until Uday and Qusay surrendered, and perhaps they gave U.S. authorities a lot of valuable information, Sanchez replied, ``Sir, that is speculation.''


The war in Iraq is not yet over. Based on this understanding, the deaths of Saddam's sons were perhaps just one episode in this war. But what if you focus on another angle, which is that Iraq is supposedly in a state of postwar occupation? Then the killing would have to be considered a wanton act of highly dubious legitimacy.

What happened is symbolic of the present chaos in Iraq, where war and peace cannot be distinguished clearly.


Uday and Qusay must have possessed all sorts of vital information pertaining to their father's regime. I still believe they should have been captured and brought to trial.


War continues in Iraq amid postwar reconstruction efforts. It is a strange situation indeed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 25(IHT/Asahi: July 26,2003)

Presaging the darkness of turbulent Showa

``Momotaro'' (Peach Boy) is a popular Japanese folk tale about a baby who popped out of a peach and grew up into a fine youth. One day, Momotaro sets out for Onigashima (ogre island) to punish evil ogres and loot their treasure. A dog, a monkey and a pheasant tag along.

What motivated Momotaro to go on this punitive expedition?



Such a question is probably irrelevant to the moral of the story in its original, simple presentation. Maybe Momotaro was just after the ogres' treasure. Or perhaps you could say the ogres deserved to be punished because they were evil.

From the Meiji Era (1868-1912) on, the story came to be retold in many forms, but each version portrayed Momotaro as an ``exemplary Japanese citizen'' who fought a ``just war.'' Michio Namekawa pursues this theme in his book ``Momotaro-zo no Henyo'' (The Process of Change in the Image of Momotaro) published by Tokyo Shoseki.


Around the middle of the Meiji Era, Momotaro's war was justified on the grounds that the ogres were rebels against Imperial Japan. The argument was so straightforward that it shaped the underlying philosophy of the new versions that would follow.

One rendition that appeared shortly after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) included a stirring battle scene, the narrative of which goes: ``Charge! Forward! Slay those blue ogres, red ogres and white ogres.'' Clearly, this was written with Japan's ``holy war'' in mind.

 皇国日本に逆らう奴(やつ)だから征伐する。明治中期に出たこの理由づけが明快で、底流をなす。日露戦争後には、こんな勇ましい戦闘場面も描かれた。「突貫! 進め! 斬(き)り伏せよ/青鬼赤鬼白い鬼」。もはや自明の「聖戦」か。

But a very different Momotaro emerged toward the end of the Taisho Era (1912-1926). In this version, Onigashima is depicted as an earthly paradise, and Momotaro is the aggressor who invades this peaceful island and commits every evil deed imaginable.

There is an interesting exchange between Momotaro and the ogres who have surrendered. An ogre asks Momotaro, ``Why did you attack us?'' Momotaro replies, ``Because I had just retained the services of three loyal vassals-the dog, the monkey and the pheasant.'' The ogre presses on, ``Why did you retain them?'' Momotaro answers, ``So that I could attack you.''

The exchange makes it crystal clear that there was no reasonable justification for Momotaro's war.


The author was novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Shortly before he published this story, Akutagawa was traveling in China, where he was stunned speechless by what he heard from a local intellectual. The latter had told him, ``If I must name one Japanese I truly detest, Momotaro is the one.'' This shocking revelation must have shattered Akutagawa's previous image of this folk tale hero.


``Greenary Day,'' a national holiday in late April that marked Emperor Showa's birthday, may be renamed ``Day of Showa.'' The Showa Era (1926-1989) is said to have begun with Akutagawa's death. It was as if Akutagawa had presaged the darkness of that turbulent period in Japanese history. Akutagawa committed suicide on July 24, 1927.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 24

Kitajima blazes a trail that others must follow

Champion swimmer Kosuke Kitajima's record-breaking performance in Barcelona brought back a host of memories. Kitajima is the latest in a line of fine breaststroke swimmers out of Japan.

His specialty is a discipline that allows technique to make up for a shortfall in physical power. Perhaps because of this, breaststroke is a discipline in which new swimming methods appear and disappear one after another. Japanese swimmers are often spotlighted because of these new methods.



What comes to mind is a live broadcast from the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. ``The swimmers are still underwater. None has surfaced yet,'' the announcer said. On the television screen, the breaststroke swimmers disappeared from sight after leaping into the water. Masaru Furukawa, who won the gold medal for the event, swam more than 40 meters underwater.

The submersion method was designed to minimize the resistance of water. Later, it was banned on grounds that it was ``dangerous.''


During the 1972 Munich Olympics, attention focused on Nobutaka Taguchi's style of aggressive kicks for propulsion. He had stuck to the method despite having been disqualified as a competitor using kicks for butterfly in the previous Olympics Games in Mexico.

Taguchi was vindicated by winning the 100-meter breaststroke title. Referring to his peculiar way of kicking, he said, ``This was devised to suit Japanese swimmers with relatively short legs.''


With his win on Monday at the World Swimming Championships in Barcelona, Kitajima became the first Japanese since Taguchi to shatter the world record for the 100-meter breast-stroke. He put on an amazing speed in the second half of the race.

Much of Kitajima's feat seems attributable to the findings of cutting-edge research on swimming methods, such as analytical studies using computers. The swimmer is, of course, to be credited with superb abilities for putting the findings into practice.


Furukawa and Taguchi were far less blessed when it comes to the training environment. As a child, Furukawa swam in the Kinokawa river in Wakayama Prefecture, and Taguchi learned to swim breast- stroke as he chased carp at fish farms in Ehime Prefecture.

The age of high-tech had not arrived to help them. On the other hand, it may be said that Kitajima faces harder competition in a sense because minute differences determine the outcome of races now.


Anyway, the 20-year-old added one more unforgettable scene to the annals of breaststroke swimming.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 23(IHT/Asahi: July 24,2003)

Novel's compelling lesson in self-sacrifice

Amid the recent spate of crimes involving children, I keep thinking of the young heroine of ``Saigo no Ikku'' (The final phrase), a short story written by Mori Ogai in 1915. Ichi, as the protagonist is called, is in her early to mid-teens-a junior high school student in our present society.



The story is set in Osaka in the mid-Edo Period (1603-1867). The day before her father is to be executed as a criminal, Ichi sets out for the magistrate's office early in the morning, taking her younger sister and brother along.

She had stayed up all night to compose a letter begging for clemency. The letter says: ``Please spare our father. Please kill us children instead.''


The children are shooed away at the gate. But chiding her younger sister who wants to just go home, Ichi parks herself at the gate and refuses to budge, and demands to see the magistrate.

The officials finally give in and let the children present their case. The magistrate asks them: ``If you trade your lives for your father's, we will have to execute you immediately. You won't even see your father. Is that alright?''

``Yes sir, that will be fine,'' Ichi replies.


The father is eventually set free, and the children also go unpunished.

From this outcome, this may come across as just a pretty story about a brave and devoted daughter. However, there are many elements that are timeless and apply just as well to today's society.

Ichi's mother, for instance, is a passive complainer who cannot act. Ichi knows it is useless to seek her mother's advice. When an officer tells Ichi to bring her mother, the girl dismisses it out of hand.


Adults see Ichi as a ``stubborn child'' who ``defies the authorities,'' a ``girl who is as hard as nails.'' One individual remarks, ``I am even afraid to imagine the sort of woman she will become.'' In their original Japanese, such comments are antiquated and rarely heard today.


Ichi offered her own life to try to save her father from being ``paraded through town before being beheaded.'' I wonder how she comes across to her contemporaries today. Or is this story itself simply so farfetched that they will never be able to relate to it?


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 22(IHT/Asahi: July 23,2003)

Spirit of `moyai' in short supply at Shibuya

Every time I go, I have a sense of being drawn into a maelstrom. I'm talking about the main intersection in Tokyo's fashionable Shibuya district near the statue of Chuken (loyal dog) Hachiko. (The statue was erected in honor of Hachiko that futilely kept waiting for its deceased master for years, expecting him to emerge from the train station.)

The density of people there is almost terrifying. It is probably no exaggeration to say there is no other place that is quite so crowded.



With many sloping roads in the vicinity, one may say the intersection forms the bottom of a valley. The intersection is the confluence of streams of people. One stream consists of people who have come down the sloping roads from all directions. Making up the other stream are those who have disembarked at the train station.

Worse still, the blare of loudspeakers used in political and other campaigns assaults one's hearing from all directions, drowning out human voices.

But it would be wrong to equate all this activity with the dynamism of the big city. The situation in Shibuya is close to chaos.


The four elementary school sixth-graders held captive by a man became acquainted with him in Shibuya. There are areas in this district where evildoers lurk under the guise of a festive persona. They draw unwitting victims into their trap by offering to satisfy their desires. But actually they are looking for a chance to kidnap them.


I recall a passage in novelist Kobo Abe's poem ``Hitosarai'' (Kidnappers): ``Nevertheless, the festival begins/ And the festival ends/ The festival is not life/ And life is not the festival, either/ That is why kidnappers come/ They come at dusk/ When the festival is about to begin.''

It may be said that like kidnappers, the big city itself holds an irresistible charm, and the young girls succumbed to it.


The four girls had arranged to meet the suspect in the case in front of a statue known as ``Moyai-zo''-a giant stone hewn into a human face. The statue is a gift from Niijima island south of Tokyo. A board standing beside it reads: ``To the people who assemble here. What would the silent Moyai-zo say to you? ... May you open your minds widely to the spirit of moyai, or solidarity.''

The word moyai, I learned, also means joining hands for a cause.


Shibuya is an extraordinarily congested and noisy district. As for the spirit of moyai, it appeared to be infinitely scarce.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 19(IHT/Asahi: July 22,2003)

Politicians routed by journalists in quiz show

Politicians are mocked as ``people who think they know everything when they are truly ignorant.'' What about journalists who are derided as people whose job is to explain to others what they cannot understand themselves? If they vie, which side will win?



The BBC quiz show ``University Challenge,'' a program that has maintained high popularity in a quiz-loving nation, have brought politicians and journalists together for a contest.

The long-running television program has offered contests between universities. It has been known as a show requiring the contestants to have wide-ranging and advanced knowledge from literature and the arts to natural science. With no prizes offered, they compete for honor.


In the contest against journalists, politicians were represented by four members of Parliament, chosen across party lines.

Journalists were represented by four members of The Times. I could not watch the show that was aired last month, but I learned the outcome in a British newspaper. The team of journalists overwhelmingly won 215 to 25.


When the University of St. Andrews, where Prince William of the British royal family is a student, lost to Cambridge University about two years ago, the score was 215 to 40, a margin said to be near the worst in history. The politicians lost by an even larger margin.


The Times conceded that the quiz format might have suited the journalists better. But it mercilessly mocked the routed politicians, likening them to people waiting in an absent-minded manner for a delayed incoming flight in the airport departure lobby.


The contest was quite in character with the British. There may be no hope for organizing a similar event in Japan. British journalists must be relieved at the outcome because they now have valid statistics to quote to counter politicians who regularly tell reporters, ``Come back when you know more about this thing.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 6(IHT/Asahi: July 21,2003)

Onus on Bush, Blair to explain Iraq decisions

On July 17, 1945, the leaders of the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union gathered outside Berlin for a conference that lasted about a fortnight.

This was the Tripartite Conference of Berlin, or the Potsdam Conference, and the leaders were Harry S. Truman, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Their agenda was to discuss postwar arrangements in Europe.



The three countries eventually adopted the Potsdam Declaration, but this is not to be confused with the Potsdam Proclamation (known as Potsdam Declaration here) that forced Japan into surrender. This proclamation was co-signed by the United States, Britain and the Republic of China.

This document is kept at the U.S. National Archives. Somewhat surprisingly, all three signatures at the bottom of this document are in Truman's hand, says Akira Naka in his book, ``Mokusatsu'' (Ignore by silence) in the NHK Books series.


Churchill had returned to Britain to await the outcome of a general election. He lost the election and did not return to Potsdam for the signing. But since the government of his successor, Clement Attlee, had yet to start officially, Truman put Churchill's name on the document.

The third signatory, Chiang Kai-shek, was also not in Potsdam. So, Truman signed for him as ``President of the National Government of the Republic of China,'' with an explanation that the proclamation was approved by telegram.


Potsdam is a beautiful town southwest of Berlin. It is dotted with palaces and villas. The Cecilienhof, where the conference was held, belonged to the last crown prince of the German empire. The conference room has been preserved in its original state.

One section of the Cecilienhof has been converted into a hotel. I took a room there one winter night. I was hoping I might encounter the ghosts of the Big Three, but no such thing happened.


British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington. Since the two leaders were due to discuss ``postwar settlements,'' their summit may be likened somewhat to the Potsdam Conference.

One decisive difference, however, is that Bush and Blair attacked first.

And whereas World War II was fought for the clear purpose of ``liberating Europe from Adolph Hitler,'' questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the Iraq war.


