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投稿者 クエスチョン 日時 2004 年 7 月 21 日 22:30:48: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



`Everyone's trying to scare one another off'

Below are some quotable quotes for March.

Greek-born mezzo soprano Agnes Baltsa said of a Greek folk song she sang: ``Historically, Greece was constantly invaded and turned into a battlefield. The human grief born of such a history forms the undercurrent of this song.''



Poet Hiromi Ito, who has been living in the United States for eight years, noted: ``I realized that the more fascinated I became with my garden, the more homesick I grew for Japan. I still can't quite get used to the names of flowers in English. When I think of the Japanese names of flowers like miyakowasure (aster), jinchoge (sweet-smelling daphne), kodemari (spirea) and hanazuo (Japanese redbud), I see and smell dampness in their colors and fragrances, and sense their shadowiness even in sunlight. I suppose it's their names in Japanese that make me feel these things.''


Novelist Michiko Ishimure: ``All the way back from the primitive age, from before dinosaurs ever walked our planet, the soil in the ground has always worked wonders in the most mysterious ways to nurture and sustain life on our entire planet. ... I would just love to tell this sort of thing to little kids, making them scoop a fistful of dirt in their little hands.''


Cultural anthropologist Jiro Kawakita: ``Gosh, the world is becoming `one' amazingly quickly today, isn't it? But here's what I think: The more obvious this trend gets, the more important it becomes for people from different regions or nations to be themselves and accept their differences. I just detest people who are so childishly arrogant as to think their culture is so superior to everyone else's and it doesn't matter if they ruin other people's lives. If the U.S. government can't see this, we've got a problem.''


A recently released CD is a rock-and-rap rendition of the preamble to the Constitution as written by Japanese junior and senior high school kids. One version goes: ``Who are we protecting? ... Who are we protecting them from? I don't see any fun when everyone's trying to scare one another off.''

 中高生たちが書いた「憲法前文」を、ラップやロックで歌うCDには「だれをまもるの? だれからまもるの? ……みんなでおどしあっててもたのしくないでしょ」

Photographer Shinya Fujiwara keeps traveling. He said: ``Life is a pilgrimage. But where is the destination you have in mind right now?''


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 30(IHT/Asahi: March 31,2004) (03/31)
The revolving door tragedy at Roppongi Hills

In the game of skipping a rope, the trick is to know when to dash for the revolving rope. Similarly, timing can be everything when stepping into a large automatic revolving door.

You may recall the sensation when you faced the revolving rope. Stepping on to a boat can produce the same sensation.



So, what happens if one ``fails'' to step into a revolving door properly? Until a 6-year-old boy was killed in the Roppongi Hills complex in Tokyo on Friday, it had never occurred to me that a revolving door would be responsible for a child's death.

Because the boy's head was caught in a large revolving door, it was probably squeezed with far greater force than we imagine.

The manufacturer of the door as well as those who administered the Mori Tower where it was installed should have known what would happen in the set of circumstances that came into play last week.

Worse still, Friday's tragic accident seems to have been preceded by frequent minor mishaps. Why weren't proper countermeasures taken promptly?


The term ``entrance technology'' refers to efforts to design suitable entrances to buildings. A suitable entrance is particularly important for a building open to large numbers of people.


To be sure, the automatic revolving door, which opens and closes at the same time, may be a convenient device for everyone. While revolving, it lets people in and out anytime.

In addition, it keeps buildings airtight and thus diminishes the inflow of air from the outside. But the space between the door and the doorpost became a death trap for the 6-year-old victim in the Roppongi Hills accident.


In one of the works of American novelist Stephen King, I came across a strange scene in which a door stood on a sand beach, with no building in sight. It was a door leading to another world.

I took it as King's way of showing the door's dual function of linking the inside with the outside and keeping them separate at the same time.


The 6-year-old may have rushed for the revolving door, taking it for a door leading to another world of entertainment.

In his wildest dreams, he would not have expected it to be a door separating life from death.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 29(IHT/Asahi: March 30,2004) (03/30)
The Dutch spirit of openness and tolerance

Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, who died on March 20 at the age of 94, was known as an unassuming monarch who sometimes went to a supermarket on a bicycle. Her life of almost a century made me think of her nation's somewhat turbulent history.



Her mother, Queen Wilhelmina, was forced to flee to London when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. But from her place of exile, she continued to broadcast radio messages to her people. Among the audience was a young Jewish girl named Anne Frank, author of the all-too-famous diary she kept at her hideaway in Amsterdam.

According to the Japanese edition of ``The Diary of a Young Girl'' published by Bungei Shunju, Anne wrote with hope on May 11, 1944, that her ``dear queen'' had promised a ``swift deliverance'' for her people upon her return.


The Netherlands is a country with many faces. There are those picture-postcard scenes of windmills, tulips and canals. As a conqueror of the oceans, the nation was early to establish a long relationship with Japan. In art, the Dutch produced such great masters as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh. The philosopher Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza is also Dutch.


The legend of the ghost ship Flying Dutchman, as immortalized by Richard Wagner's opera of that title, perhaps hints at the nation's less fortunate history. The legend is about a ship condemned to sail the seas for eternity in punishment for having cursed God. The history of the Netherlands is that of a nation surrounded by big world powers and constantly caught in their struggle for supremacy.


Anne Frank repeatedly expressed her love for the Netherlands and its people even while she was being persecuted. With the exception of the Nazi era, the Dutch were indeed always open to people seeking refuge in their land.


The current Dutch government, which has sent troops to Iraq, appears to be moving toward a tougher immigration policy against would-be refugees.

One just hopes from afar that the Dutch people would abide by their truly laudable, traditional spirit of openness and tolerance.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 25(IHT/Asahi: March 29,2004) (03/29)
Power of a song born out of Okinawa's lament

In 1967, when liberal scholar Ryokichi Minobe was elected Tokyo governor, pop songs such as ``Buru Shato'' (Blue castle), ``Kaettekita Yopparai'' (The drunk who came back from the heaven) and ``Sekai wa Futari no Tameni'' (The world exists for us lovers) were on the hit charts.

The song ``Satokibi-batake'' (Sugarcane field) was also born that year.

Written and composed by Naohiko Terashima, who passed away Tuesday, it was inspired by a trip he took to an old battlefield in Okinawa Prefecture. This song was not sung widely back then, though.



It has since been immortalized by singer Ryoko Moriyama. However, Moriyama recalled in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun two years ago, ``It was the first song that made me acutely aware of my own limitations as a singer.''

Having grown up steeped in music of practically every genre, she was confident enough of her ability to sing anything. But ``Satokibi-batake'' was entirely different. It was years before she could feel even remotely capable of interpreting and expressing the depth behind the song's haunting refrain-zawawa zawawa-an onomatopoeia for the rustling of sugarcanes in the wind.

 森山良子さんは一昨年、「自分の歌唱の非力さを痛感させられた初めての曲だった」と、本紙で述懐している。幼いころから様々な音楽に接していたから、どんな曲でも歌える少しの自信があった。しかし「ざわわ ざわわ」の奥に広がる深い空間の中で立ち往生して何年も過ぎた。

There were times when she wanted to give up, telling herself she could not possibly sing about a war she had not experienced. Yet, she somehow held on.

And then, something suddenly clicked about 10 years ago. She might not have gotten there, she said in the Asahi interview, had it not been for the fact that every time she performed in concert, someone from the audience invariably requested the song.


With Japan's defeat in World War II only a matter of time in 1945, Okinawa was being transformed into a bloody battlefield. Civilians were driven to mass suicide on some of Okinawa's islands.

In the three months or so that it took the Imperial Japanese Army to be wiped out, an estimated 200,000 Japanese and Americans were killed, of whom about 94,000 were believed to be innocent Okinawan civilians.


Terashima visited a former battleground for the first time in 1964. A local resident told him, ``The remains of unknown victims are buried right where you are standing.'' The shock of this revelation found a creative expression in the haunting refrain of his song.


Terashima's funeral was to be held March 26. On this day in 1945, American troops landed on Okinawa's Kerama Islands and the Battle of Okinawa began.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 26(IHT/Asahi: March 27,2004) (03/27)
Lessons for Bush in Benjamin Franklin's ideas

Benjamin Franklin, who helped draft the American Declaration of Independence, at one time felt queasy about catching fish.

``I considered the taking of every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder,'' he wrote in his autobiography. (A Japanese translation is available as an Iwanami paperback.)



He had stopped eating animal protein. But he changed his mind after realizing that ``when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs.'' ``Then thought I,'' he went on, ``if you eat one another, I don't see why we may not eat you.''

In conclusion, Franklin said, ``So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.''


More than two centuries since then, the times and the world have greatly changed. But I have a strong feeling that Franklin's view of human nature eerily applies to President George W. Bush's actions.


Unable to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush shifted to the argument that overthrowing Saddam Hussein's repressive regime was an achievement of great significance in itself.

In a further shift of positions, he cast doubt on the intelligence he had before waging war in Iraq. But the findings of an intelligence review that has been ordered are not expected to be released until next year-that is, until long after the U.S. presidential election in November.


In my opinion, the review should cover not just how intelligence was collected and how the intelligence agencies operated but also how the decision to go to war was made on the basis of intelligence available.

``I came, I saw, I conquered.'' Julius Caesar is said to have made this remark in his triumphant battlefield reports to Rome. ``I received intelligence reports, I studied them, and I gave the green light'' may well have been the case with Bush. Was it out of the question for him to decide against going to war after weighing the intelligence reports?


Another memorable observation can be found in Franklin's autobiography: ``There never was a good war and a bad peace.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 22(IHT/Asahi: March 26,2004) (03/26)
Mideast conflict may be turning insoluble

``Got him!'' With those words, Jerusalem Newswire, an Israeli online news source, reported the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

The statement quickly brought to mind what the top U.S. official in Iraq had said in announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deposed Iraqi president.



British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned the slaying as ``unlawful and unacceptable.'' But the Israeli Web site countered by pointing out that Britain had tried last year to assassinate Saddam.

If Israel argues that it is just waging a war on terror ``like you,'' the U.S. and British governments would be hard-pressed for a reply.


No matter how one looks at it, we can expect an extreme deterioration of the Middle East situation to be the consequence of the Yassin assassination. Even within the Israeli government, two Cabinet ministers reportedly opposed the attack.

I wonder how ordinary Israelis view it.

``The Israeli situation is surreal,'' says Uri Avnery, one of the few peace activists in Israel.


On his Web site, he recently wrote: ``According to all opinion polls, a large part of the (Israeli) public is fed up with the war and the bloody cycle of suicide bombings and targeted assassinations. ... They want a solution and are ready to pay the necessary price. How does this translate into political realities? It doesn't (because) there is no serious political force able to offer an alternative leadership.''

Referring to the change of government in Spain after the 3/11 terrorist attacks, Avnery added: ``I hope that this will happen here, too. What has happened to Jose Maria Aznar in Spain must happen to Tony Blair and George W. Bush.''


Avnery also has repeatedly come close to being assassinated while he was a magazine publisher. Labeled ``Public Enemy No. 1,'' he was stalked by Israeli secret police. Still, he never changed his view that as a country occupying Arab lands, Israel has an obligation to take the initiative to push for peace with the Palestinians.


In a comment on the assassination of Sheik Yassin for a British newspaper, he said, ``This is worse than a crime. It is an act of stupidity.'' Expressing grave concern over its consequences, he added that the slaying moves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ``from the level of a solvable national conflict to the level of a religious conflict, which by its very nature is insoluble.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 24(IHT/Asahi: March 25,2004) (03/25)
Thank silkworms for health benefit they offer

There are few insects that people respectfully call by an honorific. I am referring to the way Japanese people call silkworms okaiko-sama.

Bestowing the honorific shows the degree of awe people have in the way the worms produce glossy silk thread. Silk has long been admired as a source of riches.



Raw silk used to be a major export item for Japan. However, with the emergence of synthetic fibers, production declined. About 50 years ago, there used to be 800,000 silkworm farmers in Japan. Now, there are fewer than 3,000. In fact, the silkworm industry appears to be hanging by a thread. Recently, though, silkworms have begun to attract renewed attention.


Cocoons that are the source of silk are made from protein that physiologically agrees with the human body. It is also believed to prevent bacteria and mold breeding and helps to prevent damage by ultraviolet rays. As a natural material, it has great potential health benefits. Already, cosmetics products that use silk protein are on the market.


Japan is also active in analyzing genetic information of the silkworm. Last month, Japanese scientists announced they had deciphered 80 percent of the silkworm genome, a world first. I am told the information will lead to the development of medicines and agricultural chemicals. The silkworm is playing the leading role in the vanguard of insect technology.


Silkworms have been used by humans for thousands of years and are no longer found in their natural habitat in Japan. Unlike honeybees, which also have a long history of co-existing with humans, silkworms have lost their ability to feed themselves or escape. They pose no risk to humans. It takes special skill to produce silk, and the silkworm is a gentle insect that makes it an ideal research subject.


They hatch, become larvae and repeatedly shed their skin before they produce thread to wrap themselves up. Silkworms not only teach us the mystery of life but also contribute to the advancement of life science.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 23(IHT/Asahi: March 24,2004)(IHT/Asahi: March 24,2004) (03/24)
Taiwan's Chen seeks society free from fear

Okinawa Prefecture's Yonagunijima is the westernmost island of Japan. The promontory at the western tip of the island is called Irisaki, a name that makes one think of the setting sun. I once stood on the point and gazed westward where the sun would set.



Small lilies were in bloom, with their petals fluttering in the sea wind that was creeping up the cliff from the Black current washing the island. I gazed at the western horizon with some intensity, but saw nothing. I didn't realize Japan was in such close proximity to Taiwan until I was told that it could be seen on a clear day.


President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan was shot Friday, the eve of the presidential election. Published photographs show Chen narrowly escaped death after being shot in the abdomen.

I felt anger on hearing the news, seeing the attempt on Chen's life as an extension of earlier violent incidents seemingly intended to cow the whole population. My sense of alarm was relieved by the calm response of Chen and Vice President Annette Lu whose right knee was grazed.


A hit-and-run traffic accident in 1985, viewed as a politically motivated act of terrorism, left Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, paralyzed from the waist down. Chen was distraught about what happened to his wife, thinking that his political activities had made her a target. But Wu reassured her husband from her bed: ``In the case of a couple participating in the democratization campaign in Taiwan, either of the partners needs to sacrifice himself or herself for the other. I will gladly stand in for you.'' (Quoted from Chen's book published by The Mainichi Shimbun with the title of ``Taiwan-no Ko,'' meaning the child of Taiwan.)


Later, Chen was convicted in a libel case and jailed. During an interview with him at the prison, Wu repeatedly fell from her chair, unable to keep it from turning under her weight. Watching his wife's forced smiles, Chen thought to himself: ``The era in which sufferings like this are exacted as the price of being political prisoners must be ended with our generation.

``My goal is to build a society free from fear, brimming with joy and hope, instead,'' Chen also wrote in the book.


The people of Taiwan, an island only a little more than 100 kilometers away from Irisaki, have reappointed him as its helmsman. I intend to keep watch on his second term as the leader of Japan's neighbor.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 21(IHT/Asahi: March 23,2004) (03/23)
When man's great invention turns lethal

The wheel is one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind, but when and where-let alone by whom-it was invented is not clear.

As a practical device, the wheel appears to date back at least 5,000 years, as evidenced by ancient Mesopotamian artifacts.



Presumably, the impetus for the wheel's invention was to make it easier to transport things. In Mesopotamia, wheeled hearses were used to carry the bodies of dead kings to their graves.

In time, the wheel was fitted to chariots, and improvements made. Spokes, it is believed, were invented as a means to increase speed by reducing the weight of the wheels.


The way the wheel works has remained essentially unchanged since ancient times. But our dependence on the wheel has only grown with the passage of time.

Modern civilization is impossible to conceive of without the wheel. Automobiles, bicycles and trains cannot operate without them. The same holds true for aircraft.

Saddled with the task of bearing the edifice of civilization, the wheel does its job with hardly a squeak.


The wheel does its job behind the scenes, usually receiving attention only when something extraordinary happens.

In January 2002, a wheel weighing about 140 kilograms flew off a trailer, hitting and killing a 29-year-old homemaker in Yokohama.

Offering an account of how the wheel turned into a lethal weapon, an eyewitness said, ``The tire flew out sideways as if nothing was attaching it to the trailer, and then I saw it rolling straight toward the woman.''


Although other accidents of this nature had happened before, the manufacturer of the trailer kept insisting improper maintenance was to blame.

Finally, the other day, the automaker reported to authorities its decision to recall the trailers, admitting that the wheel detachments were the result of faults in design and manufacture.


It takes little imagination to see how dangerous an unattached wheel becomes, especially when it starts rolling out of control.

I think the automaker that kept denying its parts were at fault was also seriously flawed in its organization.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 14(IHT/Asahi: March 22,2004) (03/22)
Combat won't win fight against terrorism

In a recent edition of Stars and Stripes, a newspaper authorized by the U.S. Department of Defense for troops abroad, a U.S. military commander in Afghanistan was quoted as saying the war on terrorism began in Afghanistan and will end there. ``Iraq was just a chapter in the book,'' he went on.



Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, ``This will be a war like none other our nation has faced.''

He added: ``Our opponent is a global network of terrorist organizations. ... Forget about `exit strategies.' We're looking at a sustained engagement that carries no deadlines.''


It looked as if the Afghan war that started in October 2001 with airstrikes by U.S. and British forces would come to an end with the fall of Kabul the following month. However, operations to mop up remnants of the Taliban regime and al-Qaida terrorists continue to date. Even after the establishment of a new Afghan administration, there still is no clearly marked ``exit.''


Stars and Stripes also carried comments by U.S. soldiers deployed in southern Afghanistan. ``Can we tell Taliban and pro-American forces apart physically? No,'' said one. ``Everyone in the country has a weapon and is not afraid to use it,'' said another.

It is not easy for the American soldiers to develop a rapport with local residents. Furthermore, it is difficult to know whether they are winning or losing, they said.


The war overthrew the Taliban regime. But it did not mean putting an end to terrorism. Rather, it marked the beginning of a truly difficult ``war.'' This ``post-Afghan war'' tells us that the ``fight'' against terrorism cannot be won through combat.


I found the following words of an American soldier, also quoted by Stars and Stripes, particularly striking: ``If we get to the children and prove to them Americans are not the evil devil,'' in 20 years, they will be terror-proof.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 19(IHT/Asahi: March 20,2004) (03/20)
Respect the right to privacy, but with proviso

``Leave me alone'' is a line that often crops up in American movies. There are Japanese equivalents of that sentiment.



U.S. lawyer Ronald B.Standler said in a thesis that the ``right to be left alone'' has a long history in the United States. According to him, it was already being mentioned in 1834 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Crisp and pithy, it has since come into common use whenever people's right to their privacy is at issue.


To be sure, our society is full of things that make people want to scream, ``Leave me alone.'' Gossip and rumor that used to be whispered only in private are now spilled by the media to an indefinite audience. Often enough, something one wants to keep to oneself becomes public knowledge.


It was only natural that former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka's daughter balked at having a story printed in a magazine about her private life. As the object of prying, she probably had no choice but to demand that the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine withhold publication of the story in question. For the Tokyo District Court, however, issuing an injunction of this nature is a truly grave matter, and the decision will be anything but easy.


Many copies of the magazine are already in circulation, not to mention the fact that most people could guess the general content of the story from the headline splashed across pre-publication advertisements.

Banning the publication is unlikely to do any good at this point. In fact, one could argue that controversy has already served to publicize the magazine. The ban will only highlight the issue of freedom of the press.


I know I should humbly heed her plea to be left alone. But the court injunction was not something I could accept without question.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 18(IHT/Asahi: March 19,2004) (03/19)
Terrorist attacks tip the scales in Spain

Anger over last week's terrorist attacks in Madrid evidently brought out massive crowds of protesters into the rain-drenched streets. Watching the scenes on television, I wondered where the fury over the train bombings that left 200 people dead would find vent next.

An estimated 11 million Spaniards reportedly participated in demonstrations and rallies across the country last Friday. The sheer number offers a measure of the intensity of their anger.



In Sunday's general elections, abusive words like ``Murderer'' and ``Liar'' were reportedly hurled against senior officials of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's party as they headed for the polls.

It appears the government and Aznar's Popular Party, which sought to pin the blame on the Basque separatist group ETA (a Spanish acronym standing for Basque Homeland and Freedom) in the absence of sufficient evidence, became the targets for the outpouring of collective rage over the train bombings.


The general elections resulted in a dramatic change of government. In an upset victory, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, which had criticized the Iraq war as ``unjust and illegal,'' won the largest number of seats in the Congress of Deputies, surpassing the Popular Party. The latter had aligned Spain with the United States and Britain over Iraq and sent troops there.

The Socialists are led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a 43-year-old lawyer.


Zapatero's grandfather, who fought on the side of republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, is said to have been executed by the forces of Gen. Francisco Franco. Reputedly, this was what made the grandson a leftist idealist. The civil war in the 1930s and Franco's long dictatorial rule that followed are still a raw chapter of history for Spaniards who experienced unspeakable hardships in those days.


The Spanish Civil War provided the setting for Ernest Hemingway's novel ``For Whom the Bell Tolls?'' The novelist fought on the side of the republican forces, too. Mourning the Americans who fell in the civil war, he said, ``For our dead are a part of the earth of Spain now and the earth of Spain can never die.'' He wished that the wishes of the dead Americans would be carried on into the future.


Zapatero may be one of those aspiring to carry on what they wanted to accomplish. During the election campaign, he appealed to voters by saying, ``My first principle is: `Thou shalt not kill.''' Naturally, he takes a highly critical view of the Iraq war.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 17(IHT/Asahi: March 18,2004) (03/18)
Praying a new path will open up for Q-chan

Until Monday, it was fun just to imagine marathoner Naoko ``Q-chan'' Takahashi running through Marathon, the birthplace of the sporting event.

In the end, though, she was not selected for the Japanese marathon squad for the Athens Olympics. This got me thinking: Had she been chosen, which of her rivals could the Japan Association of Athletics Federations (JAAF) have dropped?



Reiko Tosa? Unlikely. She won her dramatic come-back-from-behind victory in the Nagoya International Marathon last Sunday, marking the fastest time in the four qualifiers.

Naoko Sakamoto? Also unlikely. After placing third among all Japanese runners in the World Championships in Paris last August, Sakamoto won the Osaka International Marathon less than six months later.

JAAF could not have come up with any persuasive reason for denying either of them an Olympic berth.


The prerequisite for candidacy surely has to be an athlete who can win a gold medal. Realistically, though, this medal business is nothing more than wishful thinking. No athlete is ever guaranteed a gold medal ahead of a race.

In this sense, I believe the JAAF decision was appropriate and in keeping with its stated rules.


At the same time, however, I could not but feel deeply for Takahashi's disappointment at being denied a berth in Athens. It is reported that her participation in the 5,000-meter race in the 1997 World Championships at Athens led her to concentrate on marathon running.

``It would be ideal if I could complete my career or have my final run in the birthplace of marathon in the Athens Olympics, Athens being the place where I decided to become a marathoner,'' she said last autumn.


But she will not be on the starting line in Marathon on Aug, 22. Many people, however, will surely be recalling her moment of victory in Sydney when she became Japan's first female track and field athlete to bring home a gold medal. They will be recalling her running style that was delightfully rhythmic and yet serious, and her ever-friendly smile.


As I applaud Q-chan once again for all her peerless and spectacular performances, I pray a new path will open up for her.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 16(IHT/Asahi: March 17,2004) (03/17)


Seoul's `impeachment game' goes to court

A demonstration at Seoul's Yonsei University in July 1987 resulted in fatality when a participant named Lee Han Yeol was hit by a tear-gas shell. A poem by the deceased read in part: ``For democracy/ For independence/ And for the liberation of the people of this country.'' (Quoted from an Iwanami Shinsho written by Chi Myung Gwan on South Korea's road to democracy.)

The poem was symbolic of the times. One million citizens turned out to attend the ``national democratic funeral'' for the deceased.


 「民主のために、自主のために/この地の人間解放のために」。87年7月、ソウル・延世大学のデモで催涙弾の直撃を受けて死んだ李韓烈さんが残した詩の一節だ(『韓国 民主化への道』池明観・岩波新書)。彼の「民主国民葬」には100万人の市民が参集したという。

A groundswell of popular demands for democracy was sweeping through the country, eventually forcing the government of President Chun Doo Hwan to propose constitutional amendment. The revised Constitution, stipulating such changes as naming the president by direct election, was promulgated in October 1987. It is still in force.


South Korea's Constitution had previously been repeatedly amended. Most amendments were pushed through by dictatorial governments to extend their life. The amendments made in 1960 and 1987 were exceptional cases. Both reflected mounting popular demands for democracy, with President Syngman Rhee toppled in 1960. In both cases, success came at the price of bloodshed.


The South Korean National Assembly voted Friday to impeach President Roh Moo Hyun. In crises involving a president, arguments usually focus on how to apply the brakes on presidential powers. Instead, the parliament suspended Roh from office, forcing him into ``temporary retirement.''

Praising the impeachment vote, the opposition parties said they were motivated by a desire to rescue the country. They said it signified a victory for the country's parliamentary democracy. To be sure, the parliament, representing the people's wishes, seems to have dealt Roh a smart blow.


But South Korean newspapers do not take it at face value. With a general election set for April 15, newspaper editors see pre-election inter-party political strife behind the impeachment drama.

Commenting on the events that led to the impeachment vote, the Chosun Ilbo said the president and the opposition parties were engaged in an ``impeachment game,'' holding the general election hostage. The Dong-A Ilbo expressed concern by asking, ``Whom is this fight supposed to benefit?''


The Constitutional Court is now charged with the task of handling the dispute between the president and the national assembly. The court proceedings will probably lay bare the balance of power among the three branches of government more clearly than ever before.

An important by-product is expected: What South Korea's democracy and independence stand for in practical terms under the Constitution ``won'' by the people may become clear.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 13(IHT/Asahi: March 16,2004) (03/16)
Wishing age when people, animals live in peace

Copses typical of the western Tokyo region of Musashino are still intact in Inokashira Park. One of the attractions of this particular area is Inokashira Park Zoo, where Hanako the elephant arrived 50 years ago this month from Ueno Zoological Gardens in eastern Tokyo.



Born in Thailand, Hanako came to Tokyo in September 1949. The first elephant to be brought to post-World War II Japan, she was 2 years old at the time. She was put in a cage that was designed for an older and bigger elephant named Indira, who was due to arrive any time from India.

Because Hanako was small enough to squeeze through an opening in the cage, she escaped on her first night and ended up at the door of the night watchman's shed.


Relocated to Inokashira Park Zoo, she became a star. Although she caused tragic accidents in 1956 and 1960, she has survived half a century in a foreign land.


Her name recalls a wartime tragedy. According to ``Ueno Dobutsuen Hyakunen-shi'' (100-year history of Ueno zoo), the government in 1943 ordered the facility to destroy all ``ferocious animals'' in anticipation of air raids. The zoo had three elephants at the time, one of whom was also named Hanako and a gift from Thailand.

The elephants were given poisoned food, which they would not touch. But before they eventually starved themselves to death, they begged for food whenever they saw their keeper. They would fall on their forelegs and raise their trunks-tricks they had been taught-as if hoping they would be rewarded with food.


A ceremony was held recently at Inokashira Park Zoo to commemorate the current Hanako's ``golden jubilee.'' Many congratulatory messages from zoo visitors were on display.

One message said, ``Happy 100th birthday.'' This is a bit too early, I chuckled, since Hanako could not be older than about 57. But as I watched her reach out for presents of bread and bananas with her trunk, I changed my mind.

 先日、来園50年記念の会があった。入園者からの多くのお祝いのメモが張り出してある。「100才 おめでとう」。はな子は57歳ぐらいだから、やや気が早い。そう思ったが、贈られたパンやバナナに鼻を伸ばす姿を見ていて、気持ちが変わった。

When an animal such as Hanako is allowed to live long in peace, people, too, should be able to live long, peaceful lives. This may well have been the thinking of the person who wished her to survive to 100.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 12(IHT/Asahi: March 13,2004) (03/13)
Letter from prison shows there is no escape

The ``Letters to the Editor'' section of a newspaper offers glimpses of what goes on in the world. A letter in the International Herald Tribune on March 4 left me with complex feelings.

Titled ``A letter from prison'' and only 10 lines long, it pointed out an error in a story run earlier by the same paper.



Here is the entire text of the letter: ``The report `Stabilizing now, Algeria reaches out abroad,' (Feb. 18) mistakenly states that the 11 OPEC ministers were `kidnapped from a luxury hotel in Vienna' in 1975.

``In fact, we captured the ministers in conference at the extraterritorial OPEC headquarters and not at the Hilton Hotel, where they were expected for a cocktail party.''


In the attack in question, six armed men and women stormed into the OPEC headquarters, killed police and security personnel, and took Saudi Arabia's oil minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani and others hostage. The hostages were taken to Algeria, where they were eventually released.

The letter was signed by ``Carlos'' (Ilich Ramirez Sanchez), the notorious international terrorist who is presumed to have masterminded and led the assault in Vienna.


A legend in his own lifetime, Carlos-also known as Carlos the Jackal-reportedly claimed responsibility for a spate of international terrorist acts in the 1970s and '80s. As a self-proclaimed revolutionary, he advocated Palestinian liberation. Rumors abounded throughout the years he evaded capture-that he was lying low in Syria or he was being harbored by the former Hungarian regime. He was presumed dead at one time, but he was finally captured in Sudan in 1994 and extradited to France, where he is now behind bars.


His capture was not unrelated to changes taking place globally at the time. Specifically, the end of the Cold War and the progress of Mideast peace talks diminished his place in the world. By then, there were fewer nations and individuals willing to provide refuge to the terrorist who needed confrontation and conflict for his own survival.

When will terrorists realize there is really no escape? They may find their answer when they look at what has befallen the world's ``most wanted outlaw.''

 彼が捕まった背景には、世界の変化があった。冷戦の終わりと、当時進んでいた中東和平への動きだ。彼の居場所はどんどん狭くなった。対立と紛争とを糧として生き延びたテロリストをかくまう国も人も減っていった。 テロリストたちは、いつ逃げ場を失うのか。「地上最大のお尋ね者」とも称された彼の末路が一つの答えだろう。

_The Asahi Shimbun, March 7

(IHT/Asahi: March 12,2004) (03/12)
Quixotic presidential bid by scion of samurai?

Irina Hakamada, a candidate in next Sunday's Russian presidential election, likes to wear black. She calls herself ``a scion of samurai,'' and the media has labeled her the ``Samurai Lady.''

The Japanese-Russian, a reformist in Russian politics, has been running an isolated campaign amid general expectations that President Vladimir Putin will win re-election by a landslide.



Russia seems to be enveloped in an atmosphere where citizens dare not speak ill of Putin openly. But Hakamada stands out. She is a vocal critic of the government, charging that Russia has become a society that keeps itself together by falsehood and terror. She says Putin's mood determines everything the government does or fails to do.


Cynics say Hakamada is running against Putin just to give the appearance of democracy to the presidential vote. Rejecting that view, she contends her mission is to liberate ``the soul of Russia'' from the oppression of the present authoritarian rule.

In her campaign speeches, she says, ``Don't keep silent. Let us raise our voices.'' Failing to do so, she warns, could bring a return to the Soviet era.


Her father was Mutsuo Hakamada, a deceased former member of the Japanese Communist Party, who sought asylum in the Soviet Union in the days when being a member of the party was enough to earn the death penalty in Japan. She is the result of a marriage between him and a Russian woman.

An economist by origin, Hakamada became a very successful entrepreneur, and this prepared her to enter politics. She seems to venerate former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, known universally as the ``Iron Lady,'' as her role model.


Head winds seem to be blowing against reformists in Russia now. Many voters feel that reformists are to blame for the widening gap between rich and poor and deteriorating law and order. They feel Putin is the one person trying to fix these problems. They are throwing their support behind the incumbent government, feeling that now is the time to maintain strong, if somewhat repressive, leadership.


The focus now is on how many voters see things differently and whether they will cast ballots for the challenger of Japanese origin, who has been urging the electorate ``not to quench the torch of the reformist camp.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 10(IHT/Asahi: March 11,2004) (03/11)
Advice to stroke patients: Don't push yourself

Seeing a staircase ahead at a subway station, Kikuko Yamada froze. She had no idea if she was going up or down. Looking at the face of a clock, she could not tell the right side from the left and mistook 4 o'clock for 8 o'clock. And she had trouble distinguishing between the toe and heel of a shoe.



Yamada, a medical doctor, has suffered cerebral apoplexy a number of times. Drawing upon her own experiences in ``Kowareta No-Seizon Suru Chi'' (Damaged brain, intact intelligence) published by Kodansha, she observes various after-effects of this illness with clinical accuracy. The book reveals ``a world known only to people with damaged brains,'' she notes. ``I also wanted to turn my affliction into a fascinating object of scientific curiosity.''

 脳卒中をたびたび経験した医師の山田規畝子(きくこ)さんが自らの体験をつづった『壊れた脳 生存する知』(講談社)は、後遺症の症状を実に冷静に観察している。「脳が壊れた者にしかわからない世界」の記録である。「病気になったことを『科学する楽しさ』にすりかえた」ともいう。

Cerebral apoplexy is caused by the clogging or rupture of blood vessels in the brain. By no means a rare affliction, there were as many as 1.37 million stroke patients as of October, 2002. The number, in fact, makes it the fourth most common affliction in Japan, after hypertension with 6.99 million sufferers, tooth-related diseases (4.87 million) and diabetes (2.28 million).


What renders apoplexy a tough illness to treat is that one episode can trigger all sorts of after-effects. And because the brain is an extremely complex organ, the after-effects vary greatly from individual to individual, and doctors are hardly in a position to come up with an accurate prognosis for each patient.

In Yamada's case, it was her visual nerves that were affected. This caused her to repeat elementary mistakes, for which she was often humiliated-all the more so because she was a doctor herself.


Rehabilitation is really important. Yamada worked out her own regimen by trial and error. When she had to go up or down a staircase, for instance, she told herself, ``I panic because my vision is shot. But I don't have to panic if I stop looking at the steps and just trust my legs.''

She was right. Her legs remembered how to climb and descend a staircase.

She has also stopped pushing herself altogether. Being a mother, her days are busy, and people try to be supportive with encouraging words such as, ``Cheer up, just do what you can.'' But she would reply, ``I don't need to cheer up. I don't have to do anything.''


Baseball legend Shigeo Nagashima is in hospital for a stroke. He is reportedly starting his rehab program. All he needs to do is get well without pushing himself.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 9(IHT/Asahi: March 10,2004) (03/10)
Martian find may point to extraterrestrial life

Extraterrestrial life has long existed in the world of fantasy while remaining scientifically unproven.



Thus, it is heartening to learn that the Martian rover Opportunity has found evidence the planet once had water-apparently large quantities of it. The news gives me a premature sense that extraterrestrial life has moved a step closer to Earth.

I am impressed afresh by the soaring imagination of people who told stories about canals and floods on Mars, and I want to indulge my own fantasy in the world they created.


Hideo Oguma, a poet who died in 1940, left behind ``Kasei Tanken'' (Martian exploration), as a script for a comic book. Tentaro, a child from Earth, is shown around the capital of Mars, Miltis Major (a name phonetically transcribed from the Japanese original). ``Look at the splendid Martian canals.'' ``For what purpose do you use them?'' ``We have several big floods every year. We use the canals to water the cropland at such a time.'' (Quoted from the complete works of Oguma Hideo, published by Sojusha Co.)

 1940年に没した詩人、小熊秀雄は、漫画の台本「火星探険」を残した。地球の子ども、テン太郎が、火星の首都ミルチス・マヂョル市で、町を案内される。「ごらんなさい この素晴らしい火星の運河を」「この運河はなんに使ふんですか」「火星では一年に数回大洪水があるのです、その時に畑に水をやるんですよ」(『小熊秀雄全集』創樹社)

Somehow, the Martians of the capital live only on tomatoes. The Martian astronomical observatory has a telescope 1,000 times as powerful as the terrestrial one. Taking a look through it, Tentaro sees Dr. Hoshino, his father and an astronomer, busily doing calculations. Moved by the sight, he calls out to Earth.


Masaoka Shiki, a major literary figure of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), composed a poem about a star winking at him: ``Among the countless stars in the night sky/ I saw one twinkling at me.'' Taking the form of light, Tentaro's voice may have reached Earth.


The Martian rover Opportunity's probe has yielded signs that extraterrestrial life could exist. I wonder if the time will come when that translates into reality. The red planet, which is the natural station linking Earth and the cosmos, is becoming more interesting to both scientists and the fanciful.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 6(IHT/Asahi: March 9,2004) (03/09)
Cities in Japan have deprived us of darkness

With so many colors assailing our eyes today, sometimes the most stunning pictures happen to be in black and white. They mesmerize with their rich spectrum of shadows and shades, and power to speak directly to the heart.



Black-and-white pictures often lead you down memory lane, overpowering you with nostalgia. This was certainly how I felt when I went to a photo exhibition recently.

Titled ``Kindai Shashin-no Umi-no Oya'' (The fathers of contemporary photography) and featuring works by Ihei Kimura and Ken Domon, the exhibition was held at Tokyo's Yurakucho Asahi Gallery.


I was particularly impressed by pictures of children against now-forgotten backgrounds. A work by Domon, titled ``A child twirling an umbrella,'' depicted a small child playing with a traditional bamboo-and-paper umbrella-an image that made me smile and filled me with nostalgia.

Kimura's ``Koto Ward, Tokyo'' captured the atmosphere of a classic working-class neighborhood, where children hung out at the local friendly dagashiya that sold cheap sweets and toys.

The two photographers could not be more dissimilar in style, but their eyes obviously saw the same things when children were their subjects.


``Shin Kenchiku-no Mokushiroku'' (New architectural revelations), a book published by Heibonsha, contains edited works by photographer Ryuji Miyamoto, who has consistently depicted urban ruins and was awarded the Kimura Ihei Photography Prize in 1988.

``Shooting photos is about working in darkness to wed light and a photosensitizer,'' says Miyamoto, who continues to work in his darkroom to develop black-and-white pictures even in this age of highly digitalized photography. ``Light cannot exist without darkness,'' he says in stressing the importance of darkness.


Cultural anthropologist Tamotsu Aoki once echoed the same thought from the standpoint of cultural anthropology. Light symbolizes life and goodness, he pointed out, and light has always figured prominently in various festivals. But, he noted, it is darkness-the symbol of death and evil-that gives light its brilliance.

He went on to lament that cities in Japan have driven shadows away and deprived us of darkness. ``We need more darkness,'' he insisted.


In the seemingly monotonous flitting back and forth between light and darkness and black and white, we sometimes see something of infinite beauty.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 2(IHT/Asahi: March 8,2004) (03/08)

shade 1[uncount] a slightly dark area where the light from the sun does not reach because it is blocked by something:
shadow 1[count or uncount often plural] an area of darkness that is created when something blocks light: Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2002

Treatment of animals reflects human society

Commenting on the escalating avian flu scare in Kyoto Prefecture, the prefectural governor blurted out, ``We may be in for the worst consequence.'' I imagine he was only speaking his mind, but I don't think ``worst consequence'' was an appropriate comment under the circumstances. With the bird flu problem still unfolding, surely the governor should be doing everything in his power to prevent the situation from spinning out of control.



For several years, familiar animals-cattle, carp and chickens-have been contracting grave diseases or dying in great numbers. The unexpectedly high toll is also a reminder of the sheer number of animals we consume each day for food.


At a library, I went to the shelves labeled ``Domestic Animals.'' The titles of several hundred books there bore testimony to the closeness of human-animal relations.

Here are some of the titles I came across: ``Tabemono to shiteno Dobutsu tachi'' (Animals as food); ``Ushi to Nihonjin'' (Cattle and Japanese); ``Nihon Meigyu Hyakusen'' (100 best cattle breeds in Japan); ``Niwatori no Fukken'' (Reinstatement of chickens); ``Niwatori to Hito'' (Chickens and humans); ``Hokkaido Yokei Hyakunen-shi'' (100-year history of chicken farming in Hokkaido); ``Buta: Kono Yuyo na Dobutsu'' (Pig, the useful animal); and ``Ton-ko'' (Discourse on hogs).

I felt like joining my hands in prayer to thank those creatures for their services to the human race.


Chikara Sakaguchi, minister of health, labor and welfare, was quoted as telling a recent news conference, ``Ushi yara tori yara, mo kekko'' (I've had enough of cow and chicken problems).

``Mo kekko'' means ``I've had enough.'' But ``mo'' and ``kekko'' are also cow and chiken noises, respectively, in Japanese.

I could not quite tell whether this terse remark revealed Sakaguchi's honest irritation, or was his attempt at a joke. But if someone is really fed up with everything, I should think it's the cows and chickens, not the health minister.


Until recently, cattle were fed cattle meat and bone meal. Amid the avian flu outbreak in Japan and abroad, one poultry farmer kept the mass deaths of his livestock secret, and did not even bother to consult a veterinarian. Elsewhere in Japan, where bird flu contamination is not a problem, pet birds are being abandoned by their irresponsible owners.


The way people treat animals is a sad reflection of our human society.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 5(IHT/Asahi: March 6,2004) (03/06)
Man of peace sits tight worrying about Iraq

A young man in Baghdad began keeping a diary on an Internet Web site before the Iraq war started. He is still writing. His diary has attracted countless readers around the world, making him something of a Net celebrity.



He goes by the pseudonym of Salam Pax-which mean ``peace'' in Arabic and Latin, respectively. In Japan, an abridged edition of his diary was published by Sony Magazines late last year. Titled ``Salam Pax,'' it contains entries up to June 2003.


Allow me to quote from some of his more recent entries.

On Feb. 12, he wrote: ``The rift between Shia and Sunnis wasn't as big (before the war) as it is now. Iraq has become a sort of an open playground for many political and religious factions who are using Iraq as a fighting ground.''

Tuesday's terrorist attacks in the Shiite holy city of Karbala were exactly what he was dreading.


He is a close follower of the U.S. presidential election campaign. Wondering whether John Kerry ``might be able to be the superhero who will save the universe,'' he noted on Feb. 10: ``I do think Iraqis should worry about the presidential election in the United States. It is scary how much influence someone sitting so far away has over the destiny of a nation.''


Salam Pax is definitely not your run-of-the-mill peacenik. By his own admission, he is a skeptic and sometimes a shameless escapist who loves jokes and irony. He claims his world view changed when he read George Orwell's ``1984'' in middle school.


``This is my homeland and I love the people who live here,'' he wrote, adding that no argument could ever convince him of the legitimacy of this war.

Cynical and escapist as he may be, he still sits tight in his homeland.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 4(IHT/Asahi: March 5,2004) (03/05)
McNamara cheered now for anti-war stand

Colorful as always, this year's Academy Awards ceremony was uneventful. If there was something of a stir, it was caused by the nomination of Errol Morris's ``The Fog of War'' for Best Documentary.

Morris made the film on the basis of interviews over 23 hours with Robert S. McNamara, who directed the U.S. war effort in Vietnam as secretary of defense.



In his speech, Morris compared the war in Iraq to the Vietnam War and said, ``Forty years ago, this country went down a rabbit hole, and millions died. And I fear we're going down a rabbit hole once again.''


The release of the documentary film has made the 87-year-old McNamara someone to watch again. His participation in a discussion meeting last month at his alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, was viewed with particular interest. This was because Berkeley had been the center of operations for the 1968 ``student revolt.'' It was where one of the fiercest demonstrations against the Vietnam War was staged.


``We human beings killed 160 million other human beings in the 20th century,'' McNamara told his audience at Berkeley. ``Is that what we want in this century? I don't think so.''

The anti-war rhetoric was coming from a former defense chief who ran the Vietnam War, a man with a reputation of being interested only in following the commands of cold rational thinking. Hearing him talk this way, his former opponents cheered him loudly.


In the audience was McNamara's son, Craig, who had joined protests at Berkeley against the Vietnam War. To an American newspaper, he described his father as a man with a mission of confronting his ghosts. ``I think he is haunted by the war,'' he said.


In his memoirs published in 1995, NcNamara revealed that he was searching his soul about the Vietnam War. Also, during the interviews for Morris's documentary film, he reportedly discussed human fallibility, saying that human beings were made to err.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 3(IHT/Asahi: March 4,2004) (03/04)
March 1, 1954: The day the sun rose in the West

Exactly 50 years ago, a Japanese tuna fishing boat named the No. 5 Fukuryu Maru had the misfortune of being exposed to deadly fallout from an American hydrogen bomb test conducted on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The anniversary fell on March 1.



Aikichi Kuboyama, the boat's radio operator, who was the first to die of the aftereffects of the H-bomb testing, recorded in his journal what happened at the moment of detonation: ``After having breakfast, we were talking in the room for engineers. About 3:50 a.m., the round porthole shone brightly as if at sunrise. Engineer Kaneshige Takagi said, `The sun is up.' But the brilliant light came from the West.''

Kuboyama died six months after being exposed to the fallout. The account was made public as part of an article printed in the monthly magazine Chuo Koron soon after his death. The article was titled ``Zeppitsu-Shi-no Tokonite'' (A final appeal from my deathbed).

 「朝食をとり、それから機関部員室で雑談中、推定三時五十分ごろ、丸窓が日の出のように明るく輝いた。高木君は、『日が出たよ』と話しかけた。しかし輝きは西方だつた」。久保山さんは、被災から半年後に亡くなる。この文は、死後間もなく『中央公論』に「絶筆 死の床にて」と題して発表された。

About the same time, an article by the radio operator's wife, Suzu, appeared in Fujin Koron, a monthly magazine for women. In the article titled ``Please don't let my husband's death go to waste,'' she wrote: ``When I look ahead, I am utterly at a loss how to organize my life. But I can say one thing for sure: Under no circumstances should any more hydrogen bomb testing be conducted.''


In his article, the radio operator wrote: ``Let me be the last atomic or hydrogen bomb victim.'' Keeping these words in mind, Suzu devoted herself to the movement against atomic and hydrogen bombs that began to gain momentum after the Fukuryu Maru's exposure. Eventually, she earned the nickname of heiwa-no kataribe (reciter of lore for peace).


Two days before the 50th anniversary, I visited the exhibition hall for the Fukuryu Maru at the Yumenoshima waterfront complex in Tokyo. A few roses were planted in a corner. Between voyages, Aikichi avidly grew roses and other flowers at his home. When he died, it became Suzu's job to care for them.

After her death in 1993, to propagate the plants, they were divided at the roots. Offshoots of ``the rose of Aikichi and Suzu'' have found their way beyond the walls of the exhibition hall.


The roses at the hall seemed to be huddling in the cold, as the sea wind gently blew over them.

Crouching, I found a number of sprouting buds, signaling that spring is near.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 29(IHT/Asahi: March 3,2004) (03/03)
Guru's silence leaves Aum puzzle unsolved

``For what purpose does Deus-sama cause us to go through suffering like this?''

This is a question asked by a Christian in Shusaku Endo's novel ``Chinmoku'' (Silence), depicting the ruthless crackdown on Japanese Christians during the Edo Period (1603-1867). God (Deus in Portuguese) does not answer.



In a court appearance in 1999, a former member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult grilled defendant Chizuo Matsumoto, who as cult leader was known as Shoko Asahara, asking: ``If you are a person who embodies the ultimate Buddhistic ideal of deliverance from karma, you should be able to understand the agony that people feel better than anyone else. Why can't you understand the agony of those who fell victim to the actions of your group?''

The guru looked sullen and did not answer his former disciple. From that time, he did not speak in court.


God's silence is weighty and profound. On the other hand, this guru's silence is simply superficial. To all appearances, Matsumoto, unable to find words of refutation, took refuge in silence.


In Friday's court session where he was sentenced to death, Matsumoto mumbled. But he did not utter a coherent word. The judge condemned him for acts he called ``too despicable and foolish,'' but there was no indication that these words of accusation registered in Matsumoto's head even for a moment.


After decades of a blind pursuit of affluence by postwar Japan, there was a sense of hollowness in the 1980s. The Aum Shinrikyo cult tried to give young people a phony sense of fulfillment by creating a surreal world with which to fill the void of affluent society. Matsumoto is the man responsible for leading this religious group down the path of terrorism.


In Endo's novel, the protagonist, after much anguished deliberation, steps on a copper tablet engraved with a crucifix in a test to show he is not a Christian. The priest does so not because he cannot bear the torture administered to him, but as ``an act of love'' to rescue his congregation from further torture.

Matsumoto has never shown a sense of guilt. Given this, is it futile to expect that in his appellate trials, he will break his silence and offer an apology or words of contrition?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 28(IHT/Asahi: March 2,2004) (03/02)

GDP growth may not show economic reality

Poverty is a visible condition. You can see it and feel it. And it is easy to quantify. All this is particularly true of this country where most people experienced hunger after the end of World War II.



A tool used to measure poverty is Engels' coefficient, a term we do not hear often these days. It stands for the proportion of food expenses to total household spending. The higher the rate spent on food, the poorer you are. The national rate commonly exceeded 60 percent in the immediate postwar years. Since then, figures have continued falling and now stand at an average of slightly over 20 percent.


What about affluence? When we say Japan is the second-largest economy in the world, the view is primarily based on our gross domestic product (GDP), which is the world's second largest after that of the United States. In per capita terms, we slump to about the fifth among the industrially advanced countries, depending on whether the yen is strong or weak at any given time.

When the purchasing power of our currency is taken into consideration, we fall further to 10th place. This may be closer to where we really are, if we consider our gut feeling.


That the nation is a major economic power does not necessarily mean that the individuals who make it up are equally rich. Moreover, income gaps between rich and poor are seen to be widening. The number of people on welfare is nearly 1.5 times higher than it was over 10 years ago. High jobless rates have become the order of the day, and wage differentials have grown. These and other details are provided by Toshiaki Tachibanaki in ``Kakei kara miru Nihon keizai'' (The Japanese economy as viewed from household finances), a paperback published by Iwanami Shoten.


In a letter sent to the Osaka edition of The Asahi Shimbun some years ago, a 62-year-old unemployed person said, ``The Engels' coefficient for my family of three is at more than 50 percent.'' The letter dwelt on what the family was doing to trim food expenses and made an appeal to the government to call off its reported plan to lower pension benefits across the board.


Recently, the media reported that Japan had posted amazing growth in GDP growth. That may be good news, but I also think it is time to rethink the convention of measuring affluence by GDP alone.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 23(IHT/Asahi: March 1,2004) (03/01)
Moments of insight, points of departure

Some memorable quotes from the month of February:

Actress Keiko Kishi, recalling the day she ``stopped being a child'' during World War II: ``Our home was hit directly by a bomb and burst into flames. I trembled as I watched the house writhe from my perch in a pine tree. But it wasn't because I felt sorry for myself. Not at all. Rather, I understood with perfect clarity that I had stopped being a child that day. Grown-ups told us kids to run to the makeshift community air-raid shelter. But none of the kids who did as they were told survived the landslide caused by the bomb blast.''



Poet Shuntaro Tanikawa: ``Do I hate anyone? Do I discriminate against anyone? Do I try to impose my will on anyone? Each one of us should ask ourselves these questions, because these feelings lead to war. So long as we think our feelings have nothing to do with war, there will always be war.''


Commenting on the challenges of helping abused children, Yuko Saeki, a counselor at a family and child support center in the western Tokyo city of Mitaka: ``Field-workers are the first to suspect abuse. But even when they detect eight out of 10 warning signs, the case loses its urgency in the process of being reported up the administrative ladder. The key to saving abused children actually hinges on how well field-workers and other professionals can directly deal with the parties involved.''


Addressing the nation's overfed young people, Nissin Food Products President Koki Ando advises them to ``start a fire.''

``I want them to know firsthand what it was like for our primitive ancestors to start a fire by rubbing pieces of dry wood together. It took me three hours to get a fire going. My hands were covered with blisters.''


Nanako Oba, an organizer of ``natural birth'' classes for pregnant women, had this to say of the human body: ``When the body changes, the heart and the mind also change. And when your consciousness changes, your cells are transformed, too.''


Kumiko Sakamoto runs a minshuku guesthouse in Iwate Prefecture. She has no phone, so reservations must be made by mail. ``I've never been bored, not even for a day. Our guests travel long distances to come to my place, probably because we offer them something valuable-something they can't find in big cities anymore.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 27(IHT/Asahi: February 28,2004) (02/28)
Dancing to unpleasant tunes in this online age

The train I was riding one afternoon was not crowded. Nobody in the car was standing, and there must have been about 30 passengers. I looked around for a familiar face, but there was none.

It struck me that all these strangers may somehow be connected. I conjured an image: If cables of different colors were used by the various computer online services to link all their customers, that train would have been filled with their colorful, intertwining lines.



We've heard that personal information on about 4.6 million subscribers to Yahoo BB, a high-speed broadband Internet service provider, has been leaked. If all those customer details were ``the real thing''-and not faked-this is likely the biggest-ever such leak.

Let's compare that figure with census statistics: 4.6 million falls somewhere between the populations of Shizuoka Prefecture and Fukuoka Prefecture. Or look at it this way: In every train car across Japan, there is probably riding one victim whose name is in the leaked data.


The arrested suspects were reportedly in possession of an incriminating DVD-a 12-centimeter digital disc, the same size as a CD. The V stands for ``versatile.'' Someone certainly knew how to take advantage of the gadget's versatility.


The suspects used the classic extortion technique of threatening to release the company's internal data publicly. However, their crime could not be more modern. The ``weapon'' was that little disc with masses of personal information, easy to spread instantaneously through the Internet. People in this digitally connected era are always afraid of something like this happening, and the suspects thus used the anxiety to extort the company.

Great must be the anger and fear of the victims, whose personal details were stolen without their knowledge.


It is still not clear how and where the information was lifted. I assume the service provider was not completely unprotected from outside hackers. But while the outer walls may have been high, thick and impenetrable, the question is what went on inside.