The Bush-Blair summit was a curious affair at best. It makes me feel as if the world is waiting to see how these leaders are going to explain themselves.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 18(IHT/Asahi: July 19,2003)


Chance to find out what's on your cat's mind

In the poem ``Neko'' (Cats) by Sakutaro Hagiwara, two cats greet each other on a moonlit night.

``Oaah, good evening.''

``Oaah, good evening.''

``Oaah, the master of this house is ill.''

Having the sensitive soul of a poet, Hagiwara must have been one of those rare humans capable of understanding the language of cats.



For ailurophiles who are frustrated with their lack of command of feline language, here's good news. A cat-language ``translation'' gadget is expected to be marketed this autumn. Called Meowlingual, this is the cat version of Bowlingual, a hugely successful dog-language translation device from toy maker Takara Co.

Cat language is said to be more sophisticated than dog language. We'll see.


A confident Takara spokesman noted, ``Cats, too, have voiceprints that reveal their emotions.'' As with Bowlingual, Meowlingual picks up animal utterances and displays the ``translation'' in Japanese characters on the hand-held monitor screen. But whereas Bowlingual comes with a microphone that has to be attached to the dog's collar, Meowlingual has a microphone built into the monitor screen itself. The user ``interviews'' the cat face-to-face, so to speak.


I imagine this interview format makes a lot of sense with cats, who are generally more reticent than dogs and have a predilection for subtle, euphemistic speech. Wouldn't it be fun to stick the mike in your cat's face and ask questions, and wait for comments? This, explained the Takara spokesman, was one of the concepts behind Meowlingual's development.


It seems cats are inscrutable creatures even to animal experts. Dogs and horses can be trained. ``With cats, that's practically impossible. To us humans, cats are full of mystery,'' writes Yoshihiro Hayashi, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Tokyo, in UP issue No. 355. Hayashi also notes there is little accumulation of academic data pertaining to cats.


The feline protagonist of Soseki Natsume's ``Wagahai wa Neko de Aru'' (I Am a Cat) observes dryly: ``But humans are animals that have never attained the state of grace to understand our language.''

Were this famous-and nameless -cat alive today, what would he have said of this Meowlingual business?


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 17(IHT/Asahi: July 18,2003)

A soliloquy amid the high school baseball epic

Across the country, prefectural-level tournaments are under way to select teams for next month's National Senior High School Baseball Championships at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

In Tochigi Prefecture, an incredible 22 records were set on Sunday when Fujioka Senior High School lost 54-0 to Oyama Senior High School.

Despite the humiliating defeat, the Fujioka team was not dejected. After the game, the team members repeatedly tossed Captain Kazuki Tabata into the air in celebration, signaling their sense that he had done well.



The baseball club at Fujioka High had only eight members in the spring of 2001, one short of the nine needed to play. Because of the deficit, the club was unable to hold games, prompting the players to throw in the towel. By December, Tabata was the only club member left.

In general, membership shortages reflect a disturbing trend: senior high school student numbers are declining in step with the low birthrate. At Fujioka High, a prefecturally run public school, the student body has dropped by 427 to 257 in 10 years.


Tabata continued to train alone under Yasuaki Tanaka, manager of the baseball club. Tanaka teaches health and physical education.

This past spring, Tabata began a recruitment drive to find players for the Tochigi tournament. He asked members of other clubs and former baseball club members to help him make a team.

Early in June, The Asahi Shimbun started running a series of articles on his lonely struggle, titled ``Hitorikara no Shupattsu'' (Starting off from a sole member), in its Tochigi edition.

The going was anything but easy. About a month before the Tochigi tournament opened, Tabata had assembled a nine-member team.


In the end, the hastily assembled Fujioka squad probably was among the weakest of the 4,163 schools participating in the prefectural-level tournaments.

Even so, there are various unknown dramas surrounding the teams that made an early exit. A good example is offered by Fujioka High, which was represented by a team with only a single member of the baseball club on its roster.


The Fujioka story was also flavored by an unexpected event. It happened when lots were drawn to determine which team would play which one and which team would have its captain pledge the oath of sportsmanship at the start of the Tochigi tournament. Tabata was the 51st person to draw lots.

The number he drew was ``1,'' meaning he had won the right to make the sportsmanship oath. He later said there was no mistaking the fact, since the figure is the same even when turned upside down.


Tabata's delivery was brief and powerful. He will never forget this summer even though his team failed in its first game.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 16(IHT/Asahi: July 17,2003)

Life goes on for Okushiri quake survivors

I visited the Hokkaido island of Okushiri recently. On July 12 exactly 10 years ago, the island was devastated by a killer tsunami triggered by an earthquake off the southwestern coast of Hokkaido.



I had been to Okushiri once before, just one month after the disaster. Since my last visit, the most visible transformation had occurred in the Aonae district. Devastated by fire and tsunami, the whole neighborhood was a desolate expanse of rubble when I last saw it. But the district has since been transformed into something like a seaside park. There now stands a massive monument dedicated to the souls of the dead, and nearby is the Okushiri Tsunami-kan, a memorial museum of sorts. All Aonae residents have been relocated to higher ground.


New homes lined new streets. Skylarks sang in the sky. As I ambled on beyond the Cape Aonae breakwater to the beach, I came across two women cutting overgrown grass. They said they were cleaning the beach for the toro-nagashi lantern-offering rite that was scheduled for the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. One of the women told me she had lost her mother.


The Okushiri Tsunami-kan was opened two years ago to remember the tragedy. Among the exhibits was a poem by a fourth-grade girl: ``An earthquake happened. I ran outside at once. The lighthouse had crumbled ... The next morning, I went back to my house. There was no house. It made me sad.''

For many Aonae residents, it was not only their homes that had disappeared overnight; their loved ones and routine lives had disappeared too. A total of 202 people were killed and 28 are still missing, mostly Okushiri islanders.


At 10:17 p.m.-the time the earthquake struck-I retraced my steps to the Aonae neighborhood. A half moon hung in the night sky, and power lines whined in gusty winds. There was not a living soul in sight. Exactly 10 years ago, the sleeping streets and houses were swallowed up instantaneously and sunk to the bottom of the sea.


This overwhelming tragedy must have left yet-to-heal scars in the hearts of survivors. But the words of one survivor struck me: ``Living on high ground, I certainly feel safe now. Still, nothing beats the good feeling I get when I go down to the beach.''

Perhaps this is exactly what the islanders feel in the deepest part of their souls.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 12(IHT/Asahi: July 16,2003)

yet to heal

A run of gaffes works to feed Japan stereotypes

Stereotypes tend to be self-perpetuating, gaining currency by themselves, irrespective of whether they are valid or not.

This may be the case with 18th-century French thinker Charles-Louis de Secondat Montesquieu's view that the Japanese were a cruel people.



In one of his major works, ``The Spirit of Laws,'' there are references to the Edo Period's (1603-1867) cruel penal system. To quote from an Iwanami's pocketbook-size version of the book, he wrote: ``People lived in terror everywhere. It brutalized their minds more. The result was that only the threat of harsher penalties could make them behave.''


The United States has often cast doubt on Japan's criminal justice system when dealing with demands that U.S. military criminal suspects be turned over to Japanese authorities, contending they might not get a fair trial under a system that pays little respect to human rights.

Such a sense of mistrust is probably common among Westerners, aside from whether its origins lie in Montesquieu's work.

Misunderstandings need to be corrected to match facts.


Some people act to perpetuate misunderstandings. Referring to the murder of a 4-year-old boy in Nagasaki, an incumbent Cabinet minister whose job is to direct juvenile education programs proposed that the parents of the 12-year-old suspect be paraded through the streets and then beheaded. The minister later said he was criticizing the legal system for dealing with teenage and younger criminals. He described himself as a fan of samurai dramas, but even so it was inappropriate for him to propose an Edo-style punishment.


The British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) produced the most comprehensive report of all the foreign media that showed interest in the incident. The BBC introduced the minister's proposal as the latest addition to a collection of ``insensitive gaffes'' ranging from seemingly defensive remarks on rape by senior Liberal Democratic Party official Seiichi Ota to former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's controversial statements. Most recently, Mori ruffled feathers by saying women who have not reared children are unqualified to receive pensions.


Leaving aside overseas outrage on the incumbent minister's proposal, it is dangerous to have someone with such ideas directing juvenile education programs. On his home page, the minister calls on the public to ``teach children what a beautiful country Japan is.''

If parading the parents of a suspected killer through the streets and then beheading them is what the minister means by a ``beautiful country,'' it makes me shudder to think of the country he envisions.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 13(IHT/Asahi: July 15,2003)

Profound question haunts pilgrim on the run

An obscure shingeki (new school) stage actor is discovered by a famous film director and lands a big movie contract. The director is captivated by the actor's strikingly ``nihilist'' looks. Ecstatic as he is to get his chance at stardom, the actor is also tormented by a sense of doom.



The actor is the protagonist of the short story ``Kao'' (The Face) by Seicho Matsumoto (1909-1992). Nine years before the actor met the director, he went on a trip with a woman, intending to kill her. On the trip, they accidentally ran into a man who knew the woman. But this did not stop the actor from murdering her.

Would the actor's face be eventually remembered by that sole witness? Suspense mounts. The more famous he becomes on the silver screen, the greater the chance of his unique face being recognized.


I immediately recalled this story when a pilgrim to Shikoku's 88-temple circuit was arrested Wednesday. The 80-year-old man was sought by police as the suspect of an attempted murder 12 years ago. But over his six-year pilgrimage, he had become something of a legend-a haiku writer who touched the hearts of everyone he met on his way, reciprocating whatever hospitality he received by giving out his collection of poems.


NHK television did a feature on this man and aired it in Shikoku in late May. The program was even rebroadcast. Had that been the end of the story, the arm of the law probably would not have reached him. But when the program was shown nationwide in late June, an officer with the Chiba prefectural police recognized his face.


NHK portrayed him as a ``lifetime pilgrim prepared to die a pilgrim.'' I wonder what his thoughts were as he plodded from temple to temple. All I know is that he must have been carrying a heavy burden on his conscience.


The publishing house that released his poetry collection reminded readers of the words of the director of the NHK program: His pilgrimage raises the fundamental question of what human beings live for.

Now that this pilgrim has been exposed as a criminal suspect, that question carries a heavier significance than ever.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 11(IHT/Asahi: July 12,2003)

`Sorry for being with you for so short period'

Many years ago, when the day of my graduation from elementary school was nearing, a teacher told us, ``All you children are about to enter seinen-zenki (pre-adolescence).''



In Japan, elementary school pupils are referred to as jido (children) to distinguish them from their secondary school counterparts, who are called seito (students).

I took my transition from jido to seito as a matter of course. But I can still recall the odd, out-of-place feeling I got from the word seinen (adolescence). By association, the word led directly to otona (adulthood) which implied something far too distant and big for me then. I was 12 years old that spring.


A 12-year-old boy, in his first year at a junior high school in the city of Nagasaki, has been taken into custody over the abduction and murder of preschooler Shun Tanemoto. Police say the boy has admitted to throwing Shun to his death from atop a multi-level parking lot in downtown Nagasaki.

If the police report is correct, how might this 12-year-old have appeared in little Shun's eyes? Thinking of this drives me into poignant sorrow and bizarre feelings.


Generally speaking, 12-year-olds still need a lot of adult protection. They are not even teenagers yet. On the other hand, they are in that precarious period of puberty when their minds and bodies undergo dramatic changes. I wonder how it was for that Nagasaki lad.


Right before he disappeared, Shun reportedly told his parents his wish for the upcoming ``Tanabata'' Star Festival on July 7. The wish was to become ``Kamen Raida,'' a popular animated cartoon hero.

His father, Tsuyoshi, addressed Shun's soul at the funeral: ``We were able to be with you for only four years and eight months. We are so terribly sorry.'' Shun's was far too short a life, ended so cruelly.


The annual ``Hozuki-ichi'' (Chinese lantern plant market) began Wednesday at Sensoji Temple in Tokyo's Asakusa district. Almost all visitors with small children either carried them or held their hands firmly. Perhaps this wasn't so significant as toddlers can easily get lost in a crowd. Still, I fancied that every big hand that clasped a tiny hand was firmer than usual.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 10(IHT/Asahi: July 11,2003)

Ghost of the Nazi past still haunts Europe

Like longtime neighbors that they are, countries in Europe speak ill of each other by tradition. For example, Germans have a saying that goes, ``Italy is a paradise inhabited by devils.'' This amounts to saying that while the climate of Italy is marvelous, its inhabitants are evil.

Italians counter it with a saying of their own: ``Any place inhabited by Germans is bad for the health of Italians.'' This saying seems to reflect Italians' dislike for what they see as the ``glumness'' of Germans.



Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi overstepped the traditional standard by making a statement that provoked an uproar in the European Parliament the other day. It was clearly a gaffe.

Berlusconi was in the spotlight as Italy's presidency of the European Union had just begun. Responding to criticism by a German member of the European Parliament, he said: ``I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of kapo (commander). You'd be perfect.''