Now that total strangers are linked by their invisible connections, they can be made to dance the cancan without their knowledge. Ours is a convenient era, but the dance could also turn quite unpleasant.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 26(IHT/Asahi: February 27,2004) (02/27)
How does Kofi Annan define multilateralism?

``Japan is at something of a crossroads,'' United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a speech at the U.N. University in Tokyo in November 1999. ``The choices made in the next few years by the Japanese people-about their global and regional profile, security policy and presence in the United Nations-will affect other people throughout the world.''



On Tuesday, about five years since then, Annan addressed the Diet, becoming the first U.N. secretary-general to do so.

``You are well aware that I come before you at a decisive moment,'' he said. After warning his audience in this way, he made his points by alternating between frank and circumlocutory rhetoric.


The U.N. chief addressed the Diet members as ``steadfast believers in multilateralism.''

More than a few lawmakers must have looked at each other and wondered, ``Does he mean us?''

How did that description sound to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi? I am curious because he has been fending off opposition questions by juggling two stands-cooperating with the United Nations and acting like a U.S. ally.


Annan's 1999 speech was also mainly about multilateralism, the principle of getting along with many countries. ``Japan is strongly committed to multilateralism and has made the United Nations a central pillar of its foreign policy,'' he said then. By reiterating the point later in the speech, he emphasized how much he valued Japan's approach.

References to multilateralism in the Diet speech should not be taken as sarcasm or as a compliment. Annan is probably convinced that Japan's commitment to multilateralism is for real.


In 1999, the U.N. chief said, ``When we start talking of military action, it is in many respects a sign of the failure of diplomacy.'' In contrast, he asked Tuesday: ``When is the use of force permissible-and who should authorize it? Does it have to be each state for itself, or will we be safer working together?''

These questions seemed to imply Annan's criticism of and self-examination over the failure of diplomatic efforts that resulted in the U.S-led attack on Iraq.

 「軍事行動を語り始めるときは、外交の失敗のサインだ」。当時そう語ったアナン氏が、今回は「いつ武力の行使が認められるのか、そして誰が承認するのか? 各国が独自に行うのか、それとも共に行う方が安全か?」と問いかけた。イラク戦争に至った「外交の失敗」への批判と反省とがうかがえた。

In welcoming Japan's willingness to play a role in Iraq, he said, ``You have pledged to contribute generously to reconstruction. And after a difficult debate, you have dispatched the Self-Defense Forces to Samawah to help with reconstruction and humanitarian assistance.''

Annan ended his Diet address without directly commenting on the path taken by Japan after reaching ``something of a crossroads'' five years ago.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 25(IHT/Asahi: February 26,2004) (02/26)
Marathon man's quest for gold in Athens

Paul Tergat was born in an arid region of Kenya in 1969. He had 16 siblings. His childhood memories have almost entirely to do with hunger. Every night, his mother tried to make her children forget hunger by singing them to sleep.



In 1977, the World Food Program of the United Nations began serving free lunches at the elementary school Tergat was attending.

``We were really excited to get a free hot meal,'' he recalled. ``We were served with maize and beans. At the time, we could not find this kind of food at home.

``The food game me a lot of strength and willpower,'' he continued. ``Without the school lunch, I don't know if I would have achieved what I have achieved.''


In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Tergat won the silver medal in the men's 10,000-meter race. He went on to win the Berlin Marathon last year, breaking the 2 hours and 5 minutes barrier to rewrite the world record. He has already earned a berth in the Kenyan squad for the Athens Games.


Last month, the WFP named Tergat ``ambassador against hunger.'' The appointment enables him to give something back to the community. ``This program has helped many children develop a focus in their lives,'' he noted. ``A meal a day really helps them to keep that focus. In Kenya, a child will get a hot and nutritious meal at a cost of only 9 U.S. cents.''


In collaboration with the Kenyan government, the WFP has maintained the free school lunch program for four decades. Despite funding shortages, the program continues to feed about 16 million children each year. But even this number is a mere 5 percent of the estimated 300 million starving children around the world.


In fulfilling his duties as ambassador against hunger, Tergat can inspire everyone by simply recounting his life story. And as a marathoner, he is scheduled to compete in the London Marathon in April and then go on to aim for an Olympic gold in Athens this summer.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 24(IHT/Asahi: February 25,2004) (02/25)
Utter lack of equity in Austrian inferno verdict

At 155, the death toll from the November 2000 alpine cable-car inferno in Austria was the country's worst peacetime disaster. Even so, all 16 defendants were acquitted. For the victims, it was their grievous misfortune to take a cable car that was quickly engulfed by fire in a tunnel soon after its departure.



I feel there is a vast gap between the gravity of the accident and last Thursday's verdict. I find it difficult to understand how the judge reached his conclusions. I am also at a loss to reconcile the gulf of darkness separating the ruling from my own sense of justice.


It is said that when the accident occurred, the safety of cable cars in Austria was covered by legal provisions requiring danger-prevention measures, but they were of a general nature, and no legal provisions requiring specific safety measures in case of fire were in place.

The judge said the fire resulted from a series of unfortunate coincidences. Coincidence! The elusiveness of the word makes me feel impatient at my inability to clear the hurdle in my thinking.


To quote from a British newspaper, the judge said, ``I'm sure that this verdict will not be agreed by all and will be heavily criticized.'' He added, ``We did everything to find the truth, and it isn't a defeat for the relatives but it's a complete acquittal of the accused.''

There is no denying that I suffer from a sense of defeat, not knowing where to vent my anger at the verdict. For the moment, I plan to watch the proceedings at the appellate court.


Hearing of the accident, the families of the Japanese victims hurriedly left for Austria. I remember that a picture postcard was delivered to one of the vacated homes. The card from Nao Deguchi, a junior high school second-grader, read: ``Are you all right, mother and brother? Aren't you lonely? Everyday here is very fulfilling. I make many new discoveries, so I am enjoying the trip very much. I am writing a travel journal. Look forward to reading it when I return home.''

 事故の直後、急報を受けて現地へ向かう家族と入れ替わりに留守宅に届いた絵はがきを思い出した。「おかーさん おにーさん 元気? 二人でさみしくない? 奈央は毎日とてーも充実した日々を送ってるざんす/新しい発見が多くてすごく楽しいです。今、旅日記つけてるので楽しみにしてて下さい」

The girl died in the inferno with her father. The picture postcard was postmarked two days before the disaster.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 21(IHT/Asahi: February 24,2004) (02/24)
Cold War agent who didn't call himself a spy

In a eulogy of former Polish Army officer Ryszard Kuklinski, the United States' director of central intelligence called him a passionate, brave man whose efforts ``helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot.'' In his speech, George Tenet called Kuklinski ``a true hero of the Cold War to whom we all owe an everlasting debt of gratitude.''

Kuklinski, who was reputedly America's most important Cold War spy, died on Feb. 10 at age 73. In his native country, opinions were divided over whether he was a traitor or a patriot.



From 1972 to 1981, in his position as a Polish Army officer, he supplied confidential information to the Central Intelligence Agency.


As the Soviet Army prepared to invade Poland and crack down on the Solidarity movement's democracy campaign, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, reportedly acting on tips from Kuklinski, issued a warning to Moscow and foiled the intervention. There were other cases in which intelligence supplied by Kuklinski altered the international situation.


Kuklinski followed classic spycraft, according to ``Polish News,'' a U.S. magazine aimed at Polish Americans, and other publications. He went about with a small camera, with which he stealthily photographed classified documents. He handed the films over to CIA agents. He did not tell his family what he was doing until he defected with them to the United States in 1981.


While living in America, he kept his past under wraps and used a false name up until the Soviet Union fell. In the meantime, his two sons both died in accidents. Whether their deaths had something to do with his past spy activities remains a mystery.

Kuklinski did not consider himself a spy. His work for the CIA was voluntary, and he did it for free. He was motivated only by a desire to see a free Poland. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, he became convinced that espionage against the Soviet Union was the right thing for him to do.


John le Carre, the British author of spy novels, discussed his views of spies in a recent American newspaper interview. He defined Cold War spies as people who tried to assert their individuality as the monumental wheels of history turned.

I think Kuklinski would not object to being called a spy under that definition.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 16(IHT/Asahi: February 23,2004) (02/23)
Marriage, the greatest expedition in life?

Though rare, ``posthumous marriages'' do occur in France. The Reuters news agency reported on one such case last week.



A 35-year-old woman in Nice married a man who died in a car accident 18 months ago. Dressed in black, Christel Demichel told reporters, ``Even though (Eric) is dead, I respect the values I shared with him.'' She and Eric Demichel were betrothed at the time of his death. Their ``wedding'' day took place on what would have been his 30th birthday.


According to the Reuters report, posthumous marriage is recognized in France under a law introduced by former President Charles de Gaulle. Marriage, to be sure, comes in all forms around the world.

Speaking of marriage, I am reminded of an observation by 19th-century French literary giant Honore de Balzac. Translated from Japanese as it appears in ``Baruzakku Zenshu'' (Complete works of Balzac) published by Tokyo Sogensha, he said something to the effect, ``Of all human knowledge, marriage falls under the least understood category.''


In the United States, San Francisco legalized same-sex marriage last week, and many couples were wed at the city hall. A week before, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld its ruling of last year that denying marriage between same-sex couples violated the state's constitution.

President George W. Bush said he found the ruling ``deeply troubling.'' Obviously, he has the November presidential election to consider.


In ``Kierukegoru Senshu'' (Selected works of Soren Kierkegaard) published by Jimbun Shoin, the 19th-century Danish philosopher is quoted as noting to the effect, ``Marriage is, and will forever remain, the most momentous expedition embarked upon by anyone.'' Were Kierkegaard alive today, I wonder what he would say.


In Japan, a book written by a self-proclaimed ``loser'' is creating some sensation. Titled ``Make-inu no Toboe'' (Loser's whining) and published by Kodansha, the author labels herself a loser for being ``unwed, childless and past 30.'' This is apparently a sensitive issue for Japanese women, but the author pulls no punches and minces no words. Readers' reactions range from enthusiastic applause to downright disdain.

Let me quote a Japanese literary great from ``Mushanokoji Saneatsu Zenshu'' (Complete works of Saneatsu Mushanokoji) published by Shogakukan: ``If you marry, I should be delighted. If you don't marry, I should be just as delighted.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 20(IHT/Asahi: February 21,2004) (02/21)
Keep asking yourself if Japan is on right track

``If troops are being shipped overseas on a mission that could put their lives at risk, it is essential that the person who orders the dispatch be fully prepared to put his own life on the line.''



This is a passage from ``Yoshida Shigeru-no Jimon'' (Shigeru Yoshida asks himself), a book published by Fujiwara Shoten. Authored by Kazuo Ogura, a former ambassador to France, the book deals with recently-declassified Foreign Ministry documents in which then-Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida ordered junior diplomats to examine Japanese foreign policy from the time Japan invaded China in 1931 to the start of the war in the Pacific 10 years later.

Naoto Kan, leader of Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), waved a copy of this book as he dared Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to debate during ``Question Time'' in the Diet on Wednesday.


The book also says, ``Once the troops are overseas, it is not possible to stop them from using arms in `self-defense' in the face of some provocation from the enemy or sudden deterioration in the situation.''

Obviously, the circumstances today are different from those discussed in the book. Still, it is just as important today, as was in Yoshida's time, to keep asking oneself whether Japan is on the right track.


I should imagine Koizumi has also done so in deciding to support the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq and sending Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. But his rebuttals to Kan were nothing more than an idle rehash of what we have already heard over and over.


According to ``Seiji'' (Politics), also a book from Fujiwara Shoten, French thinker and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu notes the ``principle of political struggle'' is to ``define and differentiate issues of intellectual contention.'' In other words, politics is a ``struggle'' to present a new perception as a replacement for traditional perceptions.

In this sense, Minshuto's failure to out-argue Koizumi's repetitive ramblings is perhaps an indication that the party is still incapable of presenting a new perception.


Ogura's book, which is essentially about failed Japanese diplomacy, contains the line: ``The foundation is what matters the most.'' In other words, the foundation must not be flawed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 19(IHT/Asahi: February 20,2004) (02/20)
Greed taking its toll on elephant populations

Myths and legends abound about elephants. The reputed ``elephants' graveyard'' is probably one such example.

It is widely believed that an elephant leaves its herd for the graveyard when it realizes it is dying. Death comes quietly as the animal lies down amid countless bones and tusks.



The solemn dignity displayed by elephants matches their evident self-pride. But the established academic view is that elephant graveyards do not exist and are just a product of the imagination.

Even so, we often hear dramatic tales about the death of an elephant. This is probably because of the extraordinary sorrow shown by elephants when a fellow member dies.


When an elephant is dying, other members of the herd make a desperate attempt to save its life, using their tusks to help it rise from the ground. With all hope lost, they set about burying the dead. They dig up earth with their forelegs and tusks and pour it over the carcass. They cover the carcass with tree branches broken off with their noses.

Even when the burial is completed, they do not leave the spot. A three-day vigil kept by fellow elephants is reported in a behavioral study of African elephants in ``Among the Elephants'' by Oria and Douglas Hamilton. (A Japanese translation, titled ``Yasei-no Kyozo,'' meaning giant elephants in the wild, has been published by The Asahi Shimbun.)


Elephants take the trouble of burying the dead not just for members of the herd. In one case cited in a book ``Dobutsu Tachi-no Shizen Kenkoho'' (How animals stay fit in nature), an elephant killed an attacking lion by dashing it to the ground, and covered the carcass with tree branches broken off in the bush. (The book has been published by Kinokuniya Co.)

Blessed with good memory, elephants do not forget to stop when they come later to the spot where a member of the herd has died.


Scientists have learned that elephants living on Borneo appear to be a new subspecies that evolved independently. But their extinction is already feared because only about 2,000 Bornean elephants exist.

The total population of Asian elephants is estimated to range from 35,000 to about 50,000. It is only natural that Asian elephants have been designated as an endangered species.


Development and poaching are the agents of destruction for elephants. The sinfulness of humans is mirrored in the way elephants sorrowfully lament their dead.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 18(IHT/Asahi: February 19,2004) (02/19)

TV industry drifting into dangerous territory

It's not much fun to watch a taped sports game when you already know the outcome. Even if you don't know the result, nothing comes close to the excitement of a live, real-time broadcast.

However, precedents are now being set to intentionally set a time lag between the actual game or event and its telecast.



In the United States, there was a 5-minute time lag between the presentation ceremony at the 46th Grammy Awards and its telecast version. This was to prevent a repeat of the recent Superbowl incident, when singer Janet Jackson's breast was exposed during the halftime show, outraging many Americans who were watching this ``game of all games'' live.


``The Sting,'' a 1973 movie classic, is about a group of con artists who set up a fake betting parlor, where horse races that are already over are broadcast as if on real time. The brilliantly executed scam leads to an exhilarating ending.


In real life, I suppose no TV or radio station will be able to do this with horse races. But it worries me to see more instances of deliberate insertion of time lag in sports and other broadcasts. The act is tantamount to checking the program in advance to ensure it contains no ``poison.''

Were I to discover that what I thought I was watching real-time had actually happened five minutes earlier, I would feel cheated, though I probably wouldn't go so far as to complain I had been conned.


Nippon Television Network Corp. has come under fire for flashing images of Yukichi Fukuzawa, whose imprint is on 10,000 yen notes, during a money-oriented show. Whether people are really susceptible to so-called subliminal effects is open to question. Still, it is only natural that NTV's intentions should be severely scrutinized since TV stations wield tremendous power-especially if they manipulate what viewers see on the screen.


With the blurring of the boundary between the real world and the virtual world, I feel compelled to say the TV industry is drifting across the line. I just hope the industry will at least keep one of its feet firmly planted in the real world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 17(IHT/Asahi: February 18,2004) (02/18)
Iraq mission different from Golan Heights role

The shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel is known as the setting of the biblical Sermon on the Mount. Beyond the lake lie the Golan Heights, Israeli-annexed territory that is a matter of much dispute. A bus trip I made there from Jerusalem in March 1996 took five or six hours.



The previous month, members of the Self-Defense Forces had arrived to participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations. They were joining UNDOF, the U.N. observation force monitoring disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces.


I was with other journalists, and the limited time we had on the heights ruled out an interview with any SDF members. We just passed them on the road. Still, the most unusual scenes we witnessed on the way made me pray for the safety of the SDF members and their colleagues in the observation force.


Wild flowers grew on both sides of the road. The beautiful scenery was marred by innumerable red and yellow signs indicating the presence of land mines. In some places, the warning signs seemed to outnumber the flowers in bloom. Many were erected so close to the road that I thought I could touch them if I reached out from the bus window. The line stretched endlessly. I took it as an indication of the long and bitter struggle between Israel and Syria.


Last Friday, newspapers carried a government publicity release on the dispatch of SDF units to Iraq. Rather than explaining the decision to send troops, the release sketched hopes for the future of Iraq. It mentioned the SDF mission to the Golan Heights. But no explanation was offered about the difference between SDF participation in a U.N. peacekeeping operation being carried out in the Golan Heights with the consensus of the international community and the dispatch of troops to Iraq after a war waged primarily by the United States and Britain.


On the same day, not to be left behind by other services, a Maritime Self-Defense Force transport ship left its Kure Base in Hiroshima Prefecture. Samawah, the Iraqi town where members of the Ground SDF are to build their base, recently came under mortar attack.

Whether this signals a change in the local security situation as a result of their presence is worrying.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 15(IHT/Asahi: February 17,2004) (02/17)
Be proud of townhouses, not military might

With the first month of 2004 behind us, it is time to offer a monthly collection of quotable quotes:

Musician Ryuichi Sakamoto said, ``It is important to think about whether our money collected in the form of taxes is used to make bombs that kill children or to improve our natural environment.''



Speaking of his father, dress designer Yohji Yamamoto said, ``He was drafted into military service just before the end of World War II. He died aboard a ship without a trace. In this respect alone, it was a terrible war. But the specter of war seems to be looming now.... Something wrong is going on. I have no intention of letting this fear pass. Instead, I would like to share it with many people.''


``When I was young,'' said artist Shusaku Arakawa, ``my dream was to change common sense and ethics through my artistic pursuit.

``I have realized that these perceptions have to do with the human body,'' he went on. ``The human body, which causes a war, is still evolving. So we have to change it first.''


``So many people died in the earthquake, and those of us, who are living, have an obligation to make their deaths something meaningful,'' said singer Eri Hiramatsu, who holds a live show annually to help the quake victims on Jan. 17, the anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

``We must keep telling ourselves that being alive is not something to be taken for granted. We must treasure our everyday existence,'' she added. ``To convey this message, I will continue holding my live show unless I come down with cancer again.''


Action cartoonist Takao Saito said: ``Japan is a country with no natural resources. Brains are all that we have. So we have to think harder about the ways to assure a secure future for this nation.''


``The townhouses in Kyoto have walls of a nuanced red,'' said literary critic Shuichi Kato. ``I think those walls are among the most beautiful in the world. If we have to have something to be proud of, we should be proud of those walls, instead of a great military we may have.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 31(IHT/Asahi: February 16,2004) (02/16)
What will Kiyomi Tsujimoto do from now on?

One man was decked out in a gold necklace and bracelet, sporting a designer-brand wristwatch and expensive Nike sneakers. Another wrote poetry. Yet another studied quantum physics.



These people were fellow inmates of Jeffrey Archer, whom he describes in ``A Prison Diary'' (Japanese translation published by Artist House). A best seller novelist and member of the House of Lords, Archer was convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice in July 2001.

The book provides a vivid account of life in a British prison. Name tags of different colors were hung on cell doors to identify the religious and dietary needs of inmates. Quite a few prison workers were women.


While Archer spices his narrative with wit and levity, a comparable book by Joji Yamamoto is somber in tone and replete with depressing scenes. The former Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) member of the Lower House was sentenced to 18 months in jail for siphoning public funds through a ``name-only'' secretary.


Titled ``Gokuso-ki'' (My life behind bars) and published by Poplar Publishing, the book documents the author's experiences until his release in 2002.

Yamamoto's assignment was to look after inmates with various disabilities. His duties included assisting them at mealtimes and cleaning up whenever they soiled themselves. The prison life Yamamoto depicts is far more regimented than Archer's. But even then, Yamamoto also recounts touching moments amid the prison population.


Archer was released last year. He has reportedly found his new cause in reforming penal institutions.

Whether he will be able to return to politics is anyone's guess, but there is no question he will continue to pursue his writing career.

Yamamoto hopes to work in social welfare, according to his book. He says he has kept reminding himself of his months behind bars as the turning point in his life.


Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a former Social Democratic Party legislator, was found guilty of fraud in a case quite similar to Yamamoto's Thursday. But unlike Yamamoto, Tsujimoto was given a suspended sentence. Still, this does not lighten her guilt in any way. I wonder what plans she has in mind for re-starting her life.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 13(IHT/Asahi: February 14,2004) (02/14)
Japanese ballet dancers find their feet

Ballet is governed by many rules. It is said to have evolved from a code of courtly conduct for formal greetings. Perhaps this explains why every ballet movement-walking, running, leaping, twirling and doing a pirouette-is so structured.

Having no words to utter and relying purely on body movements to the accompaniment of music, each performer uses his or her body as the sole vehicle of self-expression.



For all the rigid rules that dictate the movements, ballet dancers move with incredible lightness and grace, raising themselves skyward in defiance of the restraints. Female dancers stand on tiptoe, as if to levitate themselves from the ground. Male dancers leap as high as they can.


``For a ballet dancer, his body is like his soul,'' said Tetsuya Kumakawa, who mesmerized the audience with his fantastic leaps while he was a principal in the Britain's Royal Ballet Company. The body must be strong and supple. ``While I am completely engrossed in dancing, I feel myself as a taut wire,'' Kumakawa noted.


It was once said that upward-oriented ballet is a dance for nomadic hunters and gatherers, while traditional Japanese dances with their low, ground-hugging center of gravity are for settled farmers and cultivators. By extension, some people used to claim Japanese were not suited for ballet.

But this argument has been rendered false by the excellence of Japanese ballet dancers at home and abroad. Or have the Japanese people already ``leaped'' beyond their farming culture?


I recently saw a performance of ``Pink Floyd Ballet'' by the Asami Maki Ballet Company in Tokyo. It was directed and choreographed by Roland Petit, a creative genius for more than half a century. The music was all rock, but the movements blended beautifully with it, enhancing, rather than destroying, the rules of ballet.


The audience swayed and clapped in delight, obviously enjoying the blending of the traditional and the contemporary.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 12(IHT/Asahi: February 13,2004) (02/13)
25 years on, dialogue still key to Iran's future

Living in Tehran, a Japanese scholar of Islam kept a close watch on developments that culminated in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. In his mind, apprehension mingled with hope about Iran's future.

Unfortunately, Hitoshi Igarashi, an assistant professor at Tsukuba University, was fatally stabbed on the school campus in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1991.



Igarashi returned to Japan just after the revolution. In a book published soon afterward, he noted that Iranians had too often experienced the sorrow of watching the fruit of their efforts dashed just as their dreams were about to become reality. If only to avoid tasting such sorrow further, he asserted, Iran should return to its traditional ways and reform them. ``Such reforms are what is mandated by Islam,'' he wrote. (The book, published by Toyo Keizai, was titled ``Iran Taiken,'' or Iranian experience.)


Later, Igarashi translated Salman Rushdie's ``The Satanic Verses'' into Japanese. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, post-revolution Iran's supreme leader, condemned the book as blasphemous to Islam and sentenced the author to death. There was speculation that Igarashi's murder was connected to the role he played for Rushdie. The attacker was never caught.


Just as Igarashi thought, the history of post-revolution Iran has been checkered. The struggle between reformers and conservatives continues. President Mohammad Khatami, who called for dialogue between civilizations, instead of leaving them to clash, has come under criticism from reformers as compromising with the conservatives.


Lawyer Shirin Ebbadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, is one of the standard bearers of the reformist camp. Critical of Khatami's recent moves, she contends that Islam is not at variance with human rights and democracy and that no attempt should be made to force Iranians to choose between the two.

The question is whether gears can be shifted to achieve a change from domestic clashes to dialogue.


Igarashi pinned his hopes for a ``new Iran'' on the young generation and the middle class. Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 11(IHT/Asahi: February 12,2004) (02/12)
History will judge what Bush and Koizumi said

Saying he wanted to ``share'' his ``sentiment'' at the moment of his decision to invade Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush told NBC on Sunday he definitely thought Saddam Hussein was a ``threat to America.''



His avowal was in response to a question by NBC's ``Meet the Press'' talk show host Tim Russert that perhaps Bush's decision to attack Iraq was wrong. Russert reminded Bush that when he announced his decision to go to war, he told the nation there was clear evidence that Iraq had secretly stockpiled weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The existence of WMD was later refuted due to a lack of conclusive evidence by top weapons inspector David Kay.


During the interview, Bush repeatedly denounced the deposed Iraqi dictator as a ``dangerous madman,'' and insisted he had ``no choice'' but to deal with the threat before the situation spun out of control.

Meantime, the death toll continues to rise in Iraq. I wonder whether U.S. troops share Bush's sentiment.


In the NBC interview, Bush came across as being heavy on emotion and short on reason. This reminded me of what Bob Woodward of The Washington Post notes in his book ``Bush at War''-that the president has described himself as a ``gut player'' rather than a ``textbook player,'' and that he follows his gut instincts as if they were dogma.

The talk show itself demonstrated the danger of underestimating the power of reason. This is dangerous.


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is also on the defensive. As if to corroborate Bush's rebuttal to the testimony by Kay, Blair recently argued before Parliament that the Saddam regime had the capability to produce WMD.

Back in Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says, ``So long as the person who has been hiding the weapons refuses to talk, it may be hard to find the weapons.''


What made the invasion of Iraq ``a war of necessity''? The answers given by the U.S., British and Japanese leaders have changed bit by bit over the past 11 months.

History will eventually judge these men, but it is still necessary to keep asking the question. (02/11)

 なぜ戦争をする必要があったのか? 米英日首脳の発言は開戦当初から少しずつ変化してきた。いずれ歴史の審判を受けるとしても、問いを発しつづけることに意味はある。
Tolstoy penned a brave anti-war message

To confront Czarist Russia militarily, Japanese forces landed on the Korean Peninsula on Feb. 8, 1904. Two days later, Japan declared the opening of hostilities, which formally began the Russo-Japanese War.



The tide of public opinion generally had been supportive of military action. Writing in the Iwate Nippo newspaper, poet Ishikawa Takuboku, a native of Iwate Prefecture, who was 18 then, said: ``Now, the whole nation is unanimously calling for war, with millions of people pointing to the north. We are not going to war for war's sake. We are going to fight for the sake of justice, civilization, peace, and mankind's ultimate ideals.''

The Asahi Shimbun also urged the government to take a tough line with Russia.