The German lawmaker had criticized Berlusconi over a bribery scandal


The Italian leader later explained himself by saying that his response had been intended to be sarcastic. But nobody would buy that.

Germany re-emerged from World War II by fundamentally reflecting on its prewar system; rejecting the Nazi past is something like a national article of faith. The affair inevitably casts doubt on Berlusconi's views of history and his sense of international relations.


I have another misgiving about the prime minister. Conceivably, when he is called a fascist, the affront he feels may not be so strong as the insult a German feels when he is called a Nazi. As a matter of fact, some people see his government as a dangerous new type of fascism, pointing to the fact that Italy's mainstream media are under his control.


Earlier this year, a senior official of the Bush administration made a statement that appeared to be aimed at dividing Europe by making a distinction between ``Old Europe'' that challenges American leadership and ``New Europe'' that follows U.S. initiatives. This time, Europe is rocked by internal strains provoking a 20th century trauma.


The picture is ironic. Europe is being plagued by a ghost from the bygone century just when it is trying to build a new coalition of countries in the 21st century.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 9(IHT/Asahi: July 10,2003)

Recalling 1st contact with Perry's Black Ships

When Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy arrived off Uraga in Kanagawa Prefecture to force Japan out of its centuries-old isolation, he reportedly perceived the occasion as one in which the world's youngest nation was marching into one of the oldest civilizations. It took place on July 8, exactly 150 years ago.



Lest he be slighted by the representatives of this old civilization, Perry took a high-handed approach. He included state-of-the-art warships in his fleet for effect, and demanded to see only the highest officials. But although the gunboats did intimidate the Tokugawa Shogunate, the latter did not comply tamely with Perry's terms. The government appointed junior officials for prior negotiations, lying about their rank.


These were Nakajima Saburosuke and Kayama Eizaemon, both yoriki (police sergeants) of the Uraga magistrate's office. The Americans were impressed by Kayama's ``gentlemanly dignity'' and his ``attitude that bespoke his high learning and refinement.'' Nakajima, on the other hand, was summed up as a ``nosy and impertinent barbarian.''


In a sense, these two men symbolized the two faces of Japan in the final days of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Kayama stood for the Japan that maintained its own civilization and code of honor while keeping the doors closed to the world.

Nakajima, on the other hand, represented a sense of crisis that was building up over the nation's continued isolation, as well as an all-consuming eagerness to steal the latest technology of the time at any cost. Nakajima, in fact, keenly observed every aspect of Perry's ``Black Ships,'' eventually becoming Japan's foremost shipbuilding engineer.


I walked around the Uraga neighborhood recently. A memorial cenotaph stood at Perry's landing place in Kurihama. Erected in 1901, it is a massive stone monument with an inscription in the handwriting of Hirobumi Ito. It says, ``Monument to mark the landing by Commodore Perry of the United States of America.''

Toward the end of World War II, the cenotaph was pulled down as a symbol of ``national humiliation'' and covered with black cloth as in a mock funeral. However, just before the arrival of the postwar U.S. occupation forces, the monument was re-erected. The construction workers reportedly worked stealthily through the night.


On the day I visited the ``birthplace'' of Japan's relations with the United States, the sea was placid as if it remembered none of the turbulent affairs of the past 150 years since the arrival of the Black Ships.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 8(IHT/Asahi: July 9,2003)

The margins can be pivotal in politics here

Recalling his childhood, animation director Hayao Miyazaki once said: ``It was a revelation when I learned I could make a three-dimensional thing from drawing paper through the trick of setting norishiro (the space for putting paste, usually at the edge of a piece of paper). The discovery made my heart pound.''



Miyazaki went on to make castles and various other structures from flat pieces of paper. It was essential to learn where and how to set norishiro. He learned the trick by trial and error. The childhood hobby may account for the secret of Miyazaki's animation movies that transforms the seemingly mundane world into one of depth.


The word norishiro that thus stirs the imagination of children serves as political jargon. In this sense, it is a tricky term. During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the Liberal Democratic Party floated the idea of raising the tobacco tax to help finance the operations of the multinational forces. Behind the scenes, LDP officials let it be known that they wanted to ``use tobacco as norishiro'' to induce Komeito, a particularly image-conscious party, to support the proposal.

Evidently, they were hopeful that while Komeito was against any tax increase, the marginal nature of the tobacco tax might lead the party to acquiesce. They were prepared to withdraw the proposal if Komeito refused the deal. Norishiro meant a bargaining chip in this case.


The LDP has employed a similar ploy about the bill to send members of the Self-Defense Forces on a mission to help with postwar Iraq's reconstruction, this time to induce the major opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) to back the legislation, which has cleared the Lower House of the Diet. To this end, the LDP offered a compromise proposal that would make it mandatory for the government to seek advance Diet approval of detailed plans for the dispatch of SDF units, instead of seeking approval after the fact.

But recourse to a ``norishiro approach'' will not work to paper over the important basic problems entailed in the legislation.


People may be described as those with large norishiro space or those with small space for pasting. People of the former type may be called ``resourceful.'' U.S. President George W. Bush, who innocently said, ``Bring 'em on,'' in reference to attacks on American troops in Iraq, seems to belong to the latter category. The remark reinforced the impression that SDF units are being sent to a dangerous place.


There is one more thing to be said about norishiro: Its service is self-effacing. It is indispensable to put something together, but it is gone when the assemblage is completed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 5

Slow and stress-free turtles-a lifestyle model

There is an aquarium that goes by the odd name of ``Turtle Bank.'' It lends turtles only to children. Borrowers are obliged to raise the turtles, and there is no time limit for repayment.



The Himeji City Aquarium in Hyogo Prefecture began the service in 1988. Initially, it lent young turtles. After a while, it switched to lending eggs by improving incubators. Even though turtles are full of vitality, their eggs are frail. Many turtles die before hatching. The lending service gives child borrowers a chance to witness the birth and death of turtles.

That is the objective of the service. ``It is a program designed to let children know the mystery and preciousness of life,'' says Noritaka Ichikawa, the aquarium's chief researcher.

Incidentally, now is the egg-laying time of turtles.


The turtle is a strange creature. It has inhabited the earth for about 200 million years. During this time, it has slowly evolved with hardly a change in its shape. It is an existence for which time passes very slowly.


The distinctive feature of the turtle is, of course, its shell, a strong suit of armor that protects it from enemies. With some varieties, the shell can withstand as much as 200 times the weight of its body. The turtle withdraws itself into the shell for protection, imposing a heavy burden on its skeletal structure. It represents wisdom needed to live through the species' everlasting years.


Based on his research on the turtle's long life, Haruaki Nakamura, director of the Toba Aquarium in Mie Prefecture, says, ``The turtle is omnivorous, but it likes to eat foods in season. It can stand adverse circumstances, enduring the heat and cold weather.''

He adds, ``It lives long mainly because of its slow and stress-free lifestyle.''


The newly developed complex Caretta Shiodome in Minato Ward has joined the list of major sightseeing spots in Tokyo. The ``caretta'' in the name is derived from the scientific name of the turtle. Whoever chose the name presumably did so to provide present-day people with a chance to experience the turtle's hustle-free lifestyle.

The turtle will never cease to be an object of awe and respect.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 29(IHT/Asahi: July 7,2003)

A natural wish in the urban, concrete jungle

``Hashizukushi'' (The Seven Bridges), a short story by Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), is set in Tokyo's Tsukiji district. One moonlit night, four women make a tour of seven neighborhood bridges, hoping the journey will make their respective wishes come true.



``Soon, the first bridge they were supposed to cross-Miyoshibashi-loomed ahead,'' the narrative goes. ``It is an unusual three-forked affair that spans the confluence of three rivers. On the corner of one opposite riverbank, there squatted the gloomy building of the Chuo Ward Office ... .'' The story is included in ``Showa Bungaku Zenshu'' (Collection of Showa Era literature) published by Shogakukan Inc.


Both the bridge and the ward office building still exist, as portrayed in Mishima's novella. However, motor traffic has replaced the flow of water under the bridge. As I stood near the middle of Miyoshibashi, my senses were assailed by the roar of engines and exhaust fumes from a Metropolitan Expressway that has replaced the waterways. I doubt anyone would choose this spot to make his or her wish.


A Tokyo taxi driver once told me that memorizing the names of the main bridges in central Tokyo is tantamount to memorizing the locations of a considerable number of intersections. The latter go by bridge names, but they span no rivers today.


I went to Miyoshibashi because a recent news item, datelined Seoul, had piqued my interest. According to the story, work has begun to demolish an elevated highway that runs through downtown Seoul, and dig up the culvert to restore the river that once flowed there for people to enjoy. The demolition was partly due to the sloppy construction of the elevated highway, which it was feared could lead to disaster. But in any case, I hope the river turns out as nice as its name-Chonggye-chon, which means ``clear stream.''


Like Japan, South Korea underwent frenetic development after World War II, letting motor traffic take over roads, rivers and even overhead space. I think both nations have gone far enough.


``The little river flows clear and smooth in spring,'' goes an old Japanese song. It was reportedly inspired by a river that ran somewhere in the vicinity of Tokyo's Shibuya district.

I know such a clear stream is but a dream in Tokyo today, but is it impossible to at least give rivers back to those ``riverless bridges''? Cringing from the roar of engines and exhaust fumes, I could not help making that wish.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 4(IHT/Asahi: July 6,2003)

Elder Honda had a steady hand, unlike his son

Honda Motor Co. announced recently that its new car sales for the first half of this year set a record in the United States. Honda founder Soichiro Honda, who died in 1991, would have been proud.



But a recent development involving his eldest son Hirotoshi would no doubt have deeply grieved this legendary entrepreneur. Hirotoshi Honda, president of Mugen Co., was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of massive tax evasion. Before his arrest, Honda had stated that an auditor handled all accounting matters. ``If you are not an expert yourself, delegate the responsibility to someone who is a real expert. That's our family motto,'' Honda explained. One wonders what his father would have said to that.


Soichiro Honda used to jot down his thoughts and observations. A collection of his essays is titled ``Watashi no Te ga Kataru'' (My hands speak), a paperback published by Kodansha Ltd.

He noted in one essay: ``Whenever I compare my right hand and left hand, I am always struck by how visibly they differ in the size of the palms and the shape of the fingers. It must be unusual indeed to have such an odd pair of hands.''


With what I am sure was loving tenderness, he sketched his left hand and included the drawing in an essay. It is a hand with numerous scars, left by hammers, drills and cutters that the right hand wielded over many years.

Honda went on to describe himself as a ``hand person''-an expression of honest pride in himself for creating new things with his bare hands.


Austrian-born American writer Walter Sorell authored ``Story of the Human Hand,'' a Japanese translation of which is available from Chikuma Shobo Publishing Co. Sorell notes that the human hand is reticent, but it literally ``grasps'' the world it creates. It serves its master and reveals everything about him, just like a mirror.


Mugen, the younger Honda's company, produced superb racing car engines that won four Formula One races. The Japanese word mugen means ``infinite'' or ``limitless.'' The company name probably reflected the president's dream to reach his distant destination at full speed.

But beautiful as this dream was, the hands that held the steering wheel were apparently unsteady.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 3(IHT/Asahi: July 4,2003)

Photographs could be works of eternal value

Two years ago, Nobuko Ichinose, now 81, wrote in a note: ``Enter the darkroom about 10 a.m. Get down to work with the developing solution and fixing solution, which my dead husband made and kept in issho (1.8-liter) sake bottles.'' This is how she began printing the rolls of film left behind by her son, photographer Taizo Ichinose, who died in 1973 while covering war-torn Cambodia.

The woman who lives in Takeo, Saga Prefecture, worked on 20,000 frames of film shot by her son. Her effort resulted in the publication last month of a photo album titled ``Mo Minna Ie ni Kaero!'' (Everyone, let's go home now). The publisher is Mado-sha Publishing Co.




A ``darkroom diary'' is attached to the album. Nobuko says in it that she was prone to mistakes two years ago. In time, she realized it was essential to keep the developing and fixing solutions at an appropriate temperature. She also learned to concentrate on her work. The picture of an old woman cherishing each frame she was printing in the darkroom comes across from the diary.


``If your photos aren't good enough, you're not close enough,'' said Robert Capa, who stepped on a land mine and died during the Indo-china War, about 20 years earlier than Ichinose. I found the observation in a pamphlet introducing ``Capa in Love and War,'' a documentary film I saw at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. (The film runs through July 18.)

 「もし、いい写真が撮れないとしたら、近寄り方が足りないからだ」。泰造より約20年前に、インドシナ戦争で地雷を踏んで死亡したロバート・キャパの言だ。東京都写真美術館で見た記録映画「キャパ イン・ラブ・アンド・ウォー」(18日まで)のパンフレットに紹介されていた。

The Japanese photographer is known as a man who remarked, ``If I step on a land mine, it's goodbye.'' He made the remark in a letter he wrote to a friend just before he went missing. Actually, the whole sentence read: ``If I got lucky and stepped on a land mine, it would be goodbye!'' The wording with an exclamation mark conjures up the profile of a 26-year-old who was trying to get ever closer to the action.