On the other hand, Heimin Shimbun, a weekly paper published by Kotoku Shusui and other socialists, adopted an anti-war stand. Kotoku wrote: ``Call us disloyal, fine. Call us traitors to the country, fine. If we are disloyal just because we don't sing war's praises and we don't fawn on military officers, we will gladly accept the disgrace of being called disloyal to the country.'' (Quoted from ``Kotoku Shusui,'' a book published by Ronsosha.)


Midway through the war, Russian novelist Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy contributed a lengthy article criticizing the Russo-Japanese War to The Times of London. The Asahi Shimbun and Kotoku's weekly carried a Japanese translation, which reads: ``War has broken out again. The military conflict, of no benefit to anyone, is merely causing widespread suffering again. The greatly foolish and brutal nature of mankind is on display again.''


Seven years later, Takuboku transcribed the translation in his notebook with a pen. While engaged in this work, he wrote: ``Belatedly, I have realized I was among the sort of Japanese who casually approved war from their warlike nature. Now, the Japanese navy is preparing to go to war with the United States.'' (Quoted from the complete works of Ishikawa Takuboku, published by Chikuma Shobo.)


A ``war and art'' exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Gunma, in Takasaki features a collection of wooden statues of soldiers who fought in the Russo-Japanese War. The 162 statues of uniformed men, standing to make a line, are about 50 centimeters tall. (The show runs through Feb. 15.)

The statues were carved in memory of the men who were conscripted from the environs of Takasaki and fell in the war against Russia. Photographic and other information was used to guide the artisans, whose works were taken to temples for storage.


As I walked around the statues, their glass eyes sometimes flashed, reflecting the lights in the room. The tiny blinks seemed like an unspoken appeal from a century ago. (02/10)

Low food self-sufficiency not such bad thing
The Asahi Shimbun

A steady diet of rice, grilled fish, nori seaweed and miso soup puts Japan's rate of self-sufficiency in food at an estimated 85 percent, according to a study by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. But if your diet is hamburgers, fries and cola, the figure dips to 20 percent. Thus, the ministry suggests people should eat more rice to raise self-sufficiency in food.



On a calorie-intake basis, Japan produces only 40 percent of the food it needs to be self-sufficient. Forty years ago, it exceeded 70 percent. Among factors contributing to this decline is the trend for more Western-style meals rather than the traditional rice-based fare, and a tendency to eat out more. Some Japanese go as far as to claim the United States changed this nation's eating habits just to sell U.S. produce as part of its occupation policy.


``Food mileage'' stands for the volume of food multiplied by the distance required for transportation. It serves as an index of how much energy is used to procure food. For imported food, the food mileage is estimated at 900 billion ton-kilometers, which is three times higher than in the United States, where food self-sufficiency exceeds 100 percent.

As for the value of farm produce imports, Japan accounts for 10 percent of the global total. The nation effectively brings in food from every corner of Earth.


Fast food chains are being compelled to remove the popular gyudon dish of rice topped with beef from their menus, and the restaurant industry is working overtime to secure supplies of chicken.

Naturally, the public is concerned about food safety. In fact, a farm ministry survey found 90 percent of Japanese are worried about the food supply situation.


Ranking low on the scale of food self-sufficiency is not necessarily a bad thing, though. For one, people invariably pay closer attention to global affairs that affect the food they eat. It also makes them understand the importance of being on good terms with other nations. Everyone acutely realizes how their survival depends on the absence of war and conflict.


However, when I hear that Japan's self-sufficiency in soybeans is a mere 25 percent, I cannot help wishing for better domestic production. After all, what are uniquely Japanese foods like tofu and natto fermented beans made of? (02/07)

Understanding those we aid won't be easy

More than 200 people were killed during this year's annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. In 1990, the toll was as high as 1,426. Accidents and deaths seem inevitable every year in the confusion created by some 2 million pilgrims from around the world converging on the holy Muslim city.



The hajj takes place in the last month of the Islamic calendar. And on the 10th day of that month, the four-day Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) begins. This is one of Islam's most important celebrations. Even the Taliban-who destroyed the historic Buddha statues of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan in March 2001-interrupted their blasting operations during the holiday period.

This year, suicide bombings in the Kurdish-dominated northern Iraqi city of Erbil killed and injured hundreds of Kurds who were celebrating the first day of Eid.


Islamic law regulates every aspect of people's daily lives. However, Muslims are capable of looking at life with pragmatic, even calculating eyes.

In ``Arabu-no Kakugen'' (Arabic maxims) published by Shinchosha, novelist Ayako Sono describes aspects of the Arabic world that may be hard for Japanese people to comprehend.


For instance, Sono cites the saying, ``Fast and pray, and then you can be sure something bad will happen.'' Arabs see right through to the reality of life: It has no connection to one's piety.

Another saying goes, ``A man lacking in cunning is like an empty matchbox.'' Arabs are anything but naive. They believe ``a well-told lie is better than an unbelievable truth.''


Their war-and-conflict filled history has shaped their thinking on governance: ``Centuries of oppressive rule are preferable to one night of anarchy.'' This is a cultural climate that seems hardly receptive to any American or European brand of democracy. They warn outsiders, ``Stay well away from us. If you do, we will try to like you. If you get too close, however, our curse shall be on your head.''


The government says we are aiding Iraq's reconstruction. But it is no easy matter to understand the true feelings of the people we are trying to assist.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 5(IHT/Asahi: February 6,2004) (02/06)
There's more to a name than simple identity

Giving a name to something invariably is a fairly solemn occasion. It is especially so with newborn babies.



But I chuckled to myself when I learned that some of the rocks in the area being probed by the Martian rovers are named sushi and sashimi (sliced raw fish) after their shapes. ``Collect a pinch of what looks like rice grains on the side of sushi.'' I wonder instructions like this are being radioed through space to the unmanned vehicles.


Not so delightful is the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes' plan to put up the professional baseball team's name for sale. Apparently, the idea is to trade its name for billions of yen. My concern is that besides its name, the Buffaloes could end up losing what money cannot buy.


Trading ``naming rights'' is said to have taken hold as a business in the United States. Only Americans could have conceived the business of linking brands in the form of names to money.

In this country, however, names-namae or just na in Japanese-have traditionally been perceived as weightier than just trademarks or forms of identification.


This is evident in expressions like na ni shiou (live up to fame, or just famous), na ni somuku (betray one's good name), na wa taiwo arawasu (one is what one's name stands for), na wo oshimu (honor one's good name), na wo kegasu (sully one's good name), na wo susugu (clear one's name), and na wo ageru (make one's name).

One way to look at these phrases is that they demonstrate the traditional tendency of Japanese to say what is expected of them, rather than uttering what they feel in their heart. In a country where people live by these phrases, it is difficult to claim that a name can be changed without affecting what it represents.


Reaction to the Buffaloes' plan to sell its name has been mixed. While the idea has come under strong criticism from the professional baseball world, it has been hailed by some people.

Members of the team, who may have to play in uniforms bearing a new name, should join the debate by raising their voices. A widened debate may prove beneficial to the public as a whole by illuminating how people's behavior is affected by the balance between names and the reality they represent and between sentiment felt at heart and action taken on principle.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 4(IHT/Asahi: February 5,2004) (02/05)
Confrontation between BBC and Whitehall

According to the Japanese edition of ``Margaret Thatcher: The Downing Street Years'' published by Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the former British prime minister lauded a BBC reporter during the Falkland Islands war of 1982. She said to the effect that she was vastly relieved by the truthfulness of reports filed by the broadcaster's Brian Hanrahan.



In the report in question, Hanrahan disproved Argentinian claims that Royal Air Force aircraft had been attacked and damaged.

In the same memoirs, however, Thatcher voiced a litany of complaints against the BBC and the broadcast media in general. Her main grievance was that whatever objection she raised with media coverage would be immediately construed as censorship and a violation of media neutrality.


In a recent issue, The Guardian newspaper recalled the history of confrontation between the BBC and the British government.

In 1940, writes Mark Oliver, Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to ``establish more effective control'' of the BBC. Churchill expressed this view in a memo to Duff Cooper, who headed the Ministry of Information. ``In the 1950s, (Churchill) claimed the BBC was full of Communists,'' Oliver continues.

Politicians tend to become testy when they don't get their way.


And now, the BBC is said to be facing the worst crisis in its history. The cause was the much-publicized report concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the assumed presence of which became the British government's justification for joining the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Following the conclusion recently drawn by an investigating committee-the BBC's charge that the government had exaggerated the threat of the weapons was groundless-the corporation's top executives resigned.

Had the investigating committee drawn a reverse conclusion, it could have forced Prime Minister Tony Blair to resign.


Yet, the British public does not fully trust the government. An opinion poll found 31 percent of Britons side with the BBC, 10 percent with the government, and 49 percent trusting neither.


BBC world affairs correspondent John Simpson told The Guardian: ``It would be the worst thing possible if the corporation suddenly became more timid in its reporting. This is no time for editors, producers and reporters to go soft. Of course we must only report what we know is demonstrably true-but that's what we've always done anyway.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 3(IHT/Asahi: February 4,2004) (02/04)
Inventor turned adversity his advantage

By his own account, Shuji Nakamura, inventor of the blue light-emitting diode (LED), had nothing working for him-no money and no manpower.

The engineer made the revelation in a speech he gave when he was presented with the Asahi Award three years ago.

For him, the blue LED research was a sink or swim gamble. He blindly pursued the project with the devotion of a man who had nothing to lose.



After finishing Tokushima University's graduate school, Nakamura took a job at Nichia Corp., a chemical company also located in Tokushima Prefecture. The choice was partly due to family circumstances. The research environment Nichia offered him was bare bones compared with the abundance of equipment available to researchers at major corporations. But the paucity of available resources worked as a lever for his great invention.


Unable to test all avenues, Nakamura had to choose a single path of development and pursue it blindly. Initially, the path he chose was one with little likelihood of succeeding. Along the way, when a knotty problem cropped up, he used his own hands to make the necessary mechanical improvement. In this way, he turned the weakness of being a solo researcher into an advantage.


Nichia did not provide sufficient support for Nakamura. Instead of being helpful, he says the company once instructed him to call off his blue LED research. His superiors may have regarded him as a troublesome employee, a man who refused to give up on a project they did not believe in because there was no telling whether it would be commercially successful.


The engineer's success in developing the blue LED manufacturing method brought him increased opportunity to meet foreign researchers. They were curious to learn how Nakamura's salary had risen for an invention worthy of a Nobel Prize and how else he had been rewarded. When the engineer told them, they regularly responded by saying, ``You are as good as a slave.''


The Tokyo District Court awarded Nakamura 20 billion yen, the full amount he had sought from Nichia, based on a calculation that his invention was worth 60.4 billion yen. It was a ruling that shook up relations between companies and their employees, giving dreams to engineers and researchers working in corporate laboratories and dealing a hard blow to employers in general, prodding them to engage in self-examination on their present practice.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 1(IHT/Asahi: February 3,2004) (02/03)
A formula that spices up physics classes

Writing to The Asahi Shimbun the other day, a university student said that back in his senior high school days, he had been disappointed at the classroom work on physics, feeling fed up with having to dedicate time and energy to minute calculations and simply memorizing formulas. But an encounter with a certain book taught him the joy of learning.



The book he cited is ``Butsuri Nyumon'' (An introduction to physics), written by Yoshitaka Yamamoto, a lecturer at a preparatory school. He went through its pages so many times that the book fell into tatters. He was especially moved by the chapter on electromagnetics.

Yamamoto was recently given the Osaragi Jiro Award, an Asahi Shimbun-funded prize, for ``Jiryoku-to Juryoku-no Hakken'' (The discovery of magnetic force and gravity), a three-volume book published by Misuzu Shobo. I assume this book represents an elaboration of the thought that formed the background of the primer.


A high number of students were found to be poor in science and mathematics in a nationwide scholastic test of third-year senior high school students, conducted by the education and science ministry. In science, for example, students with no understanding of the basic concepts, such as elements and gravity, stand out.


Those who read Yamamoto's prize-winning work learn what an amazingly circuitous road human beings had to trudge until they reached the concept of gravity. The search for a force that affects things from a distance was long viewed as belonging to the domain of magic, rather than that of learning. Not just Plato and Aristotle, but even Galileo, a genius who came along much later, failed to give thought to the possibility that there could be such a thing as gravity.

 山本さんの受賞作を読むと、人間が重力というものにたどりつくまでに、いかに曲がりくねった道をたどったかがわかる。離れた物体に力を及ぼすことの探求は、学問ではなくどちらかといえば魔術の領域だった。古代の 哲学者プラトンやアリストテレスはもちろん、近代の天才ガリレオさえも重力には思い至らなかった。

In modern pursuits of learning, we take up, most of the time, only the results of deliberation by these and other thinkers of the past. Their conclusions now typically take the form of formulas and principles that are taught in senior high school. It is only natural that if cramming formulas into heads is the only thing students are supposed to do in the classroom, the work will tend to become dull and uninteresting.


For some years, the education and science ministry's policy has been to educate students at a leisurely pace. Now, critics often point out that there is a basic incompatibility between this approach and the ministry's efforts not to let scholarship levels slip.

If so, why not let teachers tell students about the human suffering lying behind the formulas and principles? If teachers take such a leisurely approach themselves, I think it could help raise scholarship levels.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 25(IHT/Asahi: February 2,2004) (02/02)
Fascinating experiences of `travelers in time'

During an awards presentation ceremony Wednesday, the recipients of the annual Asahi, Jiro Osaragi and Jiro Osaragi Rondan prizes for outstanding cultural contributions offered their respective insights on the concept of time. I have since ruminated on their illuminating observations.



Eiji Oguma discussed ideas of ``postwar.'' When Japan surrendered at the end of World War II in 1945, Oguma noted, only 40 years had passed since the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Invariably, he contended, people still thought in terms of that ``old'' postwar period when they contemplated its ``new'' counterpart in 1945.

Come to think of it, many people today remember the signing of the 1960 Japan-U.S. Security Treaty as recent history. But, Oguma noted, this is not the case with younger Japanese who have no first-hand experience of the postwar economic miracle. Collective memory probably lasts no more than 20 to 30 years, he concluded.


Hideaki Shinoda, who watches current developments around the world, reported that about 20,000 Sudanese refugees have left their country in the last 10 days. This is a crisis, he stressed. But there are people all over the world devoting their lives to peacemaking and humanitarian aid work, and Shinoda spoke of his solidarity with such efforts.


Saiichi Maruya talked of the stratiform nature of time. He noted Lake Biwako will keep moving north until it becomes part of the Sea of Japan about one million years from now. Maruya then juxtaposed this sort of geological time span to the 1,000-year history of Japanese literature since ``The Tale of Genji'' was written, as well as to our contemporary era.


Hideki Kanbara and Yasushi Miyashita discoursed on the ``intensity'' of time in the fast-moving world of science. While Kanbara explained he does his research in 10-year spans, Miyashita described the rapid advances made in the last few years in the study of the human brain.

Yoshitaka Yamamoto has written on the history of human intellectual development over two millennia.

And there is Ikuo Hirayama, who continues his crusade to protect cultural assets from destruction while tracing the roots of civilization along the Silk Road.


The world reveals its many faces according to the time span or aspects of time being looked at. The talks enabled me to share the fascinating experiences of those ``travelers in time.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 30(IHT/Asahi: January 31,2004) (01/31)
Be prepared for the worst in an epidemic

In an 18th-century Venetian painting, the colossal dome of the Santa Maria della Salute church dominates the center. In the foreground is the Grand Canal, crowded with boats as throngs of people cross a floating bridge that extends from the San Marco district to the church.

The painting is popularly known by the longish title of ``The Doge of Venice Goes to the Salute on 21 November to Commemorate the End of the Plague of 1630.'' It was created by Francesco Guardi (1712-1793), a native of Venice.



This scenic city used to be dubbed the ``Queen of the Adriatic.'' But Guardi's picture tells the story of how Venice dealt with repeated outbreaks of plague that swept Europe centuries ago.

In the 17th century, more than 10,000 Venetians were dying every month. The citizens prayed for deliverance, promising God a new church if He would stop the plague.

God did answer their prayer, so the story goes. The grateful people of Venice made good their promise with the construction of Santa Maria della Salute, and they began celebrating the ``Festa della Salute'' on Nov. 21 every year by laying a pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal and walking over it to the church.


I was reminded of Guardi's painting while reading about how quickly epidemics spread in various historic times in the book, ``Kansensho to Tatakau'' (Battling infectious diseases), just released in the Iwanami Shinsho paperback series.

In the Middle Ages, according to this book, 70 million people died of plague worldwide in just a few years. This pandemic decimated two-thirds of the population of Europe.


The Spanish influenza of 1918, which is believed to have killed about 40 million people, took more than seven months to spread around the world.

The book warns that given today's high-speed mass transportation systems and overpopulation in congested areas, an outbreak of any ``new-type flu'' could spread worldwide within four to seven days, and people everywhere would be showing symptoms of contagion within a month.


This prediction leaves me feeling helpless. In this day and age, however, there are other things we can do besides just pray.

The first step in preventing any epidemic is to be fully cognizant of the worst-case scenario, ensuring information is disclosed and shared with the public the moment it becomes available.


In Thailand, an emergency meeting has been held to address the avian flu epidemic. How is Japan going to deal with this international quandary? This is a real test.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 29(IHT/Asahi: January 30,2004) (01/30)
Earthquakes always offer a valuable lesson

Sugae Masumi lived during the second half of the Edo Period (1603-1867) and spent his life traveling around Japan. He was still a young man when he left his native province of Mikawa (now Aichi Prefecture) for his first trip. He never returned.

Besides being a great traveler, Sugae was a folklorist. He experienced a disastrous earthquake while passing through the Oga Peninsula in what is now Akita Prefecture.



``The eaves of houses tilted badly, and people fled outside,'' Sugae wrote in an account. ``Crying and shouting, people madly ran about, not knowing where to go for safety. They were leading the sick and the elderly by their hands,'' he went on. ``I saw a woman running about, holding an ichigo straw baby basket upside down. The house where I was staying was built close to a hill. But the part of the hill adjoining the eaves of the house was crumbling. Sensing that my life was in danger, I clung to trees and eventually sought safety in a bamboo grove.'' (Sugae Masumi's travel journals are published by Toyo Bunko.)


Toshikazu Yasumizu, a poet living in Kobe, has been following Sugae's footsteps for nearly 40 years. ``Sugae's travel journals are records of his observation in each of the villages he visited. Every time I read them, I always find something new,'' he says. ``I can imagine that the moment he sat down, old women and children started talking to him. He was that sort of person.''


Yasumizu's house in Kobe's Nagata Ward was badly damaged in the Great Hanshin Earthquake on Jan. 17, 1995. Since then, he has been writing poems about life in the quake-stricken areas and the people who inhabit them.


A collection of these poems has been published under the title of ``Ikiteiru-to Iu Koto'' (The meaning of being alive). A particularly appealing poem from the collection, published by Henshu Kobo Noah, goes: ``Someone laid a bouquet of flowers/ On a mound of broken rubble/ I can sense the mortification of the flowers.''

The Great Hanshin Earthquake made rubble of every thing that until the moment it hit had protected and enveloped the people living there. The contrast between the rubble and the flowers still pulsating with life is almost terrifying.


Nine years have passed since the earthquake. To mark this year's anniversary, Yasumizu composed this poem: ``This is what happened once/ This is what will happen sometime/ That makes it something to remember well/ We must remember it repeatedly/ So that we will be able to live on.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 17(IHT/Asahi: January 29,2004) (01/29)
War advocates: Don't forget the body count

A truck carrying supplies ordered by the Defense Agency was attacked outside Baghdad, resulting in the death of the Jordanian driver. This occurred in an area known for repeated assaults on occupation forces by Saddam Hussein loyalists. This particular attack may not have been directed at the Self-Defense Forces, but it certainly made me feel Japan had moved a step closer to the battleground.



The government has officially ordered the dispatch of the main Ground Self-Defense Force unit and a Maritime SDF contingent. Some members of the advance GSDF unit returned to Japan after a 36-hour stay in Samawah. Was that enough time to assess the situation thoroughly? Or was this just for show and the dispatch of the main GSDF unit already a foregone conclusion?

The government says troops are being sent to assist in Iraq's reconstruction. But given safety concerns, as well as the fact the dispatch will crucially affect Japan's course, I must say the decision appears to have been made far too frivolously.


At this critical juncture, I cannot but wonder how many lives have been lost since U.S. and British forces staged their pre-emptive assault on Iraq. U.S. troop fatalities are said to have exceeded 500, of whom about 70 percent occurred since the United States declared an end to major combat operations.

And according to a recent report, suicide was the cause of at least 21 deaths out of 153 noncombat American deaths. The report also pointed out about 400 U.S. soldiers have left Iraq for ``war-related stress.''


Iraqi deaths are more difficult to count. As of November last year, the estimates ranged from 4,895 to 6,370 for combatants and 7,840 to 9,668 for noncombatants. The total must exceed 10,000.


The head of a special U.S. investigative team has resigned after months of searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He concluded it was unlikely Iraq had such weapons when the war started.

This is an extremely grave statement. I want to ask those who justified the war on the grounds of Iraq's possession of those weapons, ``Does the body count mean anything to you?''


The same question is directed not only at Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who supported the attack, but also at the Diet and the Japanese people.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 27(IHT/Asahi: January 28,2004) (01/28)
Japan crossing Rubicon with Iraqi mission

A nation's fortune can significantly change, depending on what decisions are made when it reaches a crossroads. Historians agree that Japan erred badly when it sent troops to Siberia in 1918, thereby getting involved in the Bolshevik Revolution that was still sweeping through Russia. This is evident from the series of later missteps that can be traced to that decision.

Japan later got bogged down in war in China, the prelude to this country's entry into World War II. This happened precisely because the nation had failed to learn lessons from the Siberian misadventure.



From Siberia, a young officer wrote to political scientist Sakuzo Yoshino. The man wrote that even though it was essential for a military force overseas to have the support of citizens back home, the majority of ``our fellow countrymen'' did not understand the significance of the mission, nor did troops understand why they had been sent. (The letter can be found in Volume 6 of a history book covering Japan's past century, published by Chikuma Shobo.)

 戦地から政治学者の吉野作造にあてた青年将校の手紙がある。軍隊にとって最も大切なのは国民の後援があることだが「多数同胞はむしろ出征の無意義を唱えているありさまである」。兵士も何のために出征したかを理解していないと訴えた(『日本の百年 6』筑摩書房)。

The government and political parties were in sharp disagreement on the wisdom of sending Japanese Imperial Army troops to Siberia. Takashi Hara, president of the largest party, Seiyukai, advised the government not to dispatch troops overseas unless the need for self-defense called for such action. But the military and young bureaucrats continued full tilt with behind-the-scenes preparations for the Siberian mission.


The decision to send troops effectively resulted from the government's acceptance of a U.S. proposal for joint military intervention. But it turned out to be a disastrous war with a heavy casualty toll. A book on diplomatic history published shortly afterward noted: ``In the end, Japan made the folly of finding itself to be the only country that incurred the resentment of Russian people, even though we sent troops together with other powers.''


The government was drawn into intervention by hard-liners. The rationale was unclear. The aims of the Siberian mission were expanded midway, and the troops were unable to cope with guerrilla warfare. The government missed several opportunities to bring them home quickly. The mission left many lessons to be learned.


Now, teams of the Self-Defense Forces are leaving for Iraq, seen off by people waving small Hinomaru Rising Sun flags. These scenes fill us with a sense that we are crossing the Rubicon again.

Japan is at a major crossroads, even though the present era is incomparable with the days of Siberian intervention.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 24(IHT/Asahi: January 27,2004) (01/27)
Bush opts for utility with new space program

U.S. President John F. Kennedy's 1961 speech unveiling the Apollo space program to put man on the moon was so moving that planetary scientist Carl Sagan ``felt dizzy,'' as he recalled that eventful day.



As he spoke, Kennedy was full of confidence, Sagan said. The speech was delivered just after the Soviet Union succeeded with its first manned space flight. The United States was under pressure to regain its lead in space development. While putting the American public on notice that the Apollo program would take years and vast amounts of money to execute, the young president declared, ``We should go to the moon.''


During his space flight, Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut, famously remarked, ``The Earth is blue.'' But it became clear after the fall of the Soviet Union that Gagarin had been extremely lucky. Officials on the ground knew that he had embarked on a very risky mission. In fact, he faced life-and-death situations throughout the mission.


Unlike Kennedy's address, there was no sense of urgency about the new U.S. space strategy announced by President George W. Bush the other day. Many observers coolly dismissed it as a ploy to help facilitate Bush's re-election.

It would be better to describe Bush's plan as ``practical,'' rather than ``grand.'' Stressing utility, the president said in his speech, ``We may discover resources on the moon or Mars that will boggle the imagination, that will test our limits to dream.''


When Bush's father announced a program to reach Mars in 1989, he often referred to it as ``America's dream'' and used other uplifting expressions. Congressional objections foiled it. It remains to be seen whether his son can carry on the dream that failed to materialize under Bush senior.


Space programs should not be a tool to divert people's attention from conflicts on Earth. Still, to fire rockets for space exploration is far better than to fire guns at humans.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 18(IHT/Asahi: January 26,2004) (01/26)
A land of poets blessed with `soul' of words

When I'm overseas, I am sometimes asked, ``Is it true that Japanese newspapers have a poetry section you can send your works to?'' Many people are impressed when I reply, ``Yes, most newspapers invite readers to send in their short poems known as haiku and tanka.''



Skilled or unskilled, I imagine every Japanese has written haiku or tanka at least once in their lives. Japan could be dubbed a nation of 100 million poets. A nationwide contest of 17-syllable haiku and 31-syllable tanka, sponsored recently by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), had more than 120,000 entries.

There were 37,000 haiku entries for the junior division for junior high school children and younger.


Among the Grand Prize winners was an elementary school first grader, who wrote: ``Waking up in the morning/ I sneeze/ It's autumn.'' Another gem by a third-year junior high school student went: ``I love books/ Wish I could live in a library.''

You feel the power of words in these simple, direct utterances.


A tanka meeting for elderly people requiring special nursing care and support is scheduled for Jan. 31 in the city of Miyazaki in Kyushu. It is sponsored by Jupia Foundation, a local organization that promotes health and welfare programs for the elderly. Nearly 7,000 poems were submitted from around the nation.

Chiyo Takahashi, who will be honored with the Grand Prize at the meeting, is 103 years old. She wrote: ``All day long/ There isn't a word to hear/ Do understand my sadness/ I am human, too.''


Having lost her hearing, Takahashi has been living in a special nursing home for the elderly, reduced to communicating only in writing. Her days are tranquil and she has no particular complaints, but her tanka is a cry of yearning for human voices, be it reminiscences or stories told in local dialects.

The contestants included 15 people aged 100 or over and 502 in their 90s.

Here is an entry by Chiyo Imai, 104: ``I ask with gratitude/ For your continued kind help/ Chiyo is happy/ At the hospital.'' Their works are published in ``Oite Utao'' (Let's sing in old age) from Koumyakusya Corp.


Japan is sometimes described as kotodama no sakiwau kuni-the land where the soul of language flourishes. It is such a land indeed for its people, from elementary school children to centenarians.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 23(IHT/Asahi: January 24,2004) (01/24)
Choosing the one to set the world's course

``Red or blue? Which do you think?'' U.S. President George W. Bush is known to sometimes joke with the press about which color of necktie to wear when he addresses the nation.

The president often favors blue, a color that is said to represent sincerity. Many members of his entourage are apparently influenced by this and show up in blue ties. The Bush administration is a ``blue tie'' administration.

For the State of the Union address Tuesday evening, however, Bush wore a flaming red tie. This being a presidential election year, perhaps Bush wanted to let everyone know he means business. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also sported vivid red ties. The two are the Bush administration's top hawks. The fact that both wore red ties seemed to signify something. Or is this just my imagination?

The address itself did not reveal any provocative phrase like the ``axis of evil'' of two years ago.

The address came right on the heels of the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, one of the many phases in the Democratic race for presidential nomination. On that caucus day, the candidates' standings are compiled and sorted out through area meetings across the state. And this is done through a good old-fashioned ``low-tech'' simple head count. Assembled Democratic supporters are told something like, ``Kerry supporters, please gather here. Dean supporters, over there.''

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, has lost steam. Instead, Iowa saw a dramatic come-back-from-behind victory by John Kerry.

The senator from Massachusetts is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was wounded in the conflict. Kerry became known for his antiwar activities upon his return home. Although he did not vote against the war in Iraq, he has consistently criticized the Bush administration's unilateralism, and he is an advocate of international cooperation and believer in the United Nations' leadership.

Would the Iraq War have happened under a Democratic administration? This ``what if'' question is often asked. But the point is, the outcome of the U.S. presidential election this year will set the course for the entire world. Even non-Americans cannot afford to be indifferent about whom the Americans will elect as president.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 22(IHT/Asahi: January 23,2004) (01/23)
Balance windmill's power with scenic beauty

Someone had placed a little glove atop a roadside railing behind an elementary school. It seems a school child lost it. When I saw it, the fingers of the yellow woolen glove were fluttering in the gusty wind.

It seems as though we have had more chilly and windy days than usual in Tokyo this winter. Perhaps because of this natural phenomenon, a newspaper article on wind power generation caught my attention. The article reported that a request to work out guidelines that would ease restrictions on wind power generation facilities in national and quasi-national parks had been submitted to the central government from local governments promoting wind power and an association of power generating companies.

In the past few years, I have noticed windmill propellers turning in places where I've traveled and elsewhere. And I have heard that the number of installed windmills and the amount of electricity they produce have increased substantially. Still, it was a surprise to know that wind power generating firms wanted to install windmills even in national parks.

The article says that the firms want permission to erect windmills on mountain ridges where they can expect to keep them operating on a steady basis. But the Environment Ministry panel that is considering their request is reportedly worried about such windmills damaging the scenery and will likely impose strict controls on their construction.

The word kaze (wind) belongs to a range of terms relating to natural phenomena that often appear in the 8th century ``Manyoshu,'' the nation's oldest anthology of poetry. In order of frequency, kaze is followed by yuki (snow), kumo (cloud) and ame (rain).

It also heads the list in the 10th century's ``Kokin Wakashu,'' the first imperially commissioned poetry anthology. In this collection, kaze is followed by yuki, tsuyu (dew) and kasumi (mist). (These details are taken from ``Sawayaka Enerugii Fusha Nyumon,'' a primer on windmill-derived energy published by Sanseido.)

There are more than 300 kaze-related idioms, and as many as 50 magazines published in the country have kaze in their titles, the book says.

Wind is one of the natural elements that have shaped our landscape and climate into what they are today. The close relationship between the two is indicated by the fact that the kanji for kaze is one of two Chinese characters in the word fukei, or landscape.

Should the government act to sever this relationship, the wind would deplore it. This new dilemma has arisen precisely because the use of natural energy has made great progress.

Efforts to make use of sunlight, water and wind as energy sources are vital, and they should be further increased. The government should capitalize on this opportunity. It should think through the issue and come up with a solution that will strike a balance between wind power generation and the need to conserve our natural scenery. After all, the wind will neither stop blowing nor lose its force.

A haiku by Kusatao Nakamura has relevance: ``The sky was blue/ And the wind was chilly/ I felt as if I were fluttering.''

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 21(IHT/Asahi: January 22,2004) (01/22)
Journalists must question leaders' policies

An advance unit of the Ground Self-Defense Force is now in Iraq. Never before has any SDF mission or activity attracted so much public attention.

With public opinion practically split in half, the nation must be kept accurately and promptly informed on the movements of the troops and the encounter with the local Iraqi people.

Obviously, the mass media should see to that. However, recent government moves have clearly undermined the media's ability to do what is in the public's best interest.

Right after the Defense Agency chief demanded that the media practice ``self-restraint'' in reporting SDF activities in Iraq, the agency announced there would be fewer regular press briefings by senior officials.

Some of those press briefings may appear trivial at best. But there are also cases where a significant overall picture of the agency's intentions emerges-something that cannot be pinned down by on-site reporting alone.

On the other hand, there are details that no Tokyo briefing will ever reveal, but can only be learned from news conferences given in Iraq.

Independent news gathering and reporting should always form the core of journalistic endeavors. Still, news conferences do help inform the public. Why, then, is the government limiting that opportunity?

In the 5th century B.C. ``Discourses of Confucius,'' there is listed the precept of Yorashimu-beshi, shirashimu-bekarazu, that is, ``The best approach to leadership is to keep the masses in the dark and simply force them to obey.'' I suspect this is what the government is thinking.

However, this interpretation of the phrase is actually mistranslation, according to ``Kotowaza-no Chie'' (Wisdom of aphorisms) published by Iwanami Shoten.

The book explains the correct translation: ``You probably cannot expect the uninformed masses to understand the significance or purpose of your policy, but you can make them accept the policy if it is correct and sound.''

I would not challenge this interpretation. But even so, I still do not want the government and the Diet to be preaching this Confucian maxim.

Having ordered SDF troops to a mission that could get them killed, the government's responsibility should be to keep asking itself ``Is it possible that our policy may be wrong?''

And journalists are just as responsible to question government policies.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 20(IHT/Asahi: January 21,2004) (01/21)
Dazai inspired prizewinners but never won

In a famous episode, novelist Osamu Dazai (1909-1948) wrote to novelist Yasunari Kawabata, who was sitting on a screening panel for the First Akutagawa Prize (in 1935), pleading, ``Please give me the prize.''

Dazai also wrote a similar plea to poet and novelist Haruo Sato (1892-1964), another member of the panel. ``I am counting on help from you alone, Mr. Sato,'' he wrote. ``I am a person who knows how to return favors. I have written an excellent work, and I am confident that I will be able to write even better novels in the days ahead.


 芥川賞選考委員だった川端康成に「何卒(なにとぞ) 私に与へて下さい」と太宰治が懇願した手紙はよく知られる。同じ選考委員だった佐藤春夫への手紙も切々たる内容だ。

``If I receive the Akutagawa Prize, I will weep tears of gratitude for your kind assistance.'' (Quoted in ``Nihon Bungaku Arubamu,'' or Japanese literature album, published by Shinchosha.)

One of Dazai's novels was nominated for the First Akutagawa Prize. But the nation's top literary prize eluded him that time around, and indeed for the rest of his life.


The irony is that recipients of the prize have often cited Dazai as their favorite writer. Risa Wataya, one of the two latest recipients, is among those who have said as much. This may account for why the 19-year-old novelist's works are marked both by an old-fashioned sedateness and a fresh style. She is the youngest recipient in the prize's history.

Hitomi Kanehara, the 20-year-old writer who shared the prize with Wataya, cited Ryu Murakami as her favorite author.


Murakami won the Akutagawa Prize for his lauded novel: ``Kagiri-naku Tomei-ni Chikai Buruu'' (``Almost Transparent Blue''). Novelist Junnosuke Yoshiyuki, on that year's screening panel, commented: ``I find the novel boring, but I decided that I should close my eyes to that and vote for the work based on the author's outstanding talent.''

Another member, literary critic Mitsuo Nakamura, said: ``I see an abundance of talent in this novel. Even the author seems unable to keep it under control.'' (These comments appear in a collection of writings on the Akutagawa Prize, published by Bungeishunju.)


When Murakami made his debut, it was speculated that he was influenced by the works of Kenzaburo Oe. A new literary work, no matter how distinctive it may look, is always written under the influence of the preceding generation. So, blazing a new trail is all up to the debuting writer.


In his comment on Oe's novel (``The Catch,'' 1958), which received the Akugatawa Prize, Kawabata termed it as ``vulnerable and fragile-a product of an artificial experiment by a young author.''

Although he might have expected his own Nobel Prize in Literature, Kawabata could not have entertained the faintest idea that Oe would grow into a novelist who would join him (in 1994) as a Nobel laureate.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 19(IHT/Asahi: January 20,2004) (01/20)
Hippocrates, Newton take root in the mind

A plane tree stands in the garden of the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center in Tokyo's Hiroo district. A plaque describes it as a ``Hippocrates' Tree,'' a gift from the Greek Red Cross Society, presented in 1977 to commemorate the Japanese Red Cross Society's centennial.



``A giant plane tree still stands in the central square of Cos, the hometown of Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medicine,'' the inscription continues. ``In time, it came to be called Hippocrates' Tree because Hippocrates, in his later years, is said to have taught medicine to his disciples in its shade.''


The sapling given by the Greek society is said to have been cut from the very tree named after the Greek physician; a tree estimated to have lived on Cos Island in the Aegean Sea for more than 3,000 years.

This is simply amazing. And it is delightful to fancy privately that the root of the plane tree standing proudly in the middle of Tokyo stretches all the way back to ancient Greece.


It had been a long time since I had last paid a visit to the tree. I went again recently after learning that ``Newton's Tree,'' the apple tree said to have inspired Newton's discovery of universal gravitation, was proliferating in Japan.

Britain presented a sapling grown from the original Newton's Tree to the president of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science in 1964. Planted in the botanical garden of the University of Tokyo, the sapling's offshoots were donated to other institutions for educational or research purposes. And while the recipient institutions are banned from passing on their offshoots, they nevertheless seem to be changing hands without authorization.


Some institutions obtain the trees with authorization. According to one university, it lets the fruits of its Newton's Tree fall to the ground every year, taking the view that because the tree has become a symbol of the school, the apples are not to be collected.

On the other hand, an elementary school says it mobilizes its pupils to collect the fruits of the Newton's Tree each year to make apple jam.


In our minds, we can imagine what it was like to step into the shade of the Hippocrates' Tree on Cos Island and watch Newton's legendary apples fall. We can imagine how they tasted. The trick is to give wings to the imagination to travel through time, mindful of the ages that have passed since the days of Hippocrates and Sir Isaac Newton.

This is an exercise that should further spread, but if the imagination's wings are stretched in the dark, they will cry in unhappiness.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 12(IHT/Asahi: January 19,2004) (01/19)
Vow not to become a merchant of death

``Would you please state explicitly that Japan does not intend to export weapons at all?'' Komeito legislator Yoshiaki Masaki demanded this of then-Prime Minister Takeo Miki during a Lower House Budget Committee session in 1976.



The Miki Cabinet had just issued a government statement that reinterpreted the so-called three principles of non-export of arms-especially to belligerent nations-announced nine years previously by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. Along with the three-point no-nuke policy, these principles form the heart and soul of Japan's pacifist pledge to the world.


According to a table of value-based arms exports by nations of the world, released recently by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States tops the list, followed by Russia, France, Germany and Britain. Of the G-8 nations, Canada ranks No. 13, but Japan places 62nd out of 65, with the export value close to zero.


The table gives me some peace of mind. The nation has not deviated in any conspicuous way from the three principles of non-export of arms. And this makes Japan an exceptional nation in the developed world.

But some Japanese apparently do not like this. Perhaps they are desperate to catch up with the rest of the world. Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba has publicly called for a review of the three principles.


``Watashi-wa Sekai-ni Buki-wo Uru'' (I sell weapons to the world), a book published by Takeuchi Shoten Shinsha, is about arms dealers-or merchants of death.

According to estimates cited in this book, the mortality rate of combatants in actual battle has declined from 15 percent in the 18th century to 10 percent in the 19th century and 6 percent in the 20th century.

On the other hand, the percentage of wartime fatalities in the total population has crept up gradually from 0.1 percent in the first half of the 19th century to 2.1 percent in the first half of the 20th century, with further growth in the latter half of the century.

These figures indicate that ordinary citizens form a majority of victims of weapons circulating around the world.


Japan must vow not to join the ranks of merchants of death.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 16(IHT/Asahi: January 17,2004) (01/17)
Aware of things that go unnoticed by others

You can shut your eyes whenever you want. But your ears? ``The ears are so made that you can't shut them at will. Why is that?''



This famous question was posed by physicist, essayist and haiku poet Torahiko Terada (1878-1935) in ``Haiku to Chikyu-butsuri'' (Haiku and earth physics), published as one volume of the Rentier Collection.

One could perhaps offer a ready answer such as, ``Your ears stay open so you can sense danger while you sleep.''

The point, however, is that having the ability to question things that others take for granted or don't notice is a talent necessary for scientists.


``Gendai Nihon Bungaku Zenshu 22'' (Complete works of contemporary Japanese literature, Vol. 22) published by Chikuma Shobo contains an essay by Terada titled ``Kagakusha to Atama'' (Scientist and mind).

In this piece, Terada encourages ``weak-mindedness,'' which he defines as being unable to help puzzling over matters that should be obvious to anyone. ``Scientists ought to be slow thinkers and blockheads,'' he notes.


Terada rarely talked about politics. However, his family once recounted the following episode.

Terada believed Japan was being utterly foolish to compete in an arms race with the world's great powers. Rather than commit such folly, he reasoned, it was better to think up some outlandish idea. And he actually suggested one.


To paraphrase from ``Kaiso no Terada Torahiko'' (Torahiko Terada as remembered) published by Iwanami Shoten: A city of flimsy buildings such as Tokyo would not survive air raids. When an air raid alert siren goes off, all citizens of Tokyo should run out of their homes and release red balloons into the air. The skies of Tokyo will turn all red, which is sure to surprise enemy bomber pilots. Unfortunately, this ploy will work only once.

Terada must have made this observation in the early Showa Period (1926-1989), when the military was beginning to run amok. Tokyo at that time had yet to experience an air raid.


It may be an exaggeration to call Terada's idea a strategy of nonviolent resistance. Still, in this day and age, it does help to exercise our brains, which can easily become stiff and unwieldy.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10(IHT/Asahi: January 16,2004) (01/16)
Clucking over risks of eggs and avian flu

About 140 million chickens are being raised in Japan for their eggs, and we eat more than 30 billion of them, or about 300 eggs per person, every year. Indeed,
Japan is one of top egg-consuming nations in the world.



While the prices of all commodities kept rising after the end of World War II, eggs were practically the sole exception. They ranged from 10 to 20 yen apiece for scores of years and earned the reputation of being the ``champion inflation fighter.'' Producers held down costs by switching to a mass production system in which chickens are kept in automated factory-like enclosures.


These days, one also finds more expensive eggs in stores, eggs produced by free-range chickens. The wider choice for consumers is only for the good.

Still, generally low egg prices are a problem for many poultry farmers. Moreover, eggs are a commodity that sometimes crashes. And there are seasonal fluctuations-prices drop in summer but climb toward the end of the year when demand increases to make Christmas cakes and New Year's dishes.


A poultry farmers' association in Kyoto Prefecture recently was found to have sold eggs that were six months old to take advantage of the seasonal price fluctuations. A large shipment made in December comprised eggs that had been kept in cold storage after being laid in June.

This case could destroy the public trust in its ``champion inflation fighter.'' Since eggs are a familiar food, consumers have a strong interest in its safety. Destroying such trust is as easy as cracking an egg.


Also of serious concern is the outbreak of avian flu in Yamaguchi Prefecture. What it tells us is that the massive outbreak of the flu in South Korea was not a ``fire on the other side of the river,'' that is easily ignored, as the saying goes. One theory has it that the virus was brought here by migratory birds.

The worry is whether the virus can be transmitted from birds to humans.

For the moment, however, there is some comfort in official assurances that to date, no one has ever been infected with avian flu from eating eggs or chicken meat. So, we should not cluck too much over that.


There was a time when eggs were expensive and precious, as a poem by Kuniyo Takayasu (1912-1984) indicates: ``I was sick when my father came/ He gave me some money and eggs before leaving/ Despite his having no income.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 14(IHT/Asahi: January 15,2004) (01/15)
There's just something catching about a yawn

You see a lot of people yawning the morning after a long weekend, which makes you want to yawn, too. That's because yawning is catching. This seems to be a universal truth.



A British newspaper ran a story about a yawning experiment. About half the test subjects did likewise when shown a videotape of someone yawning.

Psychologists theorize that people subconsciously identify with the state of mind of those who yawn. That is to say that people who are disinclined to feel empathy for others tend to be more immune to ``contagion.''


Another explanation is based on the theory of evolution. A yawn, it is said, was a signal of sorts for rest or action when our ancestors lived in groups. This explains why yawning is catching among animals, too. However, much still remains unknown about the mechanism of yawning.


In some cases, yawning could be a symptom of some physiological disorder. But since yawning is generally a sign of boredom, it is considered rude to rub it in the other person's face, and you just have to stifle it. It is no easy feat to yawn graciously.


In ``Akubi Shinan'' (Instructions on how to yawn), a classic rakugo comic story, yawning is elevated to an art to be pursued and perfected. The master instructor tells his disciples, ``All your yawns are coarse yawns. They aren't worth even a penny.''

He goes on to cite an example of an ``artistically accomplished'' yawn.

A playboy in the Edo Period (1603-1867), it seems, was pondering a visit to his favorite ryotei - a restaurant and place of entertainment for men. As he mentally runs through his usual routine at the ryotei-take a nice, refreshing bath first, and then amuse himself in style-he yawns inadvertently.

Such is indeed a yawn of refined ennui.


Let me backtrack to the contagious nature of yawning. Can it leap between animals and humans? Haiku poet Kobayashi Issa, who was known for his love of animals, left this cute gem: ``Soft spring rain/ A dog at the gate/ Catches my yawn.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13(IHT/Asahi: January 14,2004)(IHT/Asahi: January 14,2004) (01/14)
Is 20 old enough to pay for old-age needs?

It probably won't be long before people turning 20 will be obliged to start paying nursing care insurance premiums.

At present, the legal obligation to pay these premiums starts at age 40. However, the government reportedly is set to consider lowering the starting age. The idea amounts to asking young people to shoulder the burden now as well as in the future.



Monday was Coming-of-Age Day. For many years, celebrations were held on a fixed date. But the current system allows the date to be freely changed to create consecutive holidays.

In contrast, officially sponsored Coming-of-Age ceremonies have been slow to change. The phenomenon fundamentally springs from a tendency among public offices to imitate each other.


Allow me to offer a suggestion. A municipal government that adopts my proposal will begin to announce its plans for the next Coming-of-Age ceremony several months in advance, releasing the information on the date and agenda in its publicity paper and Web site. Make it clear whether the mayor and invited guests will give congratulatory addresses.

If a lecture or lectures are to be given, identify who will speak. Send admission tickets only to those who find the agenda satisfactory and express their intention to attend.

If the number of willing participants is small, a smaller site should be chosen next time. And if no one comes forward to signal a desire to attend, the annual ceremony should be scrapped.


This drastic scenario could help to diminish the cases of violence and other trouble that have come to mark Coming-of-Age ceremonies in recent years. It would also be a good idea to set aside seats for middle-aged and elderly people, wishing to attend them to hear lectures or to give encouragement to ``new adults.''


There are various ways to celebrate Coming-of-Age Day. While some may wish to be left alone, I would like to present all 20-year-olds with some lines of poetry to celebrate their once-in-a-lifetime day: ``A great crash in the air/ It was my hands shouting in the sky/ Who knows my mind was crying silently?'' (Quoted from the complete works of Shinpei Kusano, published by Chikuma Shobo.)


Originally, these lines made up a passage from Shinpei Kusano's first collection of poems, which was published in mimeograph when he returned home from a Chinese university in Guangzhou for a draft-age physical checkup. He was 20 then.

The shining quality that draws me to the poem is the rough edge of youth that makes the poet throw up into the air his mind unable to comprehend.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 11(IHT/Asahi: January 13,2004) (01/13)
Omnibus movie with an overall theme of time

How long is 10 minutes?

It certainly is not a space of time that passes in the blink of an eye, but it is by no means an extended period, either. You would need this much time to drink a cup of coffee in a hurry. You can cook instant food in 10 minutes, but it is not long enough for a more complicated dish. An urban train passes through two or three stations in as much time.



The omnibus movie ``Ten Minutes Older'' brings together the works of 15 renowned directors who were each given 10 minutes' shooting time. Because most directors actually took longer than 10 minutes, the film was split into two parts-``The Trumpet'' and ``The Cello.''


The film's overall theme is ``time.'' There is a scene in which the words of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius are run as a symbol of the theme: ``In a manner of speaking, time is a river in which all things that come into being flow-a torrent to be precise.'' (The quote is taken from Aurelius' ``Meditations of Writings to Himself,'' a book contained in the Iwanami paperback library.)

The images and tales that make up the omnibus movie represent the 15 directors' replies to the question: ``How long is 10 minutes?'' Among them are Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurasmaki, Spike Lee, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Jean-Luc Godard.


With their likes and dislikes, people will make all sorts of comment on the movie. Personally, what I found interesting was the variety of styles followed by the directors and their divergent outlooks on life. The film's significance also stems from the fact it is an omnibus of what was shot and recorded by world-famous directors at the same time. I would like to stress this point because life is, so to speak, an omnibus of an infinite variety of parallel developments that happen simultaneously.


In the movie's ``official reader,'' Wenders laments that the more time-saving devices we have, the less time we have to spend freely. ``My mornings,'' he writes, ``are occupied by a large number of received e-mails. This morning, it took me two to three hours to deal with 60 e-mails.''


For many salary earners, the time to enjoy the leisurely hours of the New Year holidays was over Monday morning, replaced by a return to the normal pace of working life. What this means is that 10 minutes becomes a crucial space of time again.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 5(IHT/Asahi: January 12,2004) (01/12)
`Organized violence' and the impotence of law

Not infrequently, innocent bystanders fall victim to gangland war. The victims just happen to be on a busy street corner when a shootout erupts in broad daylight, or in a store when a gangster starts blasting away.



Can such brutal warfare be considered to constitute ``business'' in the world of organized crime? This has been a frequently asked question in lawsuits instituted by the bereaved families of such victims.

The very idea of defining murderous acts of turf war as ``business'' is utterly preposterous to many people, and some courts have actually ruled so.


However, if the civil code concept of ``business'' is applied to gangland warfare, then there is legal ground for holding the ``employer'' accountable for the actions of subordinates. In other words, this enables the court to order monied yakuza bosses to pay hefty damages for what their hard-up subordinates have done.

This is a matter of tricky legal interpretation.


In a suit by the bereaved family of a police officer shot to death in a yakuza turf war, the Osaka High Court ruled last autumn that the feud constituted ``business'' for expansion and maintenance of Yamaguchi-gumi's sphere of influence. And even though the feud itself was between a lesser affiliated group and its foe, the presiding judge set a historic precedent by ordering the top Yamaguchi-gumi boss to pay damages.


``Business'' can mean a lot of things. If a yakuza feud is business, then one could say war is business of the state.

What remedies are there for innocent civilian victims of war? Are Iraqi victims of assault on their land entitled to sue the United States and hold it responsible for starting that war? Are they in a position to demand payment of damages from the president of the United States?


A draft amendment of the anti-gang law is to be proposed during the upcoming Diet session. The revision will render it easier to hold yakuza bosses accountable for their subordinates' crimes.

Gangland war and war between nations are similar in the sense that both have to do with ``organized violence.'' But where wars between nations are concerned, how often must we keep witnessing the powerlessness of law?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 9(IHT/Asahi: January 10,2004) (01/10)
Burial rite prompts us to ponder civilization

I can still recall my shocked reaction to ``Choso-no Kuni'' (Land of sky burial), a book published by Kobunsha more than 40 years ago.

On expedition in Tibet, author Jiro Kawakita, a cultural anthropologist, delved into the heart of a very alien civilization. As such, the book is better described as a pioneering work in the genre.



Particularly jolting was Kawakita's depiction of choso, or sky burial-a unique funeral ritual in which the body of the deceased is literally butchered on a large slab of stone to be fed to vultures and other birds of prey.

Great care is taken to cut up the body in such a way that ``the birds will not leave a morsel uneaten,'' writes Kawakita. The bones are pounded into tiny fragments with stone. The moment the funeral party leaves, vultures come swooping down.


Ekai Kawaguchi is believed to have been the first Japanese to enter Tibet, between the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. In his ``Chibetto Ryokoki'' (Tibetan travelogue) published by Hakusuisa, Kawaguchi notes: ``I witnessed an amazing funeral, probably unknown anywhere else in the world.''


Kawaguchi's depiction of a sky burial is almost identical to Kawakita's, which suggests the unchanged permanence of this rite.

The rite itself appears gruesome, but I think it actually makes perfect sense if you believe in transmigration of the soul and reincarnation.


Sky burial could be considered a kind of aerial burial in the broad sense of the term.

In fact, it feels gloriously liberating to imagine the dead becoming parts of the birds and soaring into the sky.

Kawaguchi observes, ``Feeding the dead to the birds means releasing the soul to the winds.''


Government authorities in China's Tibet Autonomous Region have reportedly begun a drive to replace sky burial with cremation, claiming the former to be ``unhygienic'' and ``barbarous.''

In related reports, vultures are now said to be spurning human remains, which some experts suspect has something to do with accumulations of chemical substances in the human body.

What is civilization? One has to wonder.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 8(IHT/Asahi: January 9,2004) (01/09)
For a slower pace, follow the lunar calendar

Some people are only getting around to writing their nengajo New Year's cards now. ``Why?'' you might ask. The answer is simple: They live by the lunar calendar. Lunar New Year for 2004 falls on Jan. 22, so these people effectively are still living in the month of December and must wait another two weeks for the turn of the year.



A friend, who follows the lunar calendar along with the modern calendar, says: ``The lunar calendar enhances your interest in the waxing and waning of the moon. It also makes you sensitive to nature's seasonal changes.''

When you live by the lunar calendar, each month begins with a new moon and with each passing day the moon changes shape. The waxing and waning of the moon perfectly fits the passage of time on the calendar. Not surprisingly, this enhances one's sense of being at one with nature.


The lunar calendar offers another merit. Followers of this system generally feel that traditional annual events are not observed well ahead of time. This point perhaps can be illustrated by nanakusa gayu, the ancient custom of eating rice gruel mixed with seven specific kinds of wild grass on the seventh day of the new year.

These days, most people probably observe the custom by buying a set of cultivated nanakusa, or seven different kinds of grass. The lunar calendar delays the day until the season of wakana tsumi, or picking young herbs, another ancient custom that takes advantage of young wild grass that pokes through from under the snow in many areas by this time.

In olden times, people ate the gruel because they attributed the vitality of the wild grass to good health.