A photo exhibition, ``World Press Photo 2003,'' is also under way at the museum of photography. (After running through July 21 at the museum, the exhibition will tour Osaka and three other cities.) As I expected, the photos on display mainly consisted of those that had been taken close to the action-such as battlefield scenes, crime scenes and sites of natural disasters. A tour of the exhibition led me to have a higher opinion of the works of Capa and Ichinose.

It occurred to me that while the camera captures a moment in the past, the time thus arrested could constitute eternity.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 2(IHT/Asahi: July 3,2003)


Children's songs recall a long-gone Japan

There are children's songs from my childhood that suddenly come back to my lips, unbidden. Some bring back fond memories of people and places. The memories are sometimes sentimental, sometimes bittersweet. I am sure everyone can relate to these feelings.



In 1956, a certain children's song was sung in a most unlikely setting. This has always intrigued me.

It happened during a protest rally against the planned expansion of the then-U.S. military base at Tachikawa in western Tokyo. The protest movement was called ``Sunagawa toso'' (Sunagawa strife) after the town that was to be swallowed up into the expanded base. Protesters clashed repeatedly with police while land surveyors tried to do their job. There was bloodshed every time.

In what would become the final showdown, someone started warbling a children's song. It was ``Aka-tonbo'' (Red dragonfly).


The song goes: ``A red dragonfly/ Against the sunset sky/ When was the last time I saw it?/ When I was a piggy-backed child.''

The warble soon swelled into a full-throated chorus.

Novelist Shigeko Yuki, who was at the scene in 1956, writes in ``Dokyumento Showa-shi 7'' (Documentary of Showa history 7) published by Heibobsha: ``In the few minutes that preceded their final, most ferocious charge, the protesters were no longer inspired by a protest song or the Red Flag song of the working class.''


Yuki goes on to note that another children's song-``Furusato'' (Hometown)-was also sung at that rally. ``The song evoked the deepest feelings of nostalgia in everybody, transporting them beyond the reality of their harsh strife.''

Perhaps it was the love of their farmland - doomed to forced confiscation-that made these people break out in a chorus of ``Furusato'' as well as ``Aka-tonbo.''

This is an episode to be retold over and over as a part of Japan's post-World War II history.


To mark the so-called ``Doyo no Hi'' (Day of children's songs) on July 1, ``Nihon Doyo no Kai'' (Japan children's song association) asked people around the nation to name their favorites.

``Aka-tonbo'' was the easy winner, collecting the most of the 6,000 votes and the most in all age groups. ``Furusato'' and ``Akai Kutsu'' (Red shoes) came in second and third.

The lyrics of all three songs date from the Taisho Era (1912-1926). ``Aka-tonbo'' was written by Rofu Miki, and Kosaku Yamada put it to melody in 1927.


Around that period, hometown scenes were beginning to change drastically around the nation.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 1(IHT/Asahi: July 2,2003)

For ballerinas, injury signals the time to rest

The monthly ritual of presenting some recent quotable quotes has come around again:

Ballerinas are prone to injuries. Referring to this problem, ballerina Hana Sakai said, ``The Chinese characters for injury read, `I wonder (why it's happened).' To be injured, therefore, means the time has come to reflect on what I have been doing. Besides, resting from practice brings the strange benefit of calming my nerves.''



``It's really strange. In the formative arts, ideas crop up one after another,'' said artist Toko Shinoda. ``While I am giving shape to something, an idea occurs to me, an idea that suggests my next project or at least has some influence on it,'' she explained.


``At times, I stop in the middle of a level crossing,'' said poet Masayo Koike. ``Birds are chirping and the wind is blowing. Suddenly, the sense of being free fills me. It's strange because I am always free.''


Speaking of a blind piano tuner, Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman said, ``He had metal plates fixed on the backs of his shoes. Thanks to the sounds the plates made, he could tell where doors were, where he was stepping on to the roadway, where cars were, and where he was. What he taught me was that the sounds that are audible if you listen for them become inaudible when you rely on the eyes for information.''


For 60 years, Morie Sawadaishi has raised Akita dogs in the mountains. ``Countless creatures live on the mountains,'' he said, ``so when you take a dog for a walk there, it automatically sharpens its senses. The sight of my dog running through tall grass and balancing itself on slopes makes me feel the dog is walking around by making full use of its four legs. In the city, someone may well scoop it up into their arms.''


For novelist Chokitsu Kurumatani, the Banshu plains in Hyogo Prefecture are where he played on oaten pipes and looked for skylarks' nests in his youth. Missing the vanished scenery of the plains, he said, ``When June approached, it was the time for the wheat crops to ripen. The sea of golden-colored wheat ears stretched to the distantly looming city of Himeji (known for the beautiful Himeji Castle). It was a sight of ultimate beauty.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 28

Israeli girl's diaries full of dreams for peace

Bat-Chen Shahak, an Israeli girl, died on her 15th birthday by the Jewish calendar. It was in the spring of 1996. She was killed in a suicide bombing while with a friend in Tel Aviv.

She left behind a number of poems in diaries found after her death. One was titled ``Dreaming of Peace.''



Her mother, Ayelet, read it aloud at a recent symposium called ``For Peace-Overcoming Hate,'' which was held in Tokyo's Tsukiji area. It goes: ``It will be a special day/ When the left and the right, Arabs and Jews/ Will join hands and become friends/ Hatred and war will be gone/ Could such a day come only in a fairy tale?''

 きのう東京・築地で催されたシンポジウム「和平へ 憎しみを超えて」で、少女の母親アイェレットさんがその一つ「平和の夢」を読み上げた。「右も左も、アラブもユダヤも、手を結んで友だちになる/憎悪も戦争もなくなる特別な日/おとぎ話からしかやってこないのかしら」。

Israelis and Palestinians who lost family members in the Middle East conflict formed an association of bereaved families in 1995. Joining forces to break the vicious cycle of animosity on their own volition, they have been campaigning for peace. Two association members each from both sides attended the symposium.


Palestinian Ghazi Brighith recalled how he had felt when his younger brother was killed by an Israeli soldier. He said he had wanted to strangle Israeli soldiers with his own hands. But he quickly gave up the idea, telling himself that all religions preached forgiveness, not revenge.

Shedding tears, he reported that when he joined the association of bereaved families, even his wife and children suspected that he had betrayed the Palestinian cause in the conflict.


Bat-Chen's poem goes on: ``Perhaps I am too naive for my age/ Even so, is it too much to ask for peace and security?/ I wish to walk down the old town streets without any worry/ Is this too wild a dream?''


Ayelet has published her daughter's diaries, issuing an Arabic version, too, to have them read by Palestinians, all in the hope that the books will help translate Bat-Chen's dreams into reality.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 22(IHT/Asahi: June 30,2003)

Real progress more weighty than manifestos

``A specter is haunting Europe-the specter of communism.'' This all-too-famous first line from ``The Communist Manifesto,'' issued by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848, may be falling into public oblivion.



Manifesuto, a Japanese corruption of ``manifest'' or ``manifesto,'' is a word we hear so often these days that I can't help offering the following pun: ``A specter is haunting Japan-the specter of manifesto.''

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi frivolously summed up manifesto as ``just an election pledge of sorts.'' But the word packs a more pro-active meaning than that.


It came into currency because many people have grown weary of election pledges that amount to nothing more than wish lists and empty slogans.

The manifesto concept was conjured up to dispel the public's sense of frustration and disillusionment with politics. A manifesto is supposed to spell out party policy, including revenue sources to make things happen once the party comes into power. The manifesto is also supposed to set target dates for the implementation of policy. In short, it amounts to a solemn promise to the voting public.


In the past, manifesto automatically implied the Communist Manifesto.

But while this word now ``haunts'' the nation in its new reincarnation, few people stop to reflect on the spirit of the Communist Manifesto.


The Japanese Communist Party, regarded as the inheritor of the spirit, is currently busy revising its Koryo, or Program. Koryo sounds somewhat weighty or aloof, but Program has a much more casual ring. This could be one case where an imported foreign word is less ``alien'' than its Japanese counterpart.


Marx wrote in ``The Critique of the Gotha Program'': ``Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs.'' Every political party ought to take those words to heart.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 27(IHT/Asahi: June 28,2003)

Fruit thieves are everywhere, every season

``Cherries. My children probably have never seen them. But I'm sure they'd love it if someone were to let them sample the fruit, especially if that someone happened to be their father.''

With these thoughts, the father looks at a bowl of cherries served in a bar. He starts eating the fruit with a feigned grimace.

This is from the last scene in ``Oto'' (Cherries), a short story by novelist Osamu Dazai.



The story is dated in the early post-World War II era, but cherries are just as expensive now as then. Although we can today enjoy more affordable American imports-which are quite tasty in their own way-nothing compares with the exquisitely mellow lusciousness of the domestic Sato Nishiki variety. At a Tokyo fruit store, 500 grams of premier-grade Sato Nishiki cherries sell for 20,000 yen. That's about 250 yen per cherry. ``In terms of size, this is probably the most expensive fruit on the market,'' notes the store owner.


Whenever expensive cherries are grown, cherry thieves go after them every year. This year, however, their operations are unprecedented in scale. In Yamagata Prefecture, the amount stolen so far already exceeds 1 ton. I doubt people are making off with them to bring home to their children. I should think the loot is being fenced somewhere.


Actually, it's not just cherries. Fruit thieves go after everywhere whatever produce is in season-strawberries in spring, watermelons and melons of various other kinds in early summer, pears in early autumn, and apples and grapes in mid-autumn. That's really a big problem for all farmers.

In watermelon country in Kagoshima Prefecture, some farmers have erected watch towers in the middle of their vast fields to successfully reduce the losses.


Dazai also says in ``Oto'': ``You string the cherries together by their stems, and they'll look like a coral necklace.''

His sensitive depiction of the beauty of the fruit enhances the pain he felt in his heart-as a father who thought fondly about his children and pretended he got no pleasure from eating the cherries.


Shortly after writing this story, Dazai killed himself. It was in June, and cherries were in season.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 26(IHT/Asahi: June 27,2003)

Iraqi needs for aid should first be determined

Just like U.S. President George W. Bush maneuvering for re-election, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's primary concern is to get himself re-elected as president of the Liberal Democratic Party. After months of devoting his energies to that end, he plans to do even more.



Considering the fact that Koizumi's term as LDP chief runs out soon, I think it is only natural for him to step up his efforts.

Nevertheless, I find it incomprehensible that he proposed a bill to help with Iraq's postwar reconstruction when the current Diet session's scheduled close was near. The bill provides for the dispatch of members of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq as part of Japanese contributions. But it does not make clear why the dispatch of SDF units is needed. A question arises: Koizumi may have lived up to Bush's expectations, but would the bill help with his re-election bid?


Both Japan and the United States are entering the season for increasingly intensive re-election politics. It is not that the people who attack those in power for their mistakes dislike power. The public will have to keep careful watch to determine what is the truth.


A collection of aphorisms by novelist Shugoro Yamamoto can be found in a Shincho paperback ``Nakigoto wa iwanai'' (I would not whimper). This month marks the centennial of his birth.

Aphorisms on political power from the book show that the novelist had a severe opinion of politics. The book has a subsection titled ``Omoichigai Monogatari'' (Tales of misunderstandings). In it, Yamamoto says: ``By definition, politics entail oppression, injustice and vice. Those who engage in politics, no matter how they are noble-minded and disinterested, are certain to be corrupted in time.'' In another subsection ``Hibi Heian'' (At peace every day), he writes: ``After all, politics are inseparable from vice. It has always been the case.''


Yamamoto once set forth his moralist views on literature in a lecture, according to Hotsuki Ozaki's commentary in a collection of the novelist's works, published by Shinchosha. He said: ``From the literary point of view, the important question is not what happened at the Osaka Castle on a certain day in 1600, the year when the Battle of Sekigahara was fought (a battle likened to Waterloo as its outcome established the victor, Tokugawa Ieyasu, as paramount leader of the nation), but how an apprentice boy working for a store in Osaka's Doshomachi was saddened by something that occurred on the same day. I believe focusing on the boy's sorrow is the task of literature.''

The observation is characteristic of a novelist who declined to accept all literary prizes that came his way and was nicknamed ``Kyokuken'' (perverse man) for doing so.


Diet deliberations have begun on the bill to help Iraq. I believe the lawmakers should first determine what kind of assistance is really needed by Iraqi citizens.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 25(IHT/Asahi: June 26,2003)

Miyakejima island at once serene and deadly

Last weekend, I flew over Miyakejima island in a helicopter for the first time in nearly three years. This Thursday marks the third anniversary of a series of volcanic eruptions on the island-one of the so-called Seven Islands of Izu-that eventually caused the evacuation of the entire population in September 2000.