Japan switched from the lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which is based on a solar year and is now used by most countries, in 1873. Before that, during the Edo Period (1603-1867), some people celebrated New Year's Day according to the modern calendar. They were students of Dutch learning.


Otsuki Gentaku, known as the author of such books as ``Rangaku Kaitei'' (An introduction to Dutch studies), held New Year celebrations with fellow scholars at his private school in the capital of Edo. The first such celebration took place on Jan. 1, 1795. By the lunar calendar, the day corresponded to ``bissextile'' Nov. 11 of the sixth year of the Kansei Era (1789-1801). Thereafter, it was carried on for nearly half a century.

The banquets were called Oranda Shogatsu or Dutch-style New Year celebrations. Attending them were scholars who pursued their studies with a strong sense of mission not to let Japan fall behind the tide of the world, even though they were definitely a minority.


Those who adopted the Western-style calendar in the age of seclusion are certainly commendable as ``trail-blazers.'' By contrast, there are people now who indulge themselves in the slow pace of life by bringing back the lunar calendar into a bustling world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 7(IHT/Asahi: January 8,2004) (01/08)
Pearls of wisdom from Natsume Soseki

Just 100 years ago, Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) was teaching Shakespeare's Macbeth at Tokyo Imperial University, predecessor of the University of Tokyo. Soseki had started the course the year before, and it proved so popular that the lecture hall was always packed to capacity.

Soseki, however, continued to suffer from a nervous breakdown-a condition that had afflicted him since his government-sponsored student days in Britain.



At the advice of poet-novelist Takahama Kyoshi, Soseki turned to creative writing in 1904. This resulted in ``Wagahai-wa Neko-de Aru'' (I Am a Cat), which was completed in December of that year and critically acclaimed by Kyoshi, Kawahigashi Hekigoto and other disciples of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902).

The work was published in the January 1905 issue of Hototogisu, a literary periodical begun by Shiki. This would catapult Soseki to fame.


Soseki, whose birth name was Kinnosuke, was born on Jan. 5 (on the lunar calendar) in the Ushigome district of Edo (present-day Tokyo). It was the year before the Meiji Restoration started. He would live through, and write about, the process by which an ``opened'' Japan interacted for real with the rest of the world for the first time after centuries of isolation.


In a lecture he gave on the theme of the dawn of modern Japan in the final days of the Meiji Era, Soseki noted: ``We feel superior when we badmouth people who are ignorant of Western table manners-how to hold the knife and fork, that sort of thing. The only reason we feel superior is that Westerners are more powerful than ourselves.''

He pointed out that ``Westernization'' was only a superficial phenomenon, a mimic, and not something that grew and matured naturally from within.

I think there is much wisdom in his observation even today, when we look back on the path Japan has walked since.


Incidentally, it was on Jan. 5 exactly 100 years ago that the Vox Populi, Vox Dei column first appeared in the Osaka edition of The Asahi Shimbun. The column did not go national until after World War II in September 1945, but I am reminded anew of how this column has received the support of generations of readers.


Soseki resigned from teaching and joined The Asahi Shimbun three years after the column was begun in Osaka. His first contribution to the newspaper was the serial novel ``Gubijinso'' (The Poppy).


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 6(IHT/Asahi: January 7,2004) (01/07)
Koizumi signals a tough year lies ahead

``This is your father munching on herring roe, which I have taken the trouble of ordering from Japan,'' wrote Capt. Tadamichi Kuribayashi in a pictorial letter he sent to his young son from the United States. ``I found the roe very delicious.'' (Herring roe is traditionally prized in Japan as a symbol of fertility.)



In 1928, Kuribayashi was dispatched to study in America by the Imperial Japanese Army. During his stay over there, he made it a habit to draw pictures showing how he lived and mailed them to Japan with simple verbal explanations. With a nonchalant touch, he sketched the dietary life of Americans, the lives of boys and girls, and the heavy vehicular traffic in town.


Years later, as the commander of the garrison on Iwo Jima, Kuribayashi put up ferocious resistance against invading U.S. forces and was killed in action along with many of his men. The life he led in the United States was so idyllic that there was no hint of what the future would hold for him.

Even so, he apparently felt that going to war with America would be suicidal for Japan. His life in the United States taught him that country had a vast industrial edge over Japan.


In letters sent from Iwo Jima, Kuribayashi wrote of the miserable life of his troops and local civilians. He instructed his family to take good care of their lives, and asked them to accept that his impending death was his destiny. He told them never to show his letters to anyone. Probably, he feared that his ``frank'' letters would offend the authorities. (Kuribayashi's letters make up part of the Shogakukan library under the title of ``Gyokusai Soshikikan-no Etegami,'' or pictorial letters sent by the commanding officer on an island where everyone died an honorable death.)


Portraits of the war dead are on display in immense numbers at Yushukan, a war museum at Yasukuni Shrine, located in Tokyo's Kudan-Kita area. Kuribayashi's portrait is among them. He sacrificed his life to save his country. When you stand in front of it, knowing what kind of person he had been before he made up his mind to fight, one is overcome with complex feelings.


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid homage at Yasukuni Shrine on New Year's Day. He explained he just followed the Japanese custom of hatsumode, or making the year's first visit to shrines and temples. But his trip to Yasukuni cannot be seen in the same light as New Year's pilgrimages made by ordinary people hoping to have their small wishes granted.

It probably signified a New Year message by Koizumi following his decision to send Self-Defense Forces personnel to Iraq. I took it as a sign that a tough year lies ahead.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 3(IHT/Asahi: January 6,2004) (01/06)
Tears relax your heart and make it resilient

Here are some quotes for December.

Painter Tatsuo Takayama says: ``In a movie I saw years ago, there was a scene in which the Buddha was fidgety and visibly flustered. I loved that scene. It was beautiful. I think humans are most genuine when they are confused and don't know what to think or do. That's what makes them beautiful.''



Masamori Inoue, a diplomat who was slain in Iraq in November, was a fifth grader in elementary school when he wrote a composition about Africans abandoning their barren fields. Inoue wrote: ``I was pained beyond words by the sight of those Africans. ... I dearly wished I could do something about making idle farmland in Japan available to them.''


Yukiko Takada, the mother of assistant police inspector Haruyuki Takada, who was shot dead in Cambodia 10 years ago, recalled: ``I had no choice but to get over my pain and keep going. ... About six months after my son's death, I saw a friend of mine. Without a word, she just put her hand on my shoulder, her face filled with sorrow. I appreciated her gesture more than any words of condolences, and I have never forgotten it since.''


U.S. photographer Eddie Adams covered the Vietnam War.

``I oppose war, through and through,'' he said. Adams now specializes in portraits of famous people around the world because he can no longer stand to weep on his job and scream in his heart, ``Enough! I can't take a picture like this.''


Taiwanese film director Ho Hsiao Hsien quoted the words of an Italian novelist to illustrate the beauty of director Yasujiro Ozu's works: ``The depth of all things is hidden. Where? It is hidden on the surface.''

 「物事の深みは隠されている。どこに? それは表面上に隠されている」とのイタリア作家の言葉を引きながら小津映画の魅力を語るのは台湾の侯孝賢(ホウシャオシェン)監督。

Novelist Ira Ishida: ``How many times did you cry this past year? What brought those tears? Or were there tears that came for no reason? Like your body, your heart also stiffens up quickly if you stop using it. Tears have the power to relax your heart and make it resilient.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 30(IHT/Asahi: January 5,2004) (01/05)
Sand art teaches the power of continuity

Sand is seen as a symbol of transience. You draw something in sand and the winds and the waves will wipe it away. You do not seek permanence through this act.



My curiosity was piqued when I learned of an island where a highly developed technique of sand drawing has been handed down over the generations.

This is the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, an independent republic since 1980 and home to 200,000 people.

Using the index finger, the people draw beautiful, single-stroke geometric patterns in sand. The patterns tell all sorts of tales.


For instance, there are stories about the beginning of the universe and mythical folklore about animals. Some drawings explain community secrets and rules, others pertain to magic, and yet others elucidate scientific knowledge.

The drawings, in short, are a storehouse of collective memories of the people.

The creators are artists, religious scholars and scientists who also serve to provide a common ``language'' to this region that is fragmented by nearly 100 dialects.


Their culture, as represented by sand drawing, is not one that values solid continuity and permanence. It is certainly different from what is called the ``culture of stone'' of Western Europe and astonishing even to us Japanese with our ``culture of wood.''

Vanuatu's ``culture of sand'' was designated last year as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

I was reminded of the poem ``Sunano Toride'' (Fortress of sand) by Tatsuji Miyoshi (1900-1964).

``My song is a fortress of sand/ The sea rises to destroy it/ In a gentle sweep of a wave,'' goes the refrain. ``But this does not stop me/ I keep building .../ Mine is a fortress of sand/ Quick to crumble/ Quick to build.''

 強固で永続するものを尊重する文化とは少々違う。「石の文化」といわれる西欧から見れば、いや「木の文化」の私たちから見ても驚きだ。この「砂の文化」が去年、ユネスコの「無形遺産の傑作」の一つに選ばれた。 三好達治の詩「砂の砦」を思い浮かべる。「私のうたは砂の砦(とりで)だ/海が来て/やさしい波の一打ちでくづしてしまふ」の一節を繰り返す。だが「こりずまにそれでもまた私は築く(中略)この砦は砂の砦だ/崩れるにはやく/築くにはやい」

No matter how rock-solid, there are things that, once lost, can never be restored. The ``culture of sand'' teaches us not to fear outward impermanence and to appreciate the strength inherent in continuity.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 1(IHT/Asahi: January 3,2004) (01/03)
A year of renaissance for those born in 1903

According to movie director Kiju Yoshida, one of the good things about the movies of famed director Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) was that he kept soldiers in uniform out of his films.

Yoshida made his point at a recent symposium marking the centennial of Ozu's birth. He noted that Ozu did not depict a single serviceman in his movies that were shot at at time when, in real life, soldiers in uniform were seen everywhere in town.



As I recalled events of 2003, my thoughts often went further back, pondering the lives of people in the past century.

Seventy years ago, Takiji Kobayashi, who described factory crab ships as ``all run-down affairs'' in his novel about people working on board these vessels, was tortured to death by police after being arrested and accused of being a Communist. How did Ozu, who was the same age as Kobayashi, view this incident?

Novelist Fumiko Hayashi, noted author of ``Horoki'' (Journals of a wandering life), was also born in 1903. (A stage production of the novel continues to be performed.) She is famous for writing the line, ``Frailty, thy name is poverty.'' But as a person, she was tough. She lived on despite her poverty and her habit of wandering.


Celebrities who share Ozu's centennial of birth include Misuzu Kaneko, a poet who wrote children's songs and died in her 20s, poets Shinpei Kusano and Tosaburo Ono, avant-garde artist Shuzo Takiguchi, woodblock artist Shiko Munakata and novelist Kyuya Fukada. (Fukada's reputation is for being the author of ``Nihon Hyaku Meizan,'' or One hundred great mountains in Japan).


Two unforgettable names come to mind in this connection-Ainu translator Yukie Chiri and Okinawan-born poet Baku Yamanokuchi.

Chiri died at age 19, but before that, she translated oral Ainu poems into fine Japanese. (Her work, ``Ainu Shinyo Shu,'' or a collection of Ainu epics in praise of gods, is available as an Iwanami Bunko paperback.) We can find her lamentation in that book: ``O the doomed ones/ That is the name we have now/ What a sad name do we have?''


Yamanokuchi continued to write poetry even as he lived in utter poverty. To him, Okinawa was, as one of his poems goes: ``An island of jabisen three-string music/ An island of awamori rice brandy/ An island of poetry/ An island of dances/ An island of karate.''

``Whither the island now?'' was the question he asked in the summer of 1951. (The poem is from a collection of Baku Yamanokuchi's verse and prose, published as part of the Kodansha library of literary arts.)


The year 2003 was one in which the voices of these people, all born in the same year and who expressed themselves in ways as diverse as the lives they lived, reverberated throughout the archipelago.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 31(IHT/Asahi: January 1,2004) (01/01)
World needs an international rescue center

Ibn Battuta, the great 14th-century Arab traveler, found Isfahan to be ``one of the best among the numerous Persian towns in terms of its scale and splendor. ... But conflicts have left most of it in ruins,'' he wrote in his journals. (A Japanese translation titled ``Dai Ryokoki'' is available from Toyo Bunko.)



Isfahan is far northwest of Bam, where a killer earthquake did its worst damage in Iran last week. By the time Battuta visited Isfahan, the old Persian town of Bam already had a history of several hundred years. Because Iran is crisscrossed by ancient roads that used to serve as the conveyor of East and West civilizations, the country has also been the stage of repeated wars. The giant old fort of Bam, the witness of Iran's tumultuous history, is said to have been almost totally destroyed in the latest natural disaster.


The residents of Bam mostly lived in houses made of bricks, as was the case with the old fort. As a result, many were trapped under the rubble when Friday's killer temblor struck.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami appealed to the international community to send personnel and equipment to rescue buried victims, stressing that action in the first 48 hours was of critical importance. Japan should respond to the appeal by providing maximum assistance as quickly as possible.


Every time a major disaster strikes, it comes as a reminder that it is essential to strengthen the international system for rescue operations. Reports from various countries indicate that they are sending rescue teams to Iran, all of which vary in the number of personnel and the kinds of equipment they are taking. But the rescue effort, a race against time, is not proceeding very efficiently.


Clearly, there is a need to establish a world operation center-a ``rescue corps without frontiers,'' so to speak-which would be charged with such tasks as sending rescue teams quickly to where their service is sorely needed and making sure that the rescue capacities of respective countries always meet certain standards.

The United Nations should make such coordination a matter of top priority.


Japan happens to be particularly familiar with natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions. As a nation with a long history of battling them, it should be able to put its expertise to good use in creating a global rescue organization.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 28(IHT/Asahi: December 31,2003) (12/31)
Lots of hustle and bustle ahead of New Year

As December winds down, most people are in a rush to finish all sorts of tasks before the turn of the year.

Even now, a sense of bustle hangs in the air at this time. For the late essayist Aya Koda (1904-1990), it was a time when she often served gotta jiru, or jumble stew, for supper in her home.



Sukiyaki and yose nabe (a mixed stew of chicken, seafood and vegetables) take time to get just right, Koda wrote in an essay. The thought of spending too much time to get hold of the right ingredients irritated her. The good thing about gotta jiru was that it could be consumed by many people at once because all the ingredients could be boiled in a pot together, with almost no wait required before digging in.

The essay appeared in the December 1964 issue of Bungei Asahi, a literary magazine published by The Asahi Shimbun. ``It may be said, therefore,'' Koda continued, ``that gotta jiru was very much a reflection of my feelings in the last days of a year. To give some examples: I was conscious of a year-end sense of harmony among people, even as they busily went about their tasks, and I shared their sense of being busy as I braced myself for the cold season, and I felt sorrow when I had to pay for something, rejoicing over sums (of money) coming into my pocket.''


Kadomatsu New Year pine decorations were on sale at street stalls. Speculating about why putting up these gate decorations became a long-standing tradition, novelist Haruo Sato (1892-1964) wrote in an essay, ``It seems to me that the custom has served as a kind of social policy.''


The urban consumption of young pine trees and pine branches from mountain villages, Sato said, brought some profit to their suppliers to help meet their year-end and New Year financial needs. ``It seems to me,'' he went on, ``that while New Year pine decorations and shimenawa decorations of sacred straw festoons may not be necessary, they are serving a positive purpose as a way to cycle some money from the cities to mountain and farming villages.'' (The essay is contained in the complete works of Sato Haruo, published by Rinsen Book Co.)

 この時期、山村から切り出した小松や松の枝などを都会で使うことになれば、山村の年末年始もいくらか利潤が生まれる。「都市の金銭を山村や農村にも融通するための一方法として、松飾りやしめ飾りは、無用の用ともいうべき用を果たしているようにわたくしには思える」(『定本 佐藤春夫全集』臨川書店)

As clear skies prevailed over Tokyo on Sunday, large crowds of people thronged the Ameyoko discount shopping area at Ueno. Some places were crowded like a jam-packed train. A young girl caught in the congestion had tears in her eyes. Calling to an aged man, a young vendor said, ``Take care not to get lost.''

``Take this home,'' I heard vendors saying everywhere. ``It's just 1,000 yen. We're offering this for just 1,000 yen.''

The air was filled with the din of ``sen,'' or 1,000 yen. But shoppers were not buying with corresponding fervor.


Back home, a sense of urgency takes hold as the hours pass with little progress evident in the tasks I set out to finish. But I know the problem will melt away on New Year's Day, when the pace of life slows to a crawl.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 29(IHT/Asahi: December 30,2003) (12/30)
'Tis the season for playing Beethoven's Ninth

Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was first performed in Japan, it is thought, in June 1918. The players were German prisoners of war being held in a concentration camp in Tokushima Prefecture. Germany was losing World War I at that time.



Inside the camp, the atmosphere was relatively free, and the POWs actively engaged in cultural pursuits. Even so, they must have had a hard time getting hold of the necessary instruments. Presumably, some instruments had to be made by hand. The internees also reportedly resorted to improvising, bringing in an organ for an unobtainable bassoon, just to give an example. For the first performance, a 45-member orchestra and a 90-member chorus were assembled.


On one occasion at least, Beethoven's Ninth was performed even during World War II. The memorable occasion was a public gathering held in the summer of 1944 to send off University of Tokyo students who had been called up for military service. It was becoming increasingly clear that Japan was losing the war. The Ninth would not have graced the gathering but for an ardent effort by the conscripted students.


The nation was starving then. The orchestra that was requested to play the Ninth was reluctant to comply, saying, ``The undernourished members don't have the stamina to take on the Ninth.'' The students proposed a plan that would limit the orchestra's service to the third and fourth movements. Played in such a tense atmosphere, the symphony must have been especially moving.


The symphony is now embroiled in constitutional debate in Europe. This is because those who prepared a draft Constitution for the European Union adopted the ``Ode to Joy'' that makes up the symphony's fourth movement as the symbol of European integration.

The member countries' initial response was mixed. While Germany and France came out for the idea, Britain and the Scandinavian countries were unsupportive. The proposal ended up being written into the draft Constitution. But the draft Constitution itself is bogged down in controversy, and there is no telling when it will be enacted and put into effect.


With the end of the year in sight, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is being performed around the country. Buffeted by the waves of history, it has continued to move people profoundly over the years. This composition, which evolves dramatically from ``anxiety to joy,'' will continue to cross the boundaries of eras and nations.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 21(IHT/Asahi: December 29,2003) (12/29)
A single cow scares the world, but is it alone?

I hear the price of beef in the United States has been rising in recent years due to increased consumption. It seems the popularity of a ``how-to'' book on dieting played a role.



The book recommended a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. It urged readers to refrain from starchy foodstuff like grain and to eat plenty of meat and other protein-rich foods. Americans love beef. They could not have asked for a more welcome weight-loss program. They no longer had to feel guilty about eating steaks to their hearts' content. The program became a national phenomenon. Its originator, Dr. Robert C. Atkins, had been advocating this diet since the 1970s. But at the peak of this phenomenon, he died last April from a fall on a sidewalk near his New York home.


It took a single book to generate a trend. Now a single animal may reverse the situation. A cow, which was raised in the northwestern state of Washington, was found to be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.


Nearly 100 million head of cattle are raised in the United States, and about 35 million end up on the butcher's slab each year. About 90 percent of the beef is for domestic consumption and 10 percent for export, of which 30 percent is bound for Japan-the world's top importer of U.S. beef.

The Japanese government wasted no time in halting imports. At least on this issue, thank heavens, the government did not show any ``special consideration'' to ``Japan's only ally.''


The American standards for BSE inspection are more lenient than those in Japan and Europe. One wonders what measures the United States will take now.

High-level officials in Washington said they were having beef for their main Christmas meal, but that was obviously no comfort to a scared world. No nation takes such severe safety measures against terrorism as the United States. How seriously will this same nation deal with food safety?


In this day and age, a single cow can become the center of global attention and affect governments, markets and even what people put on their tables. Our gravest concern, of course, is whether the cow in question is really and truly the only diseased animal.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 26(IHT/Asahi: December 27,2003) (12/27)
Vitality of `Aman-yu' spirit still undiminished

Kakeroma-jima island is a small landmass of about 77 square kilometers just south of Amami Oshima island. The late novelist Toshio Shimao, who was on Kakeroma-jima when Japan lost World War II in August 1945, once wrote that local residents did not even know their island was called by this name.

For Shimao, Kakeroma-jima shaped his destiny.



He was dispatched to Kakeroma-jima as the leader of a suicide squad, whose mission was to ram enemy ships with motorboats loaded with explosives-a mission from which nobody was supposed to return alive.

``I will never forget the shudder that coursed my body when I received that order,'' Shimao recalled in ``Shinpen: Ryukyuko-no Shiten kara'' (Revised edition: Perspective from the Ryukyu arc), an Asahi Shimbun paperback.

But the war ended while he awaited final orders on Kakeroma-jima. Shimao later moved to Amami Oshima island, from where he would spend years writing, his heart and soul forever anchored to Kakeroma-jima.


The year after Japan's defeat, the islands of Amami-of which Kakeroma-jima is one-and Okinawa were placed under U.S. military administration. But Shimao sensed that the hardships brought by military rule caused the regional culture to thrive, rather than wilt. He surmised that the islanders, freed from their years of oppressive subordination to the central government on Honshu, were suddenly brimming with energy as they resolved to confront the military government on their own.


After about eight years of U.S. administration, the islands of Amami reverted to Japanese sovereignty, on Christmas Day exactly 50 years ago. Newspapers from that time show rejoicing islanders parading in the streets with festive banners and lanterns.


The abrupt changes that followed the reversion pained Shimao. He watched with sorrow as ``the old `Aman-yu' (the Amami world) of a people who were wholly untainted by civilization'' gradually gave way to the encroaching ``fashions of the mainland'' that eroded the island's distinct cultural personality.


Popular interest is surging of late in shima-uta (island songs) and Amami culture in general. While I share Shimao's lament, I might also suggest that this is perhaps proof of the sustained vitality of the ``Aman-yu'' spirit.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 25(IHT/Asahi: December 26,2003) (12/26)
Santa Claus long ago perceived as gift bearer

A popular comic during the Taisho Era (1912-1926) was titled ``Shochan-no Boken'' (The adventures of Shochan). It is about a boy journeying through a fairyland with a follower, a squirrel.



The Schochan comic strip was serialized in Asahi Graph pictorial magazine, which made its debut in 1923, the year of the Great Kanto Earthquake, and later in The Asahi Shimbun.

Shochan, the protagonist, wore a cap with a small ball on the crown. The cap, named ``Shochan bo'' after the boy, became a fashion item.


The December 1923 issue of Asahi Graph carried a cartoon for political satire, drawn by Katsuichi Kabashima, the cartoonist responsible for the Schochan drawings. Depicted in the two-frame cartoon was a politician in the guise of Santa Claus, hauling a big bag from his shoulder. The big bag was in reference to the politician's hyperbole about his ability to raise funds for post-earthquake reconstruction. The cartoon satirized him for failing badly to honor his promise.


The cartoon shows citizens looking the other way from the Santa Claus figure. It is interesting to note that in those days Santa Claus was already perceived as the bearer of gifts. (This view is offered in an Iwanami paperback ``Santa Kurosu-no Dairyoko,'' which translates as ``The great journey of Santa Claus.'')


Christmas Eve came on Wednesday night this year. To go back through history on this occasion, the first Christmas celebration in Japan was held in 1552 at a church in Yamaguchi, where Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier had been given permission to preach Christianity from Ouchi Yoshitaka, whose domain as a military governor of the Muromachi Period (1333-1573), included what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The first Christmas tree in this country was set up at the residence of the head of the German diplomatic mission in Edo (the present Tokyo) in 1860, eight years before the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate. But it was utterly different from what we imagine now. Instead of setting up a single evergreen tree, the Germans wound sugi Japanese cedar leaves around all the pillars in the residence and hung a number of paper lanterns and candies from them.


To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Shochan comic debut, an exhibition of original pictures has been held this year. Also, a reprinted edition has been published by Shogakukan. ``This comic presents a fantasy world like `Alice in Wonderland,''' says novelist and movie critic Shohei Chujo in an explanatory note attached to the reprinted edition.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 24(IHT/Asahi: December 25,2003) (12/25)
Year-end parties offer a chance to ruminate

Attending a perfectly commonplace bonenkai year-end party the other evening, a thought struck me as I stared at the foamy head of beer in my glass: ``Some things are incomplete by themselves, and yet you'd be missing something good if they weren't there.''



The froth of beer serves a certain scientific purpose, I was once told. The foam helps to keep beer fresh by ``sealing'' the liquid and preventing direct contact with air. But then, the significance I saw in those fluffy little bubbles must lie elsewhere.


When pouring beer into a glass, I'd get upset if I got nothing but foam. On the other hand, I can't imagine going to the trouble of chilling a bottle of beer on a cold winter day in Japan, knowing that all I'll get is amber liquid.

The white bubbles begin fizzing out as soon as the beer is poured. Beer wouldn't be beer if it weren't for the ephemeral nature of these suds. And if you put your ear to your glass, you can hear the tiniest hint of the popping sound of effervescence.


The head of beer must be one of those things that are incomplete by themselves; one would also feel short-changed if a beer was served without head.

I was beginning to put this in the context of our lives, when my imagination fizzled out and the party broke up.


The term ``bonenkai'' appears in Soseki Natsume's ``Wagahai-wa Neko-de Aru'' (I Am a Cat) and ``Kure-no Niju-hachinichi'' (December 28) by Roan Uchida. The year-end party is also referred to as toshi wasure (forgetting the year), and this expression is said to date back from the Muromachi Period (1333-1568).

Traditionally, year-end parties were for families and friends, who got together to put the past year's worries and problems behind and wish one another a safe, healthy new year. Today, most of these parties are company- or group-oriented.


Attending a year-end party may be an occasion for each reveler to pop open a bottle filled with memories of the past year. But the presence or absence of effervescence is anyone's guess.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 23(IHT/Asahi: December 24,2003) (12/24)
Diehard customs mark the winter solstice

The afternoon hours seem to pass really quickly these days. It's almost as if a day's progress toward evening begins from the morning, with the midday bypassed. Dusk falls before you know it.



Our ancestors interpreted the phenomenon as the sun falling into slow decline. Monday was toji, or the winter solstice. To people in olden times, it marked the day when the sun was at its weakest before making a full recovery.

They knew from experience that daytime would begin to lengthen again the next day. But would the pattern hold? Was there any chance of the sun's debilitation continuing? The thought might have haunted them.


In ancient India, the winter solstice was observed by holding what was known as the ``swing ceremony.'' Seated on a swing, a priest first touched the ground and then swung himself high in the direction of the sun. The idea was to energize the sun at its weakest through intercourse with the goddess of the earth. (This account appears in a volume on performers and the audience in ``Nihon Minzoku Bunka Taikei,'' an encyclopedia on Japanese folklore and culture, published by Shogakukan.)

Similar events are held around the world to pray for and celebrate the sun's ``resuscitation from debility.''

 インドでは冬至にブランコの儀式が催されたそうだ。祭官がブランコに乗ってまず地面に触れ、太陽に向かって高く舞う。衰弱の極にある太陽が、大地の女神と交わって活力を与えられる、という考えからだ(『日本民俗文化大系 演者と観客』小学館)。世界各地に、同じような「衰弱からの再生」を祈り、祝う行事がある。

In Japan, the winter solstice is marked by customs designed to energize bodies of individuals rather than a debilitated sun.

``Sankichi decided that his family should celebrate the winter solstice by feasting on pumpkin dishes and miso-dressed fuki (butterbur),'' wrote Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943) in ``Ie'' (Household), a novel set in his home province of Nagano.


The kinds of food people eat this day vary from one region to another. Pumpkin and rice gruel mixed with adzuki beans are more common. Putting yuzu (citron) into a bathtub is probably the most widely observed custom.

These forms of celebration, whose origin has yet to be established, seem to have been already widespread during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

Obviously, the idea is to ride out the cold winter months by taking something that supplies nutrition and warms the body.


Some people view the winter solstice as the beginning of a new year. Indeed, it would not be a bad idea to celebrate the day of resuscitation for the sun as its annually recurring birthday.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 22(IHT/Asahi: December 23,2003) (12/23)
Fans cheer for perpetually losing horse

Fortune has never smiled on Haru Urara, a 7-year-old female racehorse. The animal has run 99 races without ever winning one. How it would fare in its 100th race set for Dec. 14 is anybody's guess. Kochi Prefecture is its arena of competition.



Horse racing enjoyed booming popularity 30 years ago. What comes to mind is Hai Seiko, a thoroughbred that won a succession of classic races despite its origin as a locally competing racer.

Nicknamed ``Monster,'' it was hailed as a hero embodying a success story. But it failed to win that year's Japan Derby, contrary to everybody's expectations. The poet-playwright Shuji Terayama (1935-1983) interpreted the horse's Derby defeat as signaling the advent of ``an era of confusion without heroes.''


The 1970s produced another notable racehorse. Just like Haru Urara, this horse named Yamanin Bari Mera prodded on and managed to extend its racing life to 99 races.

The occasional wins scored by the horse are overshadowed by an impression that it always ended up as a loser. It always did its utmost and never slackened its pace. This brought it many fans. An injury forced the horse to retire without running its 100th race.


Haru Urara has finished second in four races. The money it has earned in prizes totals slightly more than 1 million yen. The amount is incomparably smaller than figures for the strong horses qualified to vie in classic races, whose prizes run into the 100 millions.

Even so, the racer is so popular that tours are organized to cheer for it. Betting tickets listing it as the winner are paradoxically prized as charms against being hit in a traffic accident because the dreams of such bettors are given no chance of coming true.


Novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu plans to write a book on the story of Haru Urara for the benefit of today's children who quickly get demoralized when they suffer a setback. ``I don't want to see children giving up when they are losing a game or something,'' he said.


The mother of Haru Urara was named Heroine. Is Haru Urara's losing streak going to stretch to its 100th race? Or is it going to score an unexpected win? Either way, Haru Urara is a relief for fans. The racehorse has emerged as a contemporary heroine.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 14

* * *

Haru Urara came in ninth in a 10-horse race on Dec. 14, marking 100 consecutive defeats.(IHT/Asahi: December 22,2003) (12/22)
Taxpayers must watch where the money goes

One way to look at taxation is that it is something of a social equalizer. The rich are taxed heavily to share their benefits with low-income people.

Japan is regarded as one of the most egalitarian societies in the world. But when it comes to the redistribution of income through taxation, Japan performs in a rather mediocre way: or so observes Naohiko Jinno, professor of economics at the University of Tokyo, on the basis of the Gini Index, an indicator of the degree of income inequality in society.



Discussing taxation in a special issue on taxation of ``Kan,'' a quarterly journal published by Fujiwara-Shoten, Jinno points out the nation's fiscal system is hardly sound, which means Japanese taxpayers are getting a raw deal for the amount they pay. By comparison, he notes, taxpayers' money is used more effectively in Sweden and France.


On the other hand, Japanese taxpayers themselves are often said to be apathetic about the way their money is spent. Perhaps you could say they are ``generous,'' or simply resigned to their fate when required to pay their dues. And certainly, the government has always taken advantage of this collective mentality.


The Bush administration in the United States recently came in for a lot of criticism at home and abroad by coming down hard on nations that did not ``risk lives'' in Iraq by excluding them from multibillion-dollar contracts for postwar reconstruction.

President George W. Bush sounded almost defensive as he tried to justify this policy in the name of U.S. taxpayers-that they ``understand why it makes sense for countries that risk lives to participate in the contracts in Iraq,'' and that awarding the contracts only to such countries is ``what the U.S. taxpayers expect.''

This reminded me anew of how important it is for American politicians to meet taxpayers' approval.


In his tax discourse, Jinno quotes from a 1928 general election poster made by Seiyukai, a major political party founded in 1900 and dissolved in 1940.

``Transfer tax revenue sources to local governments, and full regional development will naturally occur,'' says the poster. ``Start decentralization, and the process will evolve and develop staunchly all on its own.''

How should tax money be distributed between the central and local governments? Japan today is still muddling over this question 75 years later.

 神野教授は1928年総選挙の政友会のポスターを引用していた。「地方に財源を与ふれば 完全な発達は自然に来る/地方分権丈夫なものよ ひとりあるきで発てんす」。中央と地方とで税金をどう分配するか。75年前と同じ課題の前で悩んでいるいまの日本である。

The ruling parties have announced their tax reform policy outline, and draft budget plans for fiscal 2004 are to be finalized shortly. In coming days of important decisions, taxpayers must be vigilant.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 19(IHT/Asahi: December 20,2003) (12/20)
Did Saddam learn much from Dostoyevsky?

In ``Takeda Taijun Zenshu'' (Complete works of Taijun Takeda) published by Chikuma Shobo, the novelist says, ``In any country, no dictator ever believes he himself will go to jail. He alone has the right to be free of the terror shared by all his people.''

It appears deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has been stripped of this right.



A copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's ``Crime and Punishment'' in Arabic was discovered in the hole in the ground where Saddam was captured on Saturday.

Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, an impoverished student and the novel's protagonist, murders an old woman-a pawnbroker-and steals her money. He reasons that the elite and strong, such as himself, have the right to commit such crimes.

Having exercised that right, however, Raskolnikov unexpectedly becomes consumed with intense guilt.

If Saddam owned the Arabic copy of ``Crime and Punishment,'' that's an interesting combination to say the least, given the title of the book.


According to The Washington Post, 10 or so books were stacked atop a bedside storage box. In the pile were books of Arabic poetry, bearing such titles as ``Discipline'' and ``Sin,'' and also a book on oneiromancy.


Atop a small refrigerator, the newspaper continues, sat American-made soap and shampoo and a gold-framed mirror that was reminiscent of Saddam's lavish lifestyle in the past.

The hideout was also fairly well stocked with food-eggs, cucumbers, carrots, apples, kiwi fruit, tinned meat, honey and tea. In addition, there was an Arabic inscription bearing the words ``God the Merciful.''


Dostoyevsky was 18 years old when he wrote in his letter to his elder brother, ``Man is a mystery. I must solve the puzzle at all costs...even if it takes my entire lifetime.'' This is mentioned by Fumihiko Konuma in ``Chikuma Sekai Bungaku Taikei'' (Chikuma compendium of world literature).


In ``Crime and Punishment,'' Dostoyevsky delved into the mystery of man. I wonder what this book has taught the deposed dictator in captivity.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 18(IHT/Asahi: December 19,2003) (12/19)
Aircraft bittersweet gift from the Wright bros

It probably would be wrong to state the aircraft flew. Rather, floating in the air might be a better description of that historic flight. It stayed airborne for 12 minutes, covering a distance of 36 meters.



The motorized aircraft built by the Wright brothers entered the history books at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on Dec. 17, 1903. A full century has passed since then. But to my way of thinking that isn't a very long period of time at all. I suppose I feel this way because of the truly phenomenal innovations in the aircraft industry since then.


Initially, planes didn't go faster than automobiles. Later, innovations took speeds to supersonic levels. Similarly, planes grew in size from one-seat affairs to jumbo jets capable of carrying 500 passengers.

Thanks to constant innovations, aircraft became the fastest means of transportation, making them indispensable vehicles for moving people and goods. War was the chief incentive behind these innovations.


Like the aircraft enthusiast he was, the late novelist Taruho Inagaki (1900-1977) wrote an essay titled ``Raito kyodai-ni hajimaru'' (It all began with the Wright brothers). In it, Inagaki refers to a ceremony held in Washington on Dec. 17, 1943, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first successful powered flight. The event took place under the auspices of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, although it was in the middle of World War II.

According to Inagaki, Orville Wright, the younger of the Wright brothers, told aviation officials that night that airplanes were being used by ``bad people'' to create the most lethal weapons in history. (The essay is contained in the complete works of Taruho Inagaki, published by Chikuma Shobo.)

On the other hand, the Wright brothers wrote to the Imperial Japanese Army not long after the first flight in an effort to sell the technology.


The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum has opened an annex to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' success. The restored Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, is also on display. But there is nothing to indicate the terrible destruction caused by the bombing.

Airstrikes offer a means of striking the enemy from afar. The advantage of being removed from the enemy has emboldened attackers to cause indiscriminate and devastating damage on the ground. It may also have served to reduce their sense of guilt.


People usually look up when a plane passes overhead. The thoughts they have at such a time vary from one person to another. A poem by Yumi Arai goes: ``The airplane climbs up/ Apparently afraid of nothing/ The sky is where the boy wants to be/ He dreams of cruising in the sky/ He wants to be one with an aircraft vapor trail.''

 「何もおそれない そして舞い上がる 空に憧れて 空をかけてゆく あの子の命はひこうき雲……」(荒井由実)。機影を追う人々の思いも願いも様々だ。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 17(IHT/Asahi: December 18,2003) (12/18)
Saddam Hussein cornered like a rat in the end

A bronze statue in Baghdad of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that was toppled about eight months ago graphically symbolized the collapse of his regime.

As for Saddam in the flesh, the end came not with a big bang. He was disheveled, almost rat-like, when he was captured.



In neighboring Jordan, The Jordan Times reported, ``This is a tragic comedy: Tragic in terms that Saddam was captured without any resistance, and a comedy in terms of the fact that the man who ruled Iraq for 35 years was seized like this.''


This observation suggests reaction in the Arab world to this development was anything but simple, even though many people felt relief as well as elation over his capture.

The Jordanian newspaper also quoted an Al Arabiya Satellite Channel correspondent as saying that Saddam's eldest daughter, who had sought refuge in Jordan, wept as she heard of her father's capture. She reportedly said that she could not believe that ``this has happened to my father. The strong man of Iraq.''


In Shakespeare's ``King Lear,'' the elderly king, betrayed and insane, laments: ``No rescue? What a prisoner? I am even the natural fool of fortune'' (Act IV, Scene VI).

Saddam, reportedly, has yet to give up acting tough and is still calling himself ``the legitimate leader of Iraq.''

 「助けるものはおらぬか? 捕虜になるのか? わしは生まれながら運命にもてあそばれる道化だった」。シェークスピアの「リア王」は裏切られて狂い、うめいた。フセイン元大統領は「自分は、いまでもイラクの正統な統治者だ」と強腰も見せているらしい。

Unlike his two sons who were slain by U.S. troops, it was perhaps fortunate that he was captured alive. I say fortunate because it will be possible for the people of Iraq to watch the process by which Saddam's many alleged ``crimes'' will be investigated. And in that process, the legitimacy of the war in Iraq should also come under examination.


``You do me wrong to take me out o' the grave,'' protested King Lear (Act IV, Scene VII). But the investigation must proceed to do full justice to the dead, whose cries should not go unheeded.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 16(IHT/Asahi: December 17,2003) (12/17)
A belief in nothingness drove director Ozu

The Engakuji temple, one of the five highest ranking temples in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, is conveniently located for those visiting it by rail. When I got off the train at Kita-Kamakura Station on the JR Yokosuka Line, I found it just in front of the station. Natsume Soseki, the great novelist of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), practiced Zen at this temple, which was built by Hojo Tokimune, the nation's political leader credited with repulsing the Mongolian forces that twice attempted to invade Japan in the 13th century. Engakuji is said to be the temple that appears in Soseki's novel ``Mon'' (Gate).



Last Friday marked the centennial of the birth of Yasujiro Ozu, the great movie director. It was also the 40th anniversary of his death. I visited Engakuji because he is buried there.

Passing through the gates, I went up a flight of stone steps. There was a graveyard near the top of the stairs. A black granite tombstone in one corner marked Ozu's grave. A single Chinese character, mu (nothingness), was inscribed on the tombstone.


Ozu was conscripted during the Japan-China War that broke out in July 1937. He had battlefield experience. While being stationed in Nanjing, he asked the priest of an old temple to write some calligraphy for him. The priest wrote the character mu. Ozu asked the priest to write the character on some more pieces of paper and sent most of them to his friends, according to his book ``Kokoro nimo naki uta-o yomite'' (Composing poems against my will), published by Asahi Sonorama.

 小津は日中戦争で召集され、戦場を体験した。南京に駐留していた時、古寺の住職に書を頼んだ。それが「無」の一字だった。何枚も書いてもらい、友人たちにも送った(『ココロニモナキ ウタヲヨミテ』朝日ソノラマ)。

Combined with other characters, mu forms a long string of words, such as mujo (impermanence), kyomu (nihility), zetsumu (utter nonexistence), mukyu (infinitude), muge (no obstacle) and mujin (unlimited). As these words suggest, it is a character that provokes the imagination. It may be said that mu permits an infinite (mugen) variety of interpretations.

As I prayed in front of the Ozu grave, I was struck by a seeming oddity: the existence of the character mu on the tombstone.


Ozu's movies are full of descriptions of how things that exist at a given time get lost or disappear as people live on. And they were given titles sounding as if they were taken out of a haiku reference book-titles like season words, such as ``Banshun'' (Late spring), ``Bakushu'' (Wheat harvest time), ``Soshun'' (Early spring) and ``Sanma no aji'' (The taste of saury).


While watching scenes shot in subdued tones, one cannot help noticing an pathetic undercurrent-sorrow over inevitable separation and a foreboding that some things are going to become nonexistent.

A longing for things that once existed may have been an element in Ozu's love of the character mu. The audience shares that sentiment when the scenes captured on film as the present are shown as what existed in the past on the screen.


An offering was placed by the nothingness inscription-a bottle of sake from Tateshina, Nagano Prefecture. It was Ozu's favorite brand.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 13 (12/16)
Iraqi boys wanted soccer balls, not troops

To kick real soccer balls, even for once, was a dream shared by the Iraqi boys who had to be content with playing with balls made of rubber. Thanks to the efforts of Japanese high school students, their dream recently came true.



This came about after a group of boys approached Koichi Kimura, a Christian priest from Fukuoka Prefecture, in Baghdad this spring.

At the time, Kimura was in Iraq serving as a ``human shield'' at a utilities plant. The boys asked him in English: ``Do you know Nakata?'' They were talking about Japanese soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata, who now plays in Italy.


Fourteen-year-old Hussen, who lives in staff housing at the transformer substation, and his friends told Kimura how they dreamed of one day owning a real soccer ball, an item that costs more than their fathers earn each month. Kimura promised them: ``I will do my best to have some sent over here.''


On his return home in April, Kimura gave a lecture about his Iraq visit.

Shuya Kogure, a teacher at Meijigakuin Senior High School in Tokyo, heard Kimura's report and discussed it with students of a volunteer circle of which he is an adviser. ``We could also have been born in Iraq,'' one student said. ``It doesn't seem to be someone else's problem,'' another said.


They began a fund-raising campaign. On two occasions, they stood in front of Tokyo's Shinagawa Station to ask passersby to sign balls intended for Iraq and give donations. About 500 people contributed a total of about 160,000 yen. According to the students, mothers with children were particularly responsive. The students sent 30 balls through Kimura, who visited Baghdad again in October. Upon seeing them, Hussen hugged Kimura, saying, ``I can't believe it's true.''


Hussen and his friends wrote a few words of thanks and asked Kimura to hand the messages to the students with a photo of them carrying the balls. One boy went a step further, to write about what is going on in his country: ``Thank you for the balls. But no thank you for the troops.''

This week, the students published a newsletter which they posted on a wall at the school to report on the development.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 11(IHT/Asahi: December 13,2003) (12/13)
In the end, everything in life is on a journey

At the bottom of a strip mine in Brazil, swarms of workers are digging gold. In Cambodia, a doctor gets ready to operate on a landmine victim. There are also shots of an Ethiopian refugee camp, Kabul in ruins, and a Shanghai skyline of towering high-rises.



These represent the work of Brazilian-born photographer Sebastian Salgado. The pictures are on display at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography until Jan. 12. Salgado continues to portray the varied lives of people around the globe.


His subjects include ordinary people working for a living and those performing their professional duties. There are also shots of people struggling for survival amid war and famine. His black-and-white photographs capture the stark reality of these people's lives, and yet manage to create a uniquely ``transparent'' effect that may well be described as poetic.


Viewing Salgado's works, I was reminded of ``The Odyssey''-the ancient Greek epic poem ascribed to Homer, in which Odysseus, the mythical hero of Trojan Horse fame, survives a shipwreck and life's vicissitudes through his long, arduous journey back home.

The story has nothing to do with the world portrayed by Salgado. Nevertheless, I sensed a parallel between Odysseus' wanderings after the fall of Troy and the endless travails of the people the photographer saw through his viewfinder.


A bust of Homer is on display until Sunday at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno as a part of an exhibition titled ``Treasures From the World's Cultures: The British Museum After 250 Years.'' The exhibition will tour Kobe, Fukuoka and Niigata next year.

The marble bust is that of an old man. It is believed to be a second-century creation, which postdates the epic by about 1,000 years. Nearly two millennia have since elapsed, and now the bust has come all the way to Japan.


A thought occurred to me: Not only the people in Salgado's photographs, but also all the museum exhibits, as well as visitors to those two museums, are on their respective Odysseys.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 6(IHT/Asahi: December 12,2003) (12/12)
Troop dispatch breaks constitutional vow

In his student days, the late novelist Ryotaro Shiba wanted a career in the diplomatic service. He longed for an assignment to a distant consulate. He had planned to spend about 10 years in the diplomatic corps and then switch careers to become a novelist. But Shiba's plans did not work out because he was drafted into military service, when he was a student.



Shiba was conscripted in 1943. ``I asked myself, `Who gave the state the authority to shatter my career planning and when?' It seemed so strange, and I turned the question over in my mind,'' he later recalled. He hit on an idea: The Constitution of Imperial Japan. The people gleefully embraced the constitution which provided for conscription.

``I thought that even though it was an imperially ordained Constitution, we had made a promise (to answer the draft call) at that time. I thought I had found a convincing answer to my question,'' Shiba said. (These remarks appear in a Bungei Shunju-published collection of Shiba's recorded observations in dialogues.)


He enrolled for military service, telling himself he was fulfilling his constitutional obligation.


Article 9 of the present Constitution prohibits Japan from waging war and having land, sea and air forces. Even though some people complain the Constitution was forced on Japan, it can be said that ``we committed ourselves to the renunciation of war at that time,'' to borrow Shiba's phrase.

Members of the Self-Defense Forces picked to serve in Iraq may ponder the question of constitutional constraint. But any private deliberations they may have will probably only cause them to waver, instead of convincing them.


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dwelt on the ideals of the Constitution when he met media representatives Tuesday to announce Cabinet approval of the basic plan to send Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. He read part of the Preamble aloud after cautioning that the exercise would not cover the entire foreword. He did not, however, touch on the parts with a particular bearing on the central pacifism enshrined in the war-renouncing Constitution.


To quote Shiba again, the novelist said in 1972, ``If the government says it will send troops abroad or institute a conscription system, we will respond by starting a civil war.'' The people had such a strong sense of distrust about the nation's armed forces. Even now, the majority of the public is against the dispatch of troops to Iraq.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 10(IHT/Asahi: December 11,2003) (12/11)
Anniversary of war's start, Lennon's death

Commenting on reports around the world last month that Japan had given up its planned dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said: ``Japan was never a country that we counted on providing very much. Japan has still a very tentative attitude toward anything that has to do with the military.''



Later that month, during his visit to Japan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expressed appreciation for Japan's contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq and made reference to its remarkable advancements in the military arena in recent years as a country with ``the second largest defense budget of any free nation.''


Basically, Rumsfeld disavowed his deputy's remarks based on wrong information. If Rumsfeld's statement represents the U.S. government's official view, then perhaps Wolfowitz's words can be interpreted as Washington's real sentiment. It shows that even within the Pentagon, there is a wide gap in ``expectations'' toward Japan.


Whenever Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi speaks about ``attaching importance to Japan-U.S. relations and security alliance,'' I cannot help but wonder what he means by the United States. Does he mean U.S. President George W. Bush or the Republican administration? Is he speaking about the United States as a nation or
the American people?


In December 1969, in the midst of the Vietnam War, a massive sign with the words ``War is over!'' appeared in New York. Below, in small letters, was the message ``If you want it.'' It was a joint work by Yoko Ono and John Lennon aimed at encouraging the antiwar movement.


The sign is now on display at the ``Yes Yoko Ono Exhibition'' at Art Tower Mito in Mito. (The exhibition closes on Jan. 12, after which it will tour Hiroshima, Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan.) Looking at the sign, I thought that it was anti-Vietnam War and war-weary public opinion that moved the government in the end. Dec. 8 marks the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States. It is
also the anniversary of Lennon's death.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 8(IHT/Asahi: December 10,2003) (12/10)
Leaves fall, but which way is wind blowing?

I walked along a sloping street by the Aoyama cemetery in Tokyo, treading on leaves fallen from the ginkgo, zelkova and cherry trees there. In time, I came to a road almost empty of dead leaves. I was standing in front of the Aoyama Funeral Hall.



A thought struck me: The bodies of the two slain diplomats and their families were in there at that moment. The thought broke my heart afresh. Inside their coffins, the bodies had been borne from distant Iraq to Narita airport, then on to Tokyo. The nearer they came to Tokyo, the stronger my sympathy grew.

More than 5,000 names are said to have been entered in the condolence books kept at the building that temporarily houses the Foreign Ministry. The fate of the two diplomats must have drawn sympathy from many people who read or watched post-attack media reports describing how dutifully they had carried out their jobs.

 今、この中に、殺害されたふたりの外交官と家族がいる。そう考えると、痛切な思いが、新たにこみあげてきた。遠いイラクから、成田、そして東京へとふたりが運ばれ、近づいてくるにつれて、哀悼の思いは強まった。 外務省の仮庁舎での記帳は、5千件を超えたという。事件後、ふたりの誠実な仕事ぶりを見聞きして、多くの人々が、哀悼の意を募らせているのだろう。

Confident, then, that the men have many mourners, I would like to consider the matter of ``carrying on the wishes of the slain diplomats.'' Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi mentioned it just after they were struck down. In his funeral oration, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed to ``inherit your wishes and carry on.''

Perhaps it was natural for the superiors of the slain diplomats to make such promises. And there is no doubt that their aspirations were to ``make contributions to the reconstruction of Iraq.''


But the question, in my opinion, is how to carry on their wishes and how to try to attain the goals they envisaged. At issue is whether the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq, over which domestic public opinion is split, will really make contributions to that country and is also the right thing for Japan to do.

While the loss of the two diplomats is truly grievous, the judgment on the propriety of the action to carry on their wishes should be made apart from their aspirations.


Some of the remaining leaves on the trees in front of the funeral hall occasionally wafted down. They seemed like a silent greeting to the diplomats who returned home after falling in the gusts of international politics.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 7(IHT/Asahi: December 9,2003) (12/09)
Was Bush's trip a Thanksgiving to the Iraqis?

Thanksgiving Day to Americans is like what the rolling together of two important holidays in this country, the midsummer Bon Festival and New Year's, would be to Japanese.

When the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, Americans working far away from each other head for home to celebrate reunions over turkey and other delicacies. The holiday seems to have originated as a celebration of good harvests held by the Pilgrims who had come to the North American continent on the Mayflower.

For Thanksgiving, President George W. Bush was supposed to be relaxing with his parents at his ranch in Texas. What they would have to celebrate that day had been announced in advance, down to their dinner menu.

Few would have noticed when a man and a woman stole out of the ranch on the night of Nov. 26. With baseball caps pulled down over their eyes, they got into a nondescript car and headed for a waiting presidential plane.

The man was President Bush and the woman was his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. As reported by The Associated Press and other media organizations, this was how the stage was set for Bush's covert trip to Baghdad. The president later said he and Rice were probably taken to be an ordinary couple.

On the way to Baghdad, the secret flight came close to being exposed. The presidential plane received a radio inquiry from the pilot of a British Airways airliner, who asked if it was wrong to assume that he had just seen Air Force One. The pilot of Air Force One fended off the question by naming a different aircraft.

The blitzkrieg trip took the whole world by surprise. Many U.S. soldiers seem to have been moved as well as surprised. But it can also be said that the fact that the supposedly most powerful man in the world had to make a surreptitious trip to a country under occupation illustrates the tough going he faces in Iraq.

Events are said to be held by Native Americans to ``mourn'' Thanksgiving Day and redefine it as a day commemorating the persecution of their ancestors at the hands of immigrants. I am worried about how Bush's blitzkrieg trip struck the people of Iraq.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 29

Note: The White House has since acknowledged that it was not a British Airways pilot that spotted Air Force One.(IHT/Asahi: December 8,2003) (12/08)

Shun extremes to adapt to this digital age

Compact discs began to replace vinyl records about 20 years ago and from around that time, ``digital'' became a household word. Today, we are surrounded by all sorts of digital gadgets.



From the start of the digital era, people argued the virtues of digital CDs versus analog records. CD supporters liked them for their handy compactness and sharp, noise-free sound. Record fans preferred the inherent ``warmth'' and ``dimension''-even those created by the noise that inevitably got into analog records.


An analog sound system captures sound as a continuous wave. Its digital counterpart breaks all data into binary signals, which are easier to convert into electric signals because they are a simple combination of 1 and 0, on and off. The preciseness of these signals makes for a ``seamless'' effect. Digital technology is thus indispensable to our highly computerized society.


Because digital and analog represent two entirely different principles, these words are often used to describe two opposite types of people. An ``analog person'' is said to be uncomfortable with anything too precise and tends to grasp the overall picture of things, minus the little details.

A ``digital person,'' on the other hand, is analytical and wants to explain everything in black and white terms. They are sticklers for preciseness; they don't do half measures.

In this day and age, analog people are about to be branded anachronistic.


Psychiatrist and writer Inada Nada preaches iikagen-moderation or being noncommital. In any religious or ideological organization, Nada points out, there is usually a core group of fanatics who are totally and uncompromisingly committed to the cause. The farther removed you are from that inner sanctum, the more iikagen you are.