Three years ago, I could see a long, thick train of brown smoke well before the chopper neared the island. The acrid stench of volcanic gases assailed my nostrils. Last weekend, however, there was nothing but a wisp of white smoke, and I saw it only when the helicopter hovered almost right above the crater. In fact, thick green vegetation had already sprouted on the mountainside, and the scene below even reminded me of some tourist resort around a dormant volcano.

But when the helicopter reached the east side of the island, the view changed drastically.  


All the greenery was gone. A forest of dead, brown trees stretched all the way to the coast. It was a severe, desolate world. The effects of volcanic gases were apparently still quite strong, and there was no mistaking their sharp odor when we were downwind.


As the chopper continued to circle over the island, my eyes searched for any movement below. There were several motor vehicles. Shovel cars were at work and I could see people around them, and the surf kept pounding on the shores. But the only animal I spotted was a lone black bird.


Novelist Shuichiro Tabata lived on Miyakejima island before World War II. A collection of his works, published by Toka Shobo, contains several short stories about the island. In one story titled ``Miyakejima Tsushin'' (Correspondences from Miyakejima island), Tabata writes: ``This is less of an island as such, rather it is a volcanic formation right in the middle of the sea. The 800-meter-plus Mount Oyama soars at the center of the island. The skirts of the mountain slope gently on all sides, until they drop abruptly into the sea.''

The series of eruptions in 2000 blew off the top of the mountain. Its height is said to have shrunk to 783 meters. I saw a pool of reddish brown liquid at the bottom of the crater.


On our way back, the helicopter flew near Mikurajima island. It was blanketed by lush greenery, conjuring an image of a thick carpet that nurtures life.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 24(IHT/Asahi: June 25,2003)

Being kept in the dark can still be fearful

Before the advent of electricity, darkness reigned at night. But nowadays, that rarely happens. Only on an exceptional occasion does one encounter pitch-black darkness or ``utter darkness in which someone may sneak up on you and pinch your nose,'' to quote a Japanese expression. Also, we no longer associate darkness with fear.



In an essay, folklorist Kunio Yanagita (1875-1962) wrote about how people feared darkness in the old days, quoting as proof a nursery song: ``Total strangers are dreadful/ And a dark night is fearful/ Parents and a moonlit night are always nice.'' The essay is titled ``Yami to Tsukiyo'' (Darkness and moonlight nights). The author goes on to give a historical account of efforts made to brighten dark nights.


Is there an instrument for measuring the degree of darkness? Imagine darkness as zero on a scale. It wouldn't take more than a moment to realize that a scale on which lightness grows after zero would be all that is conceivable. A scale with opposite notches would be inconceivable.

Giving expression to the depth of darkness, therefore, may be the role of literature. Let me quote a passage describing the underground darkness from Hikaru Okuizumi's novel, ``Shin Chitei Ryoko'' (New subterranean trip), being serialized in The Asahi Shimbun.


The passage goes: ``The darkness may be likened to a drop of pitch that is extracted by crushing tens of thousands of tons of coal at a single stroke. It is darkness in which just being in there makes you feel as if your body were blackened to the bones. So, when it comes to fear bred by that darkness, it cannot be an ordinary sort of dread.''

The novelist let his imagination run to depict darkness beyond ``zero.''


My thoughts then sped to ``gama'' in Okinawa Prefecture, to a natural cave which was used as a shelter in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Memorial services were held Monday for those who fell in the only ground war Japan experienced on its soil during World War II.

The darkness of the cave is compounded by collective suicides and other tragedies suffered by local residents who were drawn into the ground war. The abysmal depth of darkness makes a stunning contrast with the brightness of Okinawa's sky and sea.


Sunday was the summer solstice. To mark the day, illuminations were put out on well-known structures and the public was urged to turn off lights in a concerted campaign that was carried out across the country. The campaign was a humble expression of soul-searching by all of us who are enjoying too much light in our daily lives.

A haiku poem by Kinsha Yagi seems quite relevant to quote here: ``Tonight, even the winds that/ Blow through the darkness are visible/ Thanks to you, flying fireflies.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 23(IHT/Asahi: June 24,2003)

Reflections on Hibiya Park's crane fountain

Anyone who has happened to read Kaoru Maruyama's prewar poem ``Funsui'' (Fountain) can't help but be impressed. It reads:

``Just when the crane was about to take off/ Drops of welling-up water pierced its throat/ Since then, with its beak turned skyward/ The bird has been wondering/ What caused its head to be positioned that way.''


 「鶴は飛ばうとした瞬間、こみ上げてくる水の珠に喉をつらぬかれてしまつた。以来仰向いたまま、なんのためにかうなつたのだ? と考へてゐる」。

The poem is said to have been inspired by a bronze statue of a crane shooting water skyward from the tip of its beak in a pond in Tokyo's Hibiya Park.

Maruyama belonged to the Shiki (Four Seasons) group of poets. He composed the Funsui work because he was intrigued by the bronze bird's water-squirting prowess.

Novelist Nobuo Ozawa, who studied writing under Maruyama, wrote an interesting memoir. Sometime after the end of World War II, he took Maruyama to Hibiya Park, saying the bronze crane was still there.


The crane was squirting water as before, but the poet's comment was not what Ozawa had expected.

Maruyama said: ``This crane isn't the same one as before. The one I saw before was more ferocious and powerful. It shot up water as if to pierce the heavens.''


Ozawa was disappointed, but he later learned his master had been correct. The crane lost its bronze pedestal to a wartime metal-collection campaign to help with munitions production and was made to stand on a stone pedestal. ``The eyes of the poet did not tolerate the slight difference,'' Ozawa writes in a book published by Shichosha as part of a paperback series on contemporary poetry.


Hibiya Park marks its centenary this month. The first Western-style park in Japan, it was designed by Seiroku Honda, a doctor of forestry.

Honda's autobiography tells of the reaction to his initial plans. ``My blueprints came severe attack in the (Tokyo) City Council,'' he recalls in ``Honda Seiroku Taiken 85-nen'' (Seiroku Honda's 85 years of experience). ``Council members asked, `Why is it that we don't see doors at the park's gates?' Doorless gates would do in the West, they said, but in Japan, it would be an open invitation for thieves to steal flowers and trees at night,'' he continues in the book published by Dai-Nippon Yubenkai Kodansha. ``They also charged that a pond created in the park could become a popular spot for suicide.''


On Sunday June 15, I went to the pond in the park. The crane and its pedestal seemed like testimony to the wretched times they went through, prompting me to pray that the flow of water running through them would not be brought to a halt again, as during World War II.

Then, I spotted a frog the size of my little finger in the bush on the shore, apparently set to cross the sea of wet fallen leaves.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 16(IHT/Asahi: June 23,2003)

Even smelly old mold can be a blessing

Here's a riddle. ``What living thing is neither animal nor plant, but is very familiar to you?'' The answer: mold.

You could also say mushroom, which, although a fungus, is a kind of mold. But for better or for worse, mold is a closer presence to most of us.



In academic jargon, mold is ``Eumycetes'' or ``true fungi.'' Including mushrooms, there are said to be 60,000 to 70,000 kinds of mold. Since mold thrives in muggy heat, Japan during the tsuyu rainy season provides a perfect environment. For us humans, however, this is an unpleasant season spent battling mold in our homes.


Mold's sole job is to decompose organic matter and literally feed on it. It has an amazing vitality, not to mention its superb adaptability to the present age. It can grow on plastics, and even sneak into computers.


Two years ago, it was discovered that an extremely valuable national treasure-the mural of the Takamatsuzuka Tumulus in the village of Asuka in Nara Prefecure-was threatened by mold damage. The government put together a team of experts to deal with this.

Wherever there is dampness, mold grows. A national treasure is no exception. The experts announced their emergency countermeasure Thursday. They are going to protect the mural from rain water seeping in, which is actually the most obvious thing to do. The experts said they would continue to explore further measures.


Some people automatically judge things in terms of good and bad. But unwelcome as mold is, it is not fair to regard all fungi as bad. While there are types that cause damage to national treasures or ruin people's health, there are also yeast fungi that are indispensable to making bread, sake, beer, wine and whisky. The same applies to shoyu and miso bean paste, too.


``The Japanese excel over all other people around the world in their skillful use of, and coexistence with, mold,'' asserts mold expert Makoto Miyaji in his book ``Kabi Hakase Funtoki'' (Strivings of a mold expert) published by Kodansha. And a haiku by Kikuko Sudo goes: ``There is beauty/ In the pale green of koji yeast.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 20(IHT/Asahi: June 21,2003)

What is role of post-Cold War secret agent?

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, I had the opportunity to sit through a recruitment session held by the Central Intelligence Agency for students considering a career in the intelligence community. This session was in Washington D.C.

Using a booklet titled ``Challenges for a changing world,'' the CIA explained to the students that a meaningful career lay ahead for the chosen few.



``Only CIA,'' the booklet says: ``Where else could you be the first person on earth to see photos taken from space of a secret terrorist base? ... Where else could you apply your computer science and engineering skills to protecting information that will end up on the desk of the president?...''


It was at a time when the CIA was searching for answers to such questions as what to do about secret agents made redundant by the end of the Cold War and the role the intelligence community should be playing. The Sept. 11 attacks changed everything. U.S. President George W. Bush is said to value CIA information most highly and expects to be briefed at a moment's notice. And the CIA, now back in the saddle again, fully reciprocates the president's trust.


It is no surprise that suspicions have now arisen over the possible tampering with intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Collusion is suspected between politicians who wanted convenient information and the intelligence community that sought quick recognition.


I thought about the mission of secret agents as I watched the movie ``Spy Sorge'' now being shown. Director Masahiro Shinoda notes in his book ``Watashi ga Ikita Futatsu no Nihon'' (The two Japans I lived in), published by Gogatsu Syoboh, that were agent Richard Sorge and his contemporaries transported in time to our present era, what they did would probably fit within the realm of journalism. And Shinoda says that had the pre-World War II Japanese leaders closely examined the intelligence so expertly analyzed by those spies, Japan probably would not have gone to war.


Sorge himself says in the book ``Zoruge no Mita Nihon'' (The Japan that Sorge saw), published by Misuzu Shobo, that had he lived in a time of peace, he probably would have been an academic. At least, he stresses, he would never have been an intelligence agent.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 19(IHT/Asahi: June 20,2003)

A gray mood reigns under gray skies

Perhaps I had subconsciously expected to see something like it on my way to the station-a Japanese stewartia tree, sprouting a number of smallish white flowers, standing in a thicket in front of a house. It was as if the tree, about three meters tall and known as natsu tsubaki (summer camellia) in Japanese, had been waiting to catch my attention.

There is a mysterious softness about five-petaled natsu tsubaki flowers. To say they are soft to the touch is inadequate. The softness is of an ineffable nature, but there is more to it than that.



The tableau the tree made-humble white flowers spread out under the cloudy sky of the rainy season-was pleasing to the eye.

The resident of the house, with whom I talked briefly, referred to the tree as sara no ki, another name by which natsu tsubaki is known in Japan. It was so named because it resembles the sal tree of Indian origin. The ``sara'' sound had an exotic ring to it, a ring that seemed to lure me to a faraway world.


A tall sara tree stands on the grounds of the Ougai Memorial Hongo Library, a Bunkyo Ward institution in Tokyo's Sendagi area. The library was built on the site where Mori Ogai (1862-1922), one of the greatest of modern Japanese writers, used to live.

One of the poems Ogai wrote is titled ``Sara no ki.'' It goes: ``A white flower fell softly/ On a brown stone from Nebukawa/ It was one of the sara flowers/ Screened from view by the green leaves.'' (Nebukawa is the name of a place in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture.)


For some time, the weather has been rainy, thanks to a front hovering near Honshu, the largest of the main Japanese islands. This is a phenomenon routinely expected at this time of year, but one succumbs to its depressive effect if it continues too long. For those looking for relief, let me quote a tale about a couple eating loquats, or biwa in Japanese, when the sun breaks through the clouds.

An account of this episode, involving novelist Taijun Takeda (1912-1976) and his wife Yuriko (1925-1993), occurs in ``Kotoba no Shokutaku'' (a banquet of words), a collection of essays on food by Yuriko.


A beefeater, the novelist was not a man who often chose to eat fruit. So, it came as a bit of surprise to Yuriko to find her husband sitting at the opposite side of the table as she prepared to eat some loquats. The novelist's fingers were shaking a little as he pushed two loquats into his toothless mouth. For the man, it was a struggle to eat them. He had to move them around in his mouth. Then, he said: ``Just now I wanted to eat something that would taste this way. I didn't know what it was, and that put me ill at ease. I had no idea that loquats would fill the bill.''

During the rainy season, lack of certainty is not confined to whether the sky will clear or remain overcast. One also cannot tell clearly whether it is hot or cold. The loquat-eating story conveys the mood of ambiguity that prevails at this time of year.


A haiku poem about the rainy season by Kineo Fukuda is fitting to quote now: ``There are a few raindrops/ Remaining on natsu tsubaki.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 18 (IHT/Asahi: June 19,2003)

Will the `Trinity Reform' reach shore safely?

``Sanmi-ittai no kaikaku,'' which translates literally as ``the Trinity reform,'' is an expression we keep hearing and reading about lately, but I can't quite get used to it.



Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi positions this reform within his much-touted program of structural reforms. The expression itself was first used in the ``big-boned program'' that was endorsed by his Cabinet a year ago. Koizumi says he will decide on the specifics of the reform before the end of this month.

The three elements that form this particular ``trinity'' are (1) cuts in central government subsidies to local governments, (2) transfer of tax revenue sources from the central government to local governments, and (3) re-examination of local tax allocation. Koizumi intends to proceed with these three reforms as a package.


I can well appreciate that. The nation certainly needs to rethink the relationship between the central and local governments. In fact, it is about time.

However, I still get odd feelings about this expression, especially because it is uttered so frequently in the hotbed of power struggles, plotting and conniving that is the political community.


The Trinity is central to Christian dogma. According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the concept of the Trinity is defined as ``the central Christian dogma that the One God exists in Three Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and one substance. ... The Persons differ only in origin, in that the Father is ungenerated, the Son is generated by the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.''

I understand that early in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Masanao Nakamura translated the Trinity as ``Sanmi-ittai'' in his translation of John Stuart Mill's ``On Liberty.'' Over time, ``Sanmi-ittai'' came into wider usage in the secular sense-that is, as in ``trinity,'' which means the condition of being three or threefold or a set of three persons or things that form a unit.


But I also assume the word's wider usage owed to the Japanese predilection for the number three (san). The Chinese character for san is composed of a stack of three horizontal strokes. Visually, it looks more balanced or dignified than the single-stroke ichi (one) and the two-stroke ni (two), and concise and crisp than the more cluttered-looking shi (four) or go (five).

Also, the number three is apparently a convenient unit for grouping things or people. There are such words as ``san-yaku'' (the top three posts or triumvirate), ``san-pitsu'' (the three great calligraphers), ``san-ketsu'' (the three heroes), ``san-zan'' (the three great mountains), ``san-kei'' (the three most outstanding scenic spots) and ``san-kan'' (triple crown).


As the current Diet session enters its latter stages, the political community faces the highly controversial bill to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq and the likelihood of a Cabinet reshuffle.

Buffeted by such waves, I wonder if the ship ``Trinity Reform'' will safely reach the shore.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 17(IHT/Asahi: June 18,2003)

Gregory Peck shone on and off the screen

It had often been said that actor Gregory Peck embodied the American sense of justice and conscience.

That sense of elegance and capacity for tolerance that he exuded are virtues that seem to be on the way out in the United States. All one hears now from that country, it sometimes seems, is a chorus of vociferous calls for justice.



In Japan, Peck may be chiefly remembered as the American News Service reporter who escorted Audrey Hepburn in ``Roman Holiday'' (1953). In America, however, he is probably best known for playing the lawyer Atticus Finch in ``To Kill a Mockingbird'' (1962).


This film was released when the civil rights movement was gathering momentum. Peck's performance as Finch fighting discrimination against blacks made a lasting impression on Americans. Peck always said he thought that role best suited his abilities, elaborating in an interview, ``It was easy to do. It was just like putting on a comfortable, well-worn suit of clothes.''


Peck was a liberal activist in real life. A staunch advocate of nuclear disarmament, he said in an interview, ``It is the No. 1 priority in my life.'' On another occasion, he said, ``I have spoken against bigotry and discrimination of any kind.'' For these remarks, he was blacklisted by the Nixon administration.


Peck also advocated gun control. That he starred in ``The Big Country,'' a 1958 Western in which guns were rarely used, no doubt reflected his personal belief. Ironically, Charlton Heston, who also appeared in the movie, later became the chief opponent of gun control as president of the National Rifle Association.


In an interview with a U.S. newspaper six years ago, Peck, listening to his favorite song by Bob Dylan, said, ``It seems to be there is more anger in the world.'' Certainly, I have the feeling that the world is now full of naked anger, not the quietly controlled anger that he embodied.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 14(IHT/Asahi: June 17,2003)

`African Eve' would shed tears if she knew

Perhaps our ancestors did indeed originate in Africa. The recent discovery in Ethiopia of Homo sapiens fossils, believed to be about 160,000 years old, is said to provide strong proof to corroborate the ``Out of Africa'' theory.



There have been many twists and turns in the scientific quest to determine the origin of mankind. There was a time when researchers were satisfied with the simple explanation that some species of apes ``branched out'' into hominids and eventually evolved into modern humans. This theory, however, was invalidated by later research.


From evidence accrued over the years, more than 10 species of so-called archaic humans are known to have evolved from apes. Among them was a species of Homo sapiens that originated in Africa and came to populate the entire world over time, while other species such as Neanderthals and Peking Man became extinct.

But widely accepted as this theory has become, it still lacked material evidence until those 160,000-year-old fossils were discovered in Ethiopia. The discovery, it appears, has provided the hitherto missing piece of the puzzle.


Another theory, propounded 15 years ago, took many people by surprise. It held that all modern humans are descendants of just one African woman. Tracked down by the latest molecular genetics research, she was named ``Eve.''

Although more recent study findings suggest that modern humans are descended from a small group of ancestors rather than just one parent, the ``African Eve'' theory continues to appeal to our imagination.


Whether or not we all share the same single ancestor, some people say it is actually much more of a miracle that the 6 billion-plus people in the world today all belong to the same species. Some day, a new species of humans may emerge. Or are they already among us? Perhaps such an idea better belongs in science fiction.


Even though all humans are miraculously of the same species, fighting and killing never cease in our world. Were African Eve watching over us now, her tears would never dry.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 13(IHT/Asahi: June 14,2003)

Let's dispatch real baseball players to Iraq

In 1990, a suggestion was made to Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu as he agonized over the role Japan should play in the Persian Gulf War.

It came from American writer Robert Whiting, best known for his studies of comparative culture on the theme of Japanese and American baseball. Whiting suggested that since it was constitutionally impractical for Japan to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to the Gulf-no matter how much the United States wished for it-Japan might send pro ballplayers instead.



``Since Japan's professional baseball players train so rigorously, they must be in far better shape than any foreign troops,'' he wrote in ``Baseball Junkie,'' the Japanese translation of which was published by The Asahi Shimbun.

Whiting named slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara, among others, for their outstanding stamina.


Visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage used a baseball analogy Tuesday in asking for Japan's contribution to the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.

Noting Japan paid ``a huge amount of money'' to help coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War, Armitage said what Japan did then was something similar to ``paying to watch a baseball game on the side of the stands.''

With the Iraqi reconstruction, however, Armitage said, ``I'm hoping that (Japan) will decide to get out of the stands and onto the playing field.''


Since we are into baseball talk now, why don't we counter-propose to Washington that we will dispatch real ballplayers to Iraq and teach the sport to Iraqi children? Since Japanese personnel are supposed to work only in ``non-combatant areas'' anyway, there is no need to send SDF personnel, is there?

The only problem is, Hanshin Tigers fans would be up in arms against the idea. Their team-perennial losers-are having an incredibly great season.


As for the whereabouts of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction-the removal of which was the stated justification for attacking Iraq-suspicions are mounting that the U.S. and British leaders were manipulating intelligence through fabrication and exaggeration.

In the first place, that war could very well be likened to a powerful professional baseball team clobbering a sandlot team. If there was foul play at the very start, this ought to be an outright case of a forfeited game.


Unlike baseball, however, there can be no rematch for war. War leaves nothing but scars that will never be erased.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 12(IHT/Asahi: June 13,2003)

Does religion work as catalyst for prosperity?

People in Europe, who now seem to put in fewer hours at work, are simultaneously becoming religiously detached, a trend that endorses a theory advanced by German sociologist Max Weber about a century ago. An article to this effect appeared in a U.S. newspaper the other day.



Protestants, who lived stoically in the belief that their diligence and thrift were in accordance with God's will, were the force behind the rise of capitalism. To state matters quite simply, this was what Weber set out to prove in his book, ``The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.''


The article cites statistics to show that while religious detachment and reduced work hours are the order of the day in Protestant countries in Europe, such as Germany and the Netherlands, it is not the case with the United States where Protestants also are in the majority. Based on this contrast, the author looks for the causes behind the widening economic gaps between America and Europe.

I was intrigued by the idea of linking religion and economics, even though the author seemed to be jumping to conclusions.


Why did capitalism develop in Japan when it was not a Protestant country? While this is a matter of endless debate, I would suggest that the life of Eiichi Shibusawa (1840-1931), an entrepreneur and business leader known as the the ``father of Japanese capitalism'' offers some clues.

An avid reader of ``The Analects of Confucius'' throughout his life, Shibusawa said he would run a company solely on the basis of the Chinese sage's teachings. In a popularity vote by readers of The Asahi Shimbun some years ago, he ranked third after Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., and Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda Motor Co. Readers were asked to pick their favorites from among Japan's business class over the past 1,000 years. So, Shibusawa still commands respect and adoration.


He called for a morality-backed economy and advocated efforts to end kanson minpi (putting government above people) thinking. He founded Japan's first bank, Daiichi Kokuritsu Ginko (first national bank). He would have been saddened beyond description to learn of the magnitude of problems now plaguing Japanese banks.


Incidentally, Daiichi Kokuritsu Ginko came into being on June 11, 130 years ago.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 11

Don't stop the train bound for the future

I watched South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun's televised speech before the Diet on Monday. Roh began by stressing he was born and raised in Pusan, a port city just a short ferry ride from western Japan. This jogged my memory of a certain Kim-san, whom I had met in 1988 in Pusan's former ``Japan town.''



An administrative scrivener by profession, Kim-san was fluent in ``soro-bun''-an old, highly stylized form of Japanese reserved for letter-writing. ``People still ask me to draw up letters in Japanese,'' he told me. ``I went by the Japanese surname of Kanemoto during the Japanese occupation.''


Kim-san invited me into his house and recounted to me in great detail how Pusan had changed over the past half century. But he never said a negative thing about Japan, which actually weighed heavily on my conscience for years to come from that summer day just before the 1988 Seoul Olympics.


President Roh said recently: ``It is unfortunate that emotional remarks about the past are uttered from time to time, abruptly stopping the `train of South Korea-Japan relations' that usually runs smoothly on schedule. Ideally, this train ought to run without interruption.''

I could not agree more. In his Diet speech, Roh spoke of a ``train journey'' of the future.


``My dream is that Japan's young people would board a train in Tokyo for their school trip and go all the way to Beijing via Pusan and Seoul,'' he said. ``This dream should not take forever to come true.''

But I am not sure if I share Roh's optimism, when I think of one particular nation that lies just north of Seoul.


Roh also called for a brighter future for posterity, citing the old Japanese proverb of ``children grow up watching their parents' backs''-which means the older generation must set a good example for the younger generation. This made me look for some equally inspiring Korean saying in ``Kankoku no Koji Kotowaza Jiten'' (Lexicon of South Korean folklore and proverbs, published by Kadokawa Shoten).

I found one: ``Steel can be polished into a needle.'' It means even the most difficult task can be accomplished through continued effort. I wondered if this is the hope reflected in Roh's vision of the ``train.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 10

Streetcars evoke a more modest way of life

A train is like a boat ``floating'' on rails, swaying gently as passengers board or disembark at the station-like a boat rocking at a pier.



Imagine a train with many coaches running on overhead power and a subway train as large boats, then a streetcar would be a small boat.

June 10 is romen densha day (streetcar day), with the ``six'' and ``10'' pronounced ro and ten or den, respectively in Japanese. The day was so designated at a ``streetcar summit.''

The first summit meeting of leaders of municipalities with streetcar services was held in Sapporo 10 years ago. The venue has since shifted to Hiroshima, Okayama and Toyohashi in Aichi Prefecture, and Kumamoto, among other places. Municipalities in 16 prefectural entities have streetcar services.


In Tokyo, the Arakawa Line is the capital's last remaining streetcar line. I took it recently, for the first time in many years, after hearing about the beautiful displays of roses along the tracks.

The coach was pretty crowded. Most of the passengers were elderly people and women out on shopping trips, generating a peculiarly ``homey'' atmosphere that put me at ease-much like when one's nerves are soothed in the company of common people on a small ferryboat journey.


Years ago, I witnessed an incident at Waseda Station, terminal of the Arakawa Line, that touched me greatly. An elderly person stumbled and fell as he tried to board a streetcar. The accident left him with scratches on his face. A woman helped him to his feet. Once aboard the car, she sat next to the aged person. In addition, the kind passenger went to the trouble of getting off with him at his stop and escorted him hand-in-hand to his home, located some distance away. As she got off, she told the driver, ``I'm OK. Today, I'm taking the day off.''