It is also iikagen not to take sides, says Nada. This iikagen-refusal to shun extremes-is so necessary in a touchy period like today when a ``holy war'' could erupt at any time, Nada argues.


I think we should stop being so simplistic as to categorize people and things into analog and digital. To adapt to our digital era, I suppose the best approach is to practice iikagen and take things easy.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 5(IHT/Asahi: December 6,2003) (12/06)
Takefuji's Takei must have felt like King Midas

Employees at Takefuji Corp. reportedly referred in whispers to ``that ear business'' whenever conversation turned to phone bugging, for which the company's chairman has been arrested.



The Takefuji workers who were involved in the eavesdropping must have felt like the tormented barber in the ancient folk tale about King Midas and his donkey ears. The barber becomes privy to the king's terrible secret and the king forbids him to tell anyone. But unable to keep it to himself anymore, the barber one day digs a hole in the ground and keeps saying into the hole, ``The king has donkey ears.''

The bigger the secret, the more difficult it is to keep and the greater the temptation to spill it.


A dictator with the metaphorical ass's ears tends to become consumed with endless suspicion-that someone must be whispering the ugly truth behind his back. And stories are now coming out that Yasuo Takei, the arrested Takefuji chairman, was quite a tyrant. Such a man's obsession with total control goes hand in hand with a sense of gnawing anxiety that something could be happening somewhere without his knowledge. For someone in that state of mind, the temptation to eavesdrop becomes almost impossible.


But what was it that Takei wanted so desperately to protect, or perhaps to find out, by going so far as to wiretap on the phone line of journalists and company executives?


Midas is better known as the king who turned everything he touched into gold. When Takei presided over his company's rapid rise to the No. 1 spot in the consumer financing industry, any money he touched generated more money. He must have felt like Midas himself. And in that process, he perhaps amassed secrets he did not want anyone to know, just like Midas with his donkey ears.


As investigators dig further, they may well turn up new sordid details that will make the parties involved cringe. I sense a vast darkness beyond, a darkness which will not go away just because Takei has been arrested.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 4(IHT/Asahi: December 5,2003) (12/05)
A lesson on explorer's courage to retreat

Lt. Nobu Shirase, the first Japanese to set foot on the Antarctic Continent, recounted his wondrous experiences of the previous year in ``Nankyoku Tanken'' (Antarctic exploration), published by Hakubunkan in 1913.



Shirase was astonished when he saw penguins for the first time. ``The penguin looks like a bird, but it is not a bird. It seems like a beast, but it is not a beast, either. ... It is a very funny creature,'' he wrote.

After landing, Shirase's team aimed for the South Pole, but it got stuck at latitude 80 degrees five minutes south. The lieutenant opted for survival and turned his team around, saying, ``It is more important to accomplish our mission another day than to die now.''


About that time, a British party led by Robert F. Scott was struggling to reach safety on its way back. It had arrived at the South Pole only to find that Norwegian Roald Amundsen's expedition got there before.

Expressions like ``extreme disappointment'' and ``an awful day'' can be found in Scott's journal. His bitterly disappointed party had no choice but to turn back. In time, all the members died of exhaustion.


Before the tragedy, Amundsen left his footprints on a part of the planet where no other human has previously trodden. He called it an experience like no other. Leafing through Shirase's book and accounts by Scott and Amundsen (Japanese translations published by Oceania Press) vividly brings back to mind the dramatic three-way race to the South Pole from the final days of 1911 to the next year.


With this in mind, I wish to point out that the 45th Japanese Antarctic observation team departed Fremantle in the state of Western Australia on Wednesday. The research ship is called Shirase, after the Japanese Antarctic pioneer. Team members will conduct a great variety of surveys on changes in the global environment and the history of Earth.


The surveys will be different from the expedition there about a century ago. While the era is long gone, Antarctica will greet the latest Japanese observation team with the same wonderful aspect that Shirase admired all those years ago, saying, ``What a magnificent and awe-inspiring spectacle I am looking at!''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 3(IHT/Asahi: December 4,2003) (12/04)
Recalling the life and times of Higuchi Ichiyo

The rice came from up north, where the unusually cool summer resulted in a poor harvest and delayed shipments. Chewing the new grain, which is no different from years past, I thought momentarily of all the worries and hard work the farmers faced.



I nibbled on a morsel of pickled Chinese cabbage. Its pleasing sourness enhanced the sweetness of the rice. After another small mouthful of rice, I took a sip from my bowl of miso soup.

There is probably not much nutritional value in this simple, yet quintessential, Japanese meal. But I could not have asked for anything more satisfying on a late autumn day.


Nov. 23 was the 107th anniversary of the death of novelist Higuchi Ichiyo. Higuchi had to support her family from a young age and never had enough to eat. She died at the tender age of 24.

``Meiji Bungaku Yugaku Annai'' (A dilettante's guidebook on Meiji Era literature), published by Chikuma Shobo, contains a reprint of a roundtable talk that ran in Shincho magazine in 1932. Below is an excerpt:

Masao Kume: What was Ichiyo's daily life like?

Kocho Baba: She was practically penniless. From the diary she kept, you can see she was often flat broke. She borrowed money from her relatives, her excuse being she needed the money to start some new business.

 昨日は、若くして一家を背負い、食べてゆくことにも苦労した作家、樋口一葉の命日でもあった。『明治文学遊学案内』(筑摩書房)に、昭和7年の『新潮』に載った古い座談会が収録されている。「久米正雄 一葉女史なんか、結局どんな暮らしをしてゐたんですか。/馬場孤蝶 これは、金がないんだ。日記を見ると、よく、一文なしになつた、それだから親類から商売を始めるといつては借りて来たりなんかしてゐた」

She actually did operate a small store selling sundry items and cheap sweets in the Ryusen district of Tokyo's Taito Ward. On the site now stands the Ichiyo Memorial Hall, which I visited on the anniversary of her death.

It was teeming with visitors, mostly the middle-aged and the elderly, although young people also turned out. Especially crowded was the room housing her manuscript of ``Takekurabe'' (Comparison of heights)-arguably her most famous work. There were so many people it was difficult to pass each other. On display in one corner was a sample of the new 5,000-yen bill bearing Ichiyo's image. The bill will go into circulation in July.


From the memorial hall, I journeyed to the Nishikata district in Bunkyo Ward, where a monument stands on the main street to mark the place of her death. Bouquets of yellow and white chrysanthemums were laid at the foot of the monument.

Ichiyo died of tuberculosis in 1896. Only about a dozen people are said to have come to her funeral.


Haiku by Dakotsu Iida goes:

``One's soul is reflected/ In the serenity of flowering chrysanthemums/ As one admires them.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 24(IHT/Asahi: December 3,2003) (12/03)
Deaths illustrate need for safety-first rule

Katsuhiko Oku, one of the two Japanese diplomats killed in Iraq, wrote a regular column titled ``Iraq dayori'' (Letters from Iraq) carried on the Foreign Ministry's Web site. Those who read his reports now cannot but be impressed with a strong sense of mission with which he went about his daily duties as a diplomat.



``Sad news just came in today,'' Oku wrote as he began his report on a trip to Nasiriya after a truck bomb exploded at an Italian police base. ``The terrorists also took the lives of four girls on their way home from a junior high school,'' he noted. ``I believe the lesson to be learned from the loss of precious lives is that we should be firm in our resolve not to bow in the fight against terrorism,'' he said.


After the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was blown up, Oku combed the rubble where Chris Klein-Beekman, a close acquaintance who worked with the UNICEF, was presumed to have died. While looking around, he found a name card. It turned out to be Beekman's meishi.

Referring to the card, the diplomat wrote: ``It seemed as if Chris was saying, `My Japanese friend, keep on going straight ahead!' I could not help pledging to myself that I would carry on Chris' work and should do more to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq.''


Instilled with a strong sense of duty, Oku diligently went about his dangerous assignment. I think this sense of duty is shared by many of those working at the front line of diplomacy, regardless of their specific assignments.


Their dedication mandates certain obligations for the government in directing them from afar: to give maximum consideration to assure their safety and to apply the brakes on efforts on the ground, depending on circumstances.


The government should first dwell on the grievousness of the deaths that have occurred. Then, once again, it should engage in a deliberate study to determine what is the most appropriate thing for Japan to do to help rebuild Iraq.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 1(IHT/Asahi: December 2,2003) (12/02)
Some of Kennedy's views worth recalling

The myth of a hero inevitably breeds rumors. Rumors about John F. Kennedy suggest the former American president, who was ``supposedly'' assassinated 40 years ago, is still alive. According to one theory, he is living in a home for senior citizens in Texas.

If I interviewed Kennedy there now, he would probably make the following remarks:



First, I'd ask him to comment on the war in Iraq: ``Our arms will never be used to strike the first blow in army attack. This is not a confession of weakness but a statement of strength. It is our national tradition.''

I imagine that, as he repeats this line in response to my question, he appears disappointed that his latest successor broke with America's traditional policy of prohibiting a first or pre-emptive strike.


In comments on the arduous postwar occupation, Kennedy said, ``We cannot expect that all nations will adopt like systems, for conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.''

In saying this, he thus stressed that while the United States attached importance to freedom and democracy, it could not force these notions on other countries. He also said diversity was at the center of America's view of how world order should be.


I told the former president his views seemed too optimistic. He replied that the United States was always prepared to meet force in kind. While emphasizing this point, he also said, ``Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.''


These direct quotes are taken from a collection of Kennedy's observations. (A Japanese translation is published by Shinano Shuppan.) As president, he had to deal with the Cuban missile crisis and other high points of the East-West Cold War. In other words, he made these remarks against a background different from the present age, in which the war on terror has emerged as the world's main concern.

Coming from an American president who had successfully ridden out the Cuban missile crisis and other difficulties, Kennedy's statements had an aspect that sounded ``too fine.'' Even so, the world view underlying them may be worth recalling.


Especially worth recalling is Kennedy's statement that problems should be solved not by the power of armed force, but by the power of conception. I believe the power of image formulation is precisely what the world needs to deal with its current crises.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 22(IHT/Asahi: December 1,2003) (12/01)
Elementary education still a luxury for many

Today I wish to write about a 13-year-old Chinese girl named Ma Yan who lives in a small village far northwest of Xian.

Ordinarily, she attends elementary school in the nearest town. She has to stay in a dormitory and goes to school without taking breakfast. A single bowl of rice suffices for lunch. She cannot afford to buy a side dish of vegetables. A small steamed bun is all she has for supper.



One day, Ma made a fuss over a missing ball-point pen. She had saved her pocket money for a whole year to buy it. ``No matter how hungry I was, I persisted in saving,'' she recalled in a diary. ``I endured an unimaginable amount of anguish to buy it.''


The girl's mother was worn out from long work hours she had to put in for years. Referring to her, Ma wrote in her diary, ``I have to study hard, so that I will not have to live like my mother.''

But it was not long before her mother, citing dire family finances, told Ma to stop going to school. The girl wrote a letter to plead with her mother to let her continue to study.


The letter came to the attention of a French journalist who was staying in China. Eventually, it was printed in a French newspaper last year together with Ma's diary. The immense repercussions evolved into a campaign to aid Ma and other poor Chinese pupils. Ma's diary and an account of how her story found its way into a French paper can be found in ``Le Journal de Ma Yan'' (by Ma Yan and Pierre Haski), which is translated into Japanese as ``Watashi wa benkyo shitai'' (I want to study), published by Gentosha.


Ma's letter and diary raise questions about how much industrialized nations have done to improve levels of elementary school education in developing nations.

Contributions by rich nations were published the other day in the form of grade sheets to the leaders of these countries by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), a nongovernmental organization. With a score of 32 points against a possible 100, Japan was graded 15th among the 22 surveyed countries. The report card addressed to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said: ``Junichiro has performed poorly in all subjects.''


According to GCE, the number of children who are denied even elementary school education exceeds 100 million around the world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 28(IHT/Asahi: November 29,2003) (11/29)
Gravity of problems taking root in Colombia

I once heard that Colombia was among the first Latin American countries to adopt party politics. I was also surprised by the nation's high voter turnout in elections. Even so, Colombia may well be a typical example of a country that is a democracy in name only.



There was a time when two major parties competed closely there. But the contest was replete with bitter mutual hatred and violence. The enmity is said to have caused the deaths of about 200,000 party members from the latter half of the 1940s through the end of the 1950s.

Voters apparently often cast their ballots at gunpoint.


There were some relatively peaceful years, too, but the nation was thrown into a state of virtual civil war after dissident organizations began to grow in strength.

In ``Shirarezaru Koronbia'' (Unknown Colombia), published by Simul Press, author Yoshio Fujimoto, a former Japanese ambassador to the country, quotes an American scholar of Colombia as noting that, like rivers and lakes, Colombian guerrillas form a part of the scenery in the nation's mountain villages.


Plan International, an aid organization for developing nations that sponsors the Foster Parents Plan, continues its work in Colombia through five local offices. ``The atmosphere there is different from that in any other developing country,'' notes Aya Yamagata, a grant-funding officer of Plan International's Japan office who visited Colombia last spring.

According to Yamagata, government troops were stationed every 10 meters along roads and port areas to protect these infrastructures from being blown up by guerrillas. Since a colossal portion of the national budget is being eaten up by this fight against guerrillas, hardly any money remains to spend on the poor.


The Japanese vice president of the local affiliate of a Japanese company was kidnapped and killed in Colombia.

News of the discovery of his body reminded me anew of the gravity of Colombia's problems. The victim had been held prisoner for more than two and a half years. It breaks my heart to imagine what those months must have been like for him.


Once violence has taken root in society, it is not easy to snap out of it. This is a chilling realization.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 27(IHT/Asahi: November 28,2003) (11/28)
Today's conmen lack an artist's finesse

Before playing the role of con genius Frank Abagnale, Jr. in ``Catch Me If You Can,'' American actor Leonardo DiCaprio spent time talking to the movie's protagonist. DiCaprio later told an Asahi Shimbun reporter what he thought of Abagnale.

DiCaprio said the meeting enabled him to understand why Abagnale could commit so many crimes. Looking the man in the eye, DiCaprio said he felt captivated and urgently wanted to hear what Abagnale had to say.



Abagnale was a con genius. He defrauded companies of millions of dollars in the second half of the 1960s by posing as an airline pilot, a physician and a lawyer. ``Catch Me If You Can'' was shot by director Steven Spielberg on the basis of Abagnale's autobiography.


These days, police in Japan are busy trying to catch a different type of conmen, known as ``Ore, ore'' (It's me, it's me) conmen. Elderly women are their main victims. By repeating ``Ore'' when an elderly sounding woman answers the phone, the caller tricks her into thinking her son or grandson is calling. Next, the caller pleads with her to pay a certain amount of money into a bank account, often pretending there has been a traffic accident as the reason for needing money urgently.

Nearly 4,000 cases of the new con were reported to the police by the end of October. The victims were swindled out of more than 2.2 billion yen in total.


There is a sense of crudeness about the way the new con game is played, such is its contemporary feel. Unlike DiCaprio's con genius, who captured people's hearts through eye contact, those who practice the game try to deceive by their voice alone. They maneuver would-be victims to do their bidding by making them panic. It is a game that takes advantage of the common weakness of elderly women. The deeds of such men who dare to exploit it are simply sickening.


The designs of Ore, ore conmen have been foiled in some cases. In one case, a bank teller asked a customer behaving oddly why she was withdrawing such a large amount of money from her bank account and talked her out of it. In another, a taxi driver advised an uneasy-looking fare to get in touch with her family while he was taking her to a bank.


Being on the lookout to take notice of women like these may be the best way to protect innocent people.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 26(IHT/Asahi: November 27,2003) (11/27)
Lemming `suicide' has its own place in fiction

The lemming, a small rodent something like a rat, is often associated with mass suicide. Readers may recall a scene from the 1958 Walt Disney nature documentary ``True-Life Adventures: White Wilderness,'' in which lemmings are depicted heading for a cliff and seemingly jumping into the sea. Still others may have seen photos and pictures of similar lemming behavior in magazines.



In the short novel ``Panic,'' the literary debut of Takeshi Kaiko, rats that had multiplied geometrically jump into a lake and drown. Comparing the behavior of rats with that of lemmings, Kaiko wrote: ``Could it be that hunger made them insane and so impulsive that they lost their ability to distinguish between earth and water?'' ``Panic'' was published in 1957, a year before the Disney film.


Since early times, it has been known that populations of lemmings in northern Europe and elsewhere go through a cycle of explosive population growth and decline. The dramatic swings in lemming populations was attributed changes in climate and availability of food. But the actual causes have long remained a mystery, and that encouraged the emergence of various myths and guesses.


In its Oct. 31 issue, the journal Science published an article presenting a new theory. Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland and Science magazine spent 15 years studying the habits of lemmings in Greenland and found that when their numbers grow too large, they are killed off by natural predators that eat them. When the lemming population increases sharply, so do the populations of foxes, stoats, owls and skuas that feed on them. In short, lemmings do not commit suicide en masse but are killed by predators, according to the report.


As for the documentary ``White Wilderness,'' the principal photographer was later accused of shipping in lemmings to create the faked footage. When a U.S. newspaper raised the question with Disney studios, a spokesman said it could not determine exactly what techniques were used to obtain the original footage.


But it seems ``mass suicide'' was nothing more than human fabrication.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 25(IHT/Asahi: November 26,2003) (11/26)
More damage than meets the eye in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, has become the scene of repeated terrorist attacks. Because it occupies both sides of the Bosporus, it has long been known as a meeting point of Asia and Europe. It is easy to imagine how much its citizens, proud of their ancient city's fame, have been shocked and saddened by the strikes.

``O Istanbul! Among the various names that enchant me, none sounds more magical than this one,'' wrote French novelist Pierre Loti in an essay titled ``Constantinople 1890.''

``When I hear this name, it at once calls up a vision in my eyes,'' he went on.


 トルコ最大の都市イスタンブールが、度重なるテロ攻撃にさらされている。ボスポラス海峡を挟んで広がり、「アジアとヨーロッパの架け橋」とも言われてきた古都の受けた傷の大きさ、深さを思う▼「おお! イスタンブルよ! わたしを魅惑する様々の名のなかで、これほどの魔力をもつ名はほかにない。この名が唱えられるとたちまち、目の前にひとつの幻(ヴイジヨン)が浮上する」

Loti wrote the novel ``Aziyade'' based on his time in Istanbul as a naval officer. The passage from his essay is quoted by Yoko Kudo in an explanatory note she wrote for her Japanese translation of the novel, published by Shinshokan Co.

 フランスの作家ピエール・ロティは『コンスタンティノープル 一八九〇』というエッセーに、こう書いた。海軍士官として、この街に滞在した体験をもとに、小説『アジヤデ』を著す。その新書館版の解説に、訳者・工藤庸子さんが引用している。

It sometimes occurs to one that an ancient city conveys the sense of being an entity that can memorize things, just as a human being can. In the case of Istanbul, I feel the city is suffering because the repeated terrorist attacks have shaken up its layers of memory.


I feel the same way about the impact of the escalating terrorist strikes in Iraq, adjacent to Turkey. In one case, rockets were fired from a donkey cart in Baghdad. In other words, a creature really familiar to man was used as part of a weapon. A photograph of a cart used this way is painful to look at. It just worsens my concern that the war in Iraq is likely to take a new, even more odious direction soon.


Of course, acts of terrorism are absolutely unforgivable and the war on terror must continue. But obviously it is no longer the time to pursue an approach aimed at eliminating all terrorists. The advisability of such a strategy seems to have reached its limit.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 23(IHT/Asahi: November 25,2003) (11/25)
Mimic Rumsfeld the CEO to resolve problems

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who visited Japan earlier this month, served as a brilliant CEO for a private corporation in the second half of the 1970s. He transformed a failing pharmaceutical firm into a blue-ribbon enterprise whose stock prices recorded a fivefold increase in several years.



Rumsfeld knew politics; he had been a member of the House of Representatives. Much more importantly, he had served as White House chief of staff and secretary of defense under President Gerald Ford. But he was almost an amateur in the business world. Those who knew him naturally feared he might fail as a CEO.

But Rumsfeld was undaunted. In his new post, he worked aggressively to trim costs, end in-house bureaucratic practices and promote the employment of competent people from the outside. As these steps proved hugely successful, Fortune magazine put him on its ``10 Toughest Bosses in America'' list in 1980.


In his CEO days, Rumsfeld was known as a ruthless man, but his motto was to ``listen to what people have to say,'' according to Jeffrey A. Krames' book ``The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick.'' (A Japanese translation is published by KK Bestsellers.) The book also portrays Rumsfeld as a man who believes in having the courage to admit ignorance and being on the reserved side in making public promises and on the more generous side in carrying them into effect.


In Japan, new chiefs have been named to head two organizations on the decline-namely, the Japan Highway Public Corp. and the Social Democratic Party.

In both cases, rehabilitation will be a formidable task. But whether the new chiefs will succeed or fail is a matter that affects the course of Japan as a whole.


What Rumsfeld did first in rebuilding his pharmaceutical company was to set priorities. By scrutinizing the firm's operations, he identified where there were problems. Then he clarified where to begin fixing them, setting an order of execution for further corrective measures at the same time.

As I see it, the Japan Highway Public Corp. has an urgent need to try to identify its long-standing woes.

The Social Democratic Party, meanwhile, should first focus on understanding why fortune stopped smiling on it in the first place.


Returning to Rumsfeld, the question now is whether his competence as U.S. defense chief is being channeled in a mistaken direction. This matter has a crucial effect on world peace and security.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 16(IHT/Asahi: November 24,2003) (11/24)
It's time to do away with relentless prejudice

A poem written in 1937 by a sixth-grade elementary school girl goes: ``My friend was leaning against a railing/ Wanting to surprise her from behind/ I sneaked up on her/ I saw she was crying clutching a letter in hand.''

To bring this picture into sharper focus, you have to understand the writer of the poem had contracted Hansen's disease and was thus condemned by law to live apart from society in an institution for leprosy patients for the rest of her life. Her weeping friend, also an inmate, had received a letter from home.



The poem is one of many heart-rending pieces in ``Hansen-byo Bungaku Zenshu 10; Jido Sakuhin'' (Collected works of literature pertaining to Hansen's disease, Vol. 10; Writings by children), published by Koseisha.

One episode is about a boy who has to leave home before dawn one day in late autumn. While he eats his meal, his mother packs his bags. When it is time for him to go, the tearful boy tells his mother over and over, ``Mother, please stay well and healthy all your life.''

 『ハンセン病文学全集10 児童作品』(皓星社)には、胸を打つ作品が多い。晩秋の未明に旅立つ少年がいる。食事をする少年の傍らで母が旅支度をしている。少年は「お母さん達者で何時(いつ)までも居(お)つて下さい」とお別れをした。涙しながら何度も繰り返した。

A letter from home opens a floodgate of memories for a first-year senior high school girl. She remembers how she and her younger sister used to pick renge (Chinese milk vetch) flowers together, sing songs and throw stones from a bridge. ``Are my sister and her friends still throwing stones?'' the girl wonders.

A first-year junior high school girl confesses that, while she was walking on the beach at night, ``Suddenly, I just couldn't help crying out aloud for my mother.''


There was a time when boys and girls like these were forced to live in exile and were treated as pariahs while they battled leprosy. But this disease is now curable, thanks to medications and treatments that have since become available. The government, too, has admitted its past policy of segregation was wrong.


A hot spring hotel in Kumamoto Prefecture recently barred a stay by former leprosy patients. I was more saddened than angered by this appalling incident. I can only hope this will teach people that many among us are yet to be enlightened.


``I felt brave. I felt I could overcome sorrow,'' wrote a third-year junior high school boy who was going back to the sanatorium after a brief home leave. He felt strong because he had one best friend who stood by him, when everybody else whispered unkind things behind his back.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 21(IHT/Asahi: November 22,2003) (11/22)
TV, a present-day dinosaur, now roams freely

In his book ``Terebi-no Ogon-jidai'' (The golden age of television), published by Bungei Shunju, novelist Nobuhiko Kobayashi recalls a visit to the Nippon Television Network (NTV) building around 1960. He was invited to preview a variety show, and he felt as if he was in some ``nifty neighborhood workshop.''



The TV station was only in its seventh year of operation, but the program Kobayashi previewed was already laced with cynicism against the medium.

Toward the end of the show, an emcee warned viewers: ``Beware of television. Depending on how you watch it, the outcome could be detrimental.''

To explain, the emcee talked about eggs of the dinosaur iguanodon. ``We have two eggs now,'' he said. ``One egg is atomic energy. The other is television.''


The NTV building has since transformed itself from that nifty neighborhood workshop into a towering high-rise. And one could say that television, which was just an ``egg'' 50 years ago, has grown into a dinosaur today. This dinosaur wields tremendous influence on society, but it is also at the mercy of viewer ratings.


The NTV producer who allegedly bribed viewers to raise the ratings of his shows was obviously obsessed with numbers, but apparently did not consider them sacrosanct. Since the ratings were being monitored by a ``mere independent monitoring company,'' he must have thought there was nothing wrong with resorting to bribery.


His ``respect'' for numbers is there, but I certainly do not sense any respect for individual viewers. But this seems to be the case with the TV industry in general, and the NTV scandal inadvertently exposed this inverted awareness. I suppose our era is hardly friendly to conscientious producers who would rather risk viewer ratings for quality programming.


Television-the present-day dinosaur-will turn savage in the absence of anyone to tame it. In the past, there were people who knew what to do. But, as Kobayashi laments, the generation that followed has allowed the dinosaur to roam freely.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 20(IHT/Asahi: November 21,2003) (11/21)
The demographic picture just a paper lantern

French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud was only 8 years old when he wrote in a notebook that he would live to be a pensioner.



The sentence followed a paragraph in which he said there was no need to study Greek or Latin, according to an article in a collection of poet Tsuguo Ando's works, published by Seidosha. (Ando, who died last year, was known for his insightful criticisms of haiku.)

Times are different now. Likewise, the meaning of being a pensioner has changed over time. Even so, Rimbaud's observation as a child offers a compelling aspect about his life-his rebellious spirit when he was young.


It is often said that today's young people are generally indifferent to pensions. Looking back over my youth and not-so-young days, pensions and hot springs remained outside the scope of my main interest for a long time. Perhaps, the reason for my aloofness was that school textbooks carried a ``demographic pyramid,'' one with reassuringly widening lower sections.


With this in mind, I have taken a look at the latest demographic shape of the nation in a statistical report based on resident registers. A bar graph is used to explain the statistics. This was done by dividing the population into five-year age groups and then by gender. The higher the bar, the older the group that is represented.

In terms of national totals, the survey shows that the demographic pyramid crumbled years ago. It has given way to what may be called a paper lantern, with the generation of baby boomers and that of their children protruding and dented by the elderly and small children.


A prefecture-wise analysis reveals a still more different picture. The composition of the female population forms a reverse pyramid in many prefectures, such as Nagano, Shimane, Kochi and Kagoshima. In these regions, the top bar is the longest and the lower bars keep getting shorter. The top bar represents all women aged over 80. Even so, the days of the demographic pyramid seem to be numbered.


One look at the bars explains why young people are frightened by the prospect of having to bear