Over a 10-year period starting in 1965, streetcar lines shut down one after the other to make way for growing motor traffic. What happened at that time was not merely the loss of a means of transportation. A settled way of life, derived from living within one's means, was lost.


In some municipalities, rails were paved over, instead of being removed. I wonder if there are rails below the busy streets that are waiting for the day to keep ``boats afloat'' again.


This thought occurred to me as I watched roses of all colors that paraded outside the streetcar windows.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 8(IHT/Asahi: June 10,2003)

Testimony on war's brutal contradictions

``I never liked the United States or its people ... but I have become very pro-U.S. soldiers (since Iraq),'' writes Asahi Shimbun reporter Tsuyoshi Nojima in the postscript of his book ``Iraku Senso Jugun-ki'' (An account by an Iraq war correspondent) published by The Asahi Shimbun. Nojima was embedded with a U.S. Marine unit.



Nojima found he could not justify the war in any sense. Instead, he developed strong bonds with his American ``comrades-in-arms.'' They were his reliable allies and protectors from harm. Throughout this bonding experience, he nevertheless kept his focus on the brutalities of war.


The case of Marine Staff Sgt. James W. Cawley was a sad one. Nojima was particularly close to him. One day, Cawley asked Nojima to send an e-mail message to his Japanese wife in America. ``I am well, so don't worry,'' was all he wanted to say.

Cawley died the following day, run over by a vehicle being driven by a fellow Marine. A few hours after Cawley's death, his wife responded by e-mail, ``I am relieved to know you are safe.''


This episode ran in The Asahi Shimbun, and Nojima recalls it as giving him such a jolt that he was distraught in a way he had never before experienced.

Many journalists filed their Iraq stories from the battlefield.

Even though most stories were necessarily written from the U.S. and British military perspective, every account served as valuable testimony of what this war was really about. Nojima's account is no exception.


``I just cannot reconcile the reality of the battlefield with the reasoned logic of diplomats,'' observes Nojima. ``Nor can I reconcile, even to this day, the intrinsic goodness of those American soldiers with my other image of them as cogs in the machinery for legalized murder that is war.''


As Nojima has seen, war is full of brutal contradictions.

In Japan, the Diet is passing a new set of laws Friday to prepare the country for a military attack.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 6(IHT/Asahi: June 7,2003)

It's wrong to gripe about taste of tap water

I tried ``water tasting'' the other day. There were three kinds of water to sample and compare-regular tap water, purified tap water and bottled mineral water-at a public event organized by the Tokyo metropolitan government's Bureau of Waterworks.



I wrote what I thought on a slip of paper and gave it to a Tokyo government official, who looked a bit disappointed when he saw my all-too-predictable verdict-that the bottled mineral water tasted best and regular tap water worst.


``I guess that's that,'' he remarked unhappily. But his colleague was telling another taster, ``You cannot really tell any difference (between tap water and mineral water) if you chill it.''

I imagine the purpose of this water tasting was to remind Tokyoites that their tap water is not as terrible as everybody claims, although my verdict was to the contrary. In hindsight, however, I know it could have swung either way.


One in five people in today's world is said to have no access to safe water. A project has been conceived to reduce this ratio by about half by 2015, and an action plan to that end was adopted at the Group of Eight summit in Evian, France.


Compared with other nations of the world, Japan is extraordinarily lucky where water is concerned. Japanese are probably being spoiled rotten to complain about the bad taste of tap water.

But since water is deeply linked to life, I would like to think there is nothing wrong with wanting tastier water.


The ancient Greek philosopher Thales explained nature or the ``primary principle'' in terms of water. He claimed all things came into being from water and returned ultimately to their original material-water.

``Water'' was the first word uttered by Helen Keller, who was born blind and deaf. She ``discovered'' the world through water.

Water is indispensable and its existence is profoundly important.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 5(IHT/Asahi: June 6,2003)

Is Aqaba a symbolic `signpost' to history?

Aqaba. This place name has a special ring to it, probably because of a movie I saw a long time ago. I am talking about ``Lawrence of Arabia,'' film director David Lean's 1962 masterpiece. After anguished deliberation, the protagonist, played by Peter O'Toole, murmurs, ``Aqaba,'' signaling a decision he has reached.



The movie portrays the life of British army officer Thomas Edward Lawrence, who helped to engineer an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Lawrence's decision to mount a ground attack on the military port of Aqaba held by Turkish forces proved to be a turning point in the rebellion. But the plan meant the rebels would have to cross the vast desert that stretched behind Aqaba.

The desert trek was viewed as reckless. As feared, the insurgents encountered numerous heart-rendingly difficulties.


The capture of Aqaba by the Lawrence-led rebels is said to have dramatically tipped the balance of power in the Middle East war theater. Perhaps mindful of the feat, U.S. President George W. Bush arranged talks on Wednesday between the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Aqaba, now a tourist resort in Jordan, to discuss his road map for peace.


While pondering the coincidence, I recalled the trackless path followed by Lawrence and his men in the movie. During the desert trek toward Aqaba, Lawrence proposes to retrace his steps to look for a missing man. Evidently, the rescue mission is too risky for the exhausted insurgents to undertake. Yet, he sets off, shaking off restraining hands and saying, ``Nothing is written.'' Decades after I saw the film, this observation still vividly haunts me.


What Lawrence meant to say was that ``there is no such thing as destiny.'' His strong resolve to map out his life on his own made a lasting impression on me.


The Bush-proposed road map for Middle East peace consists of a rough sketch of progress to be made until 2005. But the difficulties awaiting its implementation will be as arduous as the scenes that Lawrence and his men encountered in their desert trek.

It remains to be seen whether Aqaba will repeat its role as a ``signpost to history.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 4(IHT/Asahi: June 5,2003)

A politician offends low-key patriotism

A cynic may define patriotism as ``believing completely in the superiority of one's nation simply because one happens to be a native of it.'' But the love of one's country could also be much more modest or understated, such as in the case of people who just want to believe their nation isn't much worse than others.



Even for Japanese citizens who do not support the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, it is only natural that they hope he won't make a fool of himself at the Evian Summit, because he is representing Japan after all. But this sentiment must not deter anyone from critically assessing the prime minister's performance at the summit.


With the international community now being jarred by discord, the summit leaders seem to be trying so hard to impress themselves upon one another. But Koizumi appears to be behaving all right. Or at least he has not done anything to offend low-key ``patriotism.''


On the home front, meantime, a high-profile politician provoked outrage by stating that Koreans themselves had asked to use Japanese names during Japan's colonial rule. This politician's remark could not have formed a sharper contrast with the summit spirit, which is to patch up shaky relations of cooperation and try to rebuild them in good faith for the future.


I just saw an exhibition called ``Waza no Bi'' (Beauty of artistic craft), which is being held at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district until June 8. (This exhibition will tour the nation later.) Organized to commemorate 50 years of ``Dento Kogei-ten'' (traditional arts and crafts exhibitions), the event reminded me of the diversity and beauty of Japanese arts and crafts. Their understated beauty, made possible by the most sophisticated craftsmanship, satisfied my sense of low-key patriotism.


Whenever I hear political comments fanning nationalistic feelings or listen to arguments on ``patriotism'' in connection with the fundamental education law, I become convinced of this: If ``patriotism'' has to be taught, then it would be far more effective to expose Japanese children to the beauty of their nation's cultural tradition.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 3(IHT/Asahi: June 4,2003)

Good and evil are not easily distinguishable

After touring the former Nazi death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, U.S. President George W. Bush said, ``These sites are a sobering reminder of the power of evil and the need for people to resist evil.''



Seeing evidence of the ultimate evil committed there would cause a solemn feeling in anyone, and Bush may have made the remark just to express his sentiment. Even so, one senses a streak in common with his peculiar dualistic views. The issue of ``right and wrong'' and ``good and evil'' is quite complex. It is never easy to distinguish between them.


In a note for a collection of masterly essays on evil, novelist Taeko Kono, who edited the volume, published by Sakuhinsha as part of an essay series, writes: ``One thing is certain about evil: Something done in the belief that it is the right thing often turns into an act of evil.''

The late novelist Shusaku Endo wrote an essay titled ``Akuma ni Tsuite no Noto'' (A note on Satan), in which he quoted French writer Andre Gide as saying: ``You cannot serve God without faith, but you can be a pawn of Satan without believing in it.''


Rudolf Hess, commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, ends his memoir (translated into Japanese as part of a paperback library on academic subjects, published by Kodansha) with these words: ``People will see me as a blood-thirsty beast and a brutal sadist. They will never understand that I was a human being with a heart, not a bad man.''


I toured the two concentration camps in February. It was in the middle of a severe winter. At Birkenau, clusters of temporary housing stretched away in the vast snowfield. The place was practically deserted. I heard no sound. As I looked ahead, I noticed a deer watching me. Then I saw another one, presumably a mate, standing by.


The sight of the animals, which seemed like the only signs of life in the desolate world of death, gave me a slight sense of relief.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 2(IHT/Asahi: June 3,2003)

Signs rife that the pendulum is swinging back

It's that time of the month again, to present some recent quotable quotes.

Essayist Pak Kyong Nam, a second-generation Korean resident in Japan, has been a target of verbal abuse since North Korea admitted last year that its agents had kidnapped Japanese citizens. Referring to the stream of vicious unsolicited comments made by vengeful Japanese on her Web site, Pak said, ``I really wanted to get away from Japan. There are growing moves toward exclusionist nationalism, which seeks to expel anyone who is different.''



In a comment on bills to prepare Japan for a military emergency, which now await action by the Upper House, former South Korean Deputy Prime Minister Kwon O Kie said, ``When a major problem occurs, the Japanese often find it difficult to keep cool heads, and rapidly the tide of public opinion starts running in one direction. The typical Japanese reaction to a problem causes concern among its neighboring countries.''

Speaking of trends generated by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, professor Carol Gluck of Columbia University said the United States has become a country dominated by a primitive form of fascism that swept through Japan and Germany in the 1930s. ``Now that the war in Iraq has ended, Americans should engage in free debate, freeing themselves from fetters and self-restraint.''


Translator Kayoko Ikeda believes that before meeting their deaths, the World War II victims envisioned a better world for the next generation to live in. Based on this belief, she said, ``Our Constitution is a gift from those who intently listened to the wishes of the war dead for a better world after the war came to an end. In other words, we are the children of dreams. The deceased counted on us to translate their dreams into reality.''


``I learned how to use Japanese from the youthful pursuit of composing tanka poems, and I learned how to move my body from dancing lessons I took as a little girl,'' recalled sociologist Kazuko Tsurumi of her recuperation process after a stroke. ``These skills pulled me back from the brink of death.''


When asked about America's seeming inability to find Osama bin Laden, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered a mundane explanation: ``It's a very difficult thing to do. It's a big world.''

Commenting on how he discovered a new vitamin for the first time in 55 years, Takaoki Kasahara said, ``At first, I was disappointed because the fish I caught was not a (prized) sea bream. But a jewel came out from what appeared to be cheap fish.''


Dr. Morris Goodman, a molecular anthropologist at Wayne State University, said, ``We humans appear as only slightly remodeled chimpanzee-like apes.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 30(IHT/Asahi: May 31,2003)

Summits an opportunity to clear the waters

Built 300 years ago, St. Petersburg in Russia is a city of rivers and channels, for which it is sometimes called the ``Venice of the North.'' Some people, however, are more inclined to think of it as the city of gloom depicted by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky in ``Crime and Punishment.''



The novel is set in the mid-19th century when a population explosion set urbanization in motion. Dostoyevsky writes: ``Closeness, crowds, scaffolding, with lime and brick and dust everywhere, and that special summer stench ... it all jarred instantly and unpleasantly on the young man's nerves.'' This young man is Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, the protagonist of ``Crime and Punishment.''

The city was graced with many magnificent bronze statues, but it also was teeming with the chronically poor.


The late Taku Egawa, a scholar of Russian literature, notes in his book ``Nazotoki `Tsumi to Batsu''' (Solving the mystery of ``Crime and Punishment''), published by Shinchosha, that water figures prominently in this novel. ``Until the very end, water continues to entice as well as repulse the protagonist,'' Egawa observes.


World leaders are gathering in St. Petersburg at the end of this month to celebrate the city's anniversary of its founding. Perhaps the leaders will only see the city's beauty and grandeur.


They will then move on to Evian, France, for the Evian Summit. This scenic spa resort, famous for its fine spring water, sits by the lake Leman. As usual, the summit site will be held under very tight security.


The last time the eyes of the world were on Evian was back in 1961, when peace talks began there over the Algerian War of Independence. The talks culminated in the signing of the Evian Accords the following spring, which liberated Algeria from French rule.


Even though both St. Petersburg and Evian are closely associated with water, I don't think the summit leaders should gloss over their recent disagreement on the wisdom of attacking Iraq-as if it was water under the bridge.

I wonder if they will be able to envision a new world order of collaboration amid confrontation.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 29(IHT/Asahi: May 30,2003)

Shaped by quakes: the Japanese worldview

There's no getting used to earthquakes. With a sense of dread, the body instinctively goes rigid, no matter how many times you experience them. For several seconds, a thought grips you: Human beings are powerless against a quake. You can't say, ``Wait a minute.'' There's no choice for us but to let it do as it pleases.

The temblor that hit the Tohoku region Monday was felt for quite a long time in Tokyo. The way it shook the nation's capital made me think that it might have been a strong earthquake.



A major quake that occurred in the center of the Sea of Japan about noon on the same day 20 years ago caused a tsunami. The tidal waves that shortly hit the coast took a heavy death toll. Among the victims were 13 elementary school children on an excursion from the mountains. They were swept away while eating lunch on the beach. The tragedy illustrated afresh the dreadfulness of a tsunami and the importance of issuing prompt tsunami warnings after a quake.


Another strong temblor occurred off Miyagi Prefecture shortly past 5 p.m. in June 25 years ago. Many of the victims were crushed under toppling walls of concrete blocks. Of the 28 deceased, 13 died in this fashion. Mindful of the lesson, people afterward checked that their walls were stable or rebuilt them.


In ancient times, people referred to earthquakes as nai. The modern equivalent, jishin, an imported term, appears in Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), the nation's oldest ``authentic,'' or imperially commissioned, history book.

While there are various theories about the meaning of the word nai, the prevalent view is that it stands for the earth or the ground. To be precise, nai furu, or ``the shaking of the ground,'' was the term used by the ancients to mean earthquake.


To the ancients, nothing was more terrifying than an earthquake-a natural reaction to the fact that Japan has been rocked almost incessantly from the very beginning. It almost seems as if the worldview of the Japanese, characterized by ``resignation'' or a ``let things take their course'' attitude, was fomented not by Buddhism but by the onset of nai, a dreadful yet unstoppable phenomenon.

But the sacrifices exacted by quakes have not been entirely in vain, despite the sense of impotence that has plagued us. Little by little, we have learned how to cope with them.


For now, the earthquake that struck the Tohoku region seems to have done relatively little damage. A misstep in coping with a natural phenomenon always carries the risk of leading to disastrous consequences. Authorities must be on guard against neglecting to nip a mistake in the bud.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 28(IHT/Asahi: May 29,2003)
Summits a chance for leaders to tackle SARS

I was taken aback when China coined a new translation for ``superspreaders'' of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. The new word uses the Chinese ideographs for ``poison'' and ``king.'' This seems to be in currency in Taiwan, too, although less commonly. Taiwan has also a new coinage of ``superspreaders.''■《天声人語》


There are still many unknowns about SARS, and the role of superspreaders is one. A superspreader is an infected individual who appears to be far more contagious than the average SARS patient. Wherever a superspreader goes, he or she instigates a major outbreak. A superspreader is believed to be severely infected, but why he or she is more contagious than others remains a mystery. A superspreader is presumed to be responsible for the revival of SARS in Canada, where the disease had been declared under control earlier.


This atypical pneumonia has spread across national borders. The primary cause of infection has yet to be determined. Since the virus has been discovered in racoon dogs and civet cats that are sold for meat, some scientists suspect the disease could have spread from animals to humans.


Amplified rumors, too, spread quickly and widely. When one kind of food was said to work, people rushed to buy it. There will always be merchants ready to capitalize on people's anxieties. Furthermore, people in Hong Kong became very interested in certain food items unique to Japan, when it was noted that Japanese people in general seemed to be immune to the disease.


The impact of SARS can be felt across a broad spectrum, and international politics is no exception. A string of summit meetings gets under way from the end of this month. Chinese President Hu Jintao is making his debut on the diplomatic stage. But it could be ruined if the leaders of other nations are scared or reluctant to shake one another's hands. A British newspaper recently reported that the Chinese government will make sure Hu and his entourage undergo rigorous health checks and be thoroughly quarantined at every airport of call.


I hope the summit leaders seriously tackle ways to fight the mysterious SARS virus.


-The Asahi Shimbun, May 27(IHT/Asahi: May 28,2003)
Highest peaks beckon as a defiance of gravity

When someone lives to the age of 70, people celebrate. That is because, as Chinese poet Tu Fu (712-770) said, ``Few have lived that long since ancient times.'' Some twist the expression to say, ``Many live that long now.''



The recent feat of 70-year-old adventure skier Yuichiro Miura, however, is definitely not something that can be easily done-to become the oldest person in the world to scale Mount Everest.

Though Miura had considerable help from Sherpas, only a man of steely will and matching physical prowess could have achieved the mission. It strikes me that his age worked not as an impediment but rather an aid to his quest.


Why do we grow weak with age? The face I see in the mirror, with a hint of flabbiness around the cheeks, reminds me of Sir Isaac Newton, who formulated the laws of gravity.

British alpinist George Mallory, explaining his motivation for scaling Mount Everest, famously said, ``Because it is there.'' That was what came to mind when I heard the news of Miura's feat. Looking into the mirror, I murmur, ``Because gravity is at work here.''


Gravity is the force that constantly pulls all living things toward the center of the Earth. There is a Japanese expression that aptly describes the birth of a baby as umare ochiru-literally ``tumbling to birth,'' like something that comes into being while falling.

Gravity is at work on each cell. Living things contend with its pull by renewing their cells. I suspect that this marathon struggle is what causes things to age.

This view, of course, lacks any scientific foundation.


Even so, I think Mallory's famous remark had something to do with the existence of terrestrial gravitation. It may be said that being constantly subjected to the downward force of gravity tempts humans to explore the farthest places from the center of the Earth.


Mallory died in 1924 as he was climbing Everest. It was not until May 1953 that Sir Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay made history by conquering the summit.

Half a century later, the slopes of the mountain were congested with 50-odd climbers, each waiting for their turn to make the final ascent to the highest peak in the world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 24(IHT/Asahi: May 27,2003)

'Never give up' has new sense for Matsunami

Judging from a haiku poem by Mantaro Kubota (1889-1963), the playwright-novelist was evidently intrigued to find on a visit to a sumo arena that the covers of floor cushions for wrestlers awaiting their turn on the dohyo were different from ones he had seen before. The poem goes: ``It is the summer tournament/ That is why the cushions for wrestlers/ Have covers of pale blue.''

As in Kubota's days, the present 15-day sumo tourney that ends Sunday at the Kokugikan sumo arena in Tokyo is known as the summer tournament. I went Tuesday, for the first time in two years, for the 10th day of the tournament. The buzz over the over-the-top fighting spirit displayed by grand champion Asashoryu the previous day seemed to linger in the air.

I seated myself in a chair in the upper gallery. From that vantage, I could clearly see that the ring was perfectly circular. I noticed that about half of the spectators around me were non-Japanese. From where they watched, the wrestlers battling it out on the dohyo were distant figures, like actors in a drama being performed at the bottom of an amphitheater. Yet, they kept watching intently.




On the lower floors, many seats were unoccupied except for the sections that offered a good view of the dohyo. This was the case even with the first-floor tatami sections where spectators sit with their legs tucked underneath. These sections are partitioned by wooden bars, as in the old days. Naturally, unoccupied chairs were also conspicuous on the second floor.

To reverse the trend, the Japan sumo association has revised its marketing policy. The change concerns tickets to seats in the tatami sections, which can be hard to come by because of a time-honored custom that allows the sumo chaya (sumo restaurants) catering to sumo fans to buy them up. Now, tickets to some of the prized seats are available at the box office.

The association acted too late to institute the reform. It will need to take other steps, like lowering ticket prices. Otherwise, the downturn in the number of visitors and revenue may continue.


This brings me to one of the odd events marring the ``May session'' of the Diet. Kenshiro Matsunami, a Lower House member of Hoshu Shinto (New Conservative Party), has said, ``I believe that the spirit of never giving up is an element of sportsmanship.'' This was his reply when asked how he would define sportsmanship during Lower House ethics panel questioning over suspicions his aides' salaries were paid by a gangster-related company.

His response surely would qualify him as a candidate for the ``technical merit'' award for a sumo wrestler. But simple justice dictates that no one can equate ``Never give up'' to ``I won't quit.''

Matsunami said, ``I intend to let a vote of confidence decide my fate by running in the next (Lower House) election.'' Doesn't he realize he has already lost the confidence of voters? This is another odd thing.


At Kokugikan sumo arena, I enjoyed the sense of being in touch with the real thing, even though the upper gallery from where I watched was far removed from the ring. Among other things, I was impressed with the large floor cushions for the wrestlers waiting by the dohyo as well as the vivid colors and sheen of the wrestlers' loincloths, and the loud slaps they made as they struck their bodies in self- exhortation. There was something moving about the sight of thoroughly trained men clashing in the ring-men dressed in nothing but loincloths.


At one point, Matsunami also said, ``I admit that acting with good grace may be another element of sportsmanship.'' Yes, that is what he should do now. I think now is the time for him to remove his clothes like a sumo wrestler and start training again.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 23(IHT/Asahi: May 24,2003)

Were Jomon and Yayoi two separate periods?

If people who lived around the seventh century B.C. could miraculously be brought back to life, they would complain: ``We have always thought that now is the Jomon period. We didn't know it is now the Yayoi period.''

An archaeological study reported Monday was of a nature that may make it necessary to reassess when the Yayoi period started, apparently several centuries earlier. Better still, a review of the line drawn between the Yayoi period and the earlier Jomon period seems to be in order.



To be sure, there are key differences between Jomon culture and Yayoi culture. But the actual shift from one period to another could not possibly have taken place on a certain date, as was the case with the birth of the present Heisei Era from the Showa Era in 1989 on the death of the emperor. It would be natural to assume there was a long transitional period in between, a period during which the Jomon and Yayoi cultures existed side by side.


During my school days, I was taught an easy way to distinguish between the two periods. Primitive Jomon people lived by hunting and gathering daily necessities, while Yayoi people, who developed a lifestyle close to that of people of much later periods, cultivated rice fields and lived in communities. Let me quickly add that perceptions about the Jomon period are currently undergoing marked change because excavations at ruins in recent years have yielded a succession of finds attesting to an advanced civilization.


Let us imagine what things were like when cutting-edge culture, in such forms as metal products and rice cultivation techniques, began flowing into the Jomon world from the Asian continent and the Korean Peninsula. Conceivably, the picture was one of confusion: friction as imported culture clashed with indigenous culture, the intermingling of the two cultures, power struggles between rival groups, and their reconciliation. Actually, there is evidence that bloodshed occurred in some cases. On the other hand, it would appear many people formed relationships across race lines. When I think about this period of great change, a variety of imaginable episodes like those mentioned above come to mind.


In time, with rice paddies spread across the country, Yayoi culture seems to have triumphed, reinforcing the generally accepted theory that rice fields and farming villages form the basis of Japanese culture. But vestiges of Jomon culture also remain intact, and theories about Japanese culture that attach importance to farming villages are being challenged from various quarters.


Historical studies keep changing, energized by the need to mirror the times. That is what makes history interesting.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 21(IHT/Asahi: May 22,2003)

Deflation debilitates the entire economy

Falling prices are a blessing to consumers. But if prices keep falling over a prolonged period, you have deflation, and this is unhealthy for the economy.

An inflationary economy, on the other hand, may be likened to a patient running a high fever. There are various cures for it. But deflation is like a chronic illness caused by unhealthy habits, and it is not easy to treat.



The patient tends to fall into a vicious circle. He stops exercising because he doesn't feel well. Lack of exercise diminishes his appetite, and this enervates him further.

In other words, deflation is not just about falling prices. It causes wages to drop, diminishes consumer spending, forces businesses to downscale, and ultimately debilitates the entire economy.


When you look at busy shopping and entertainment districts teeming with people, it is hard to get any real sense of the illness from which the Japanese economy is suffering. But there are other things that seem unreal. I, for one, find it hard to imagine this small island nation as the second largest economy in the world.


In the immediate aftermath of defeat in World War II, many Japanese referred to their nation as a ``30th-class nation'' in self-mockery. Gen. Douglas MacArthur likened Japan to a 12-year-old adolescent.

From that time, it appears Japan has raced frantically through its youth and prime of life, only to find itself prematurely old today. Japan was obviously a lad who was prone to age rapidly. I doubt its present illness was caused only by the excesses it indulged in during the bubble years.


Some economists point out that Japan today is racing a lap or two ahead of other industrialized nations. The rest of the developed world will eventually ``catch up'' with Japan's illness, they say.

During a recent meeting of finance ministers in France, Japan was told to step up deflation countermeasures. If these fellow ministers are coldly watching the front-runner running out of gas, that is not exactly nice of them. But then, only Japan can fix its own problem.


The government has decided to bail out Resona Holdings Inc. The name derives from the Latin for ``resonate.'' I wonder how the Japanese economy is going to react to the effective nationalization of this financial institution.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 20(IHT/Asahi: May 21,2003)


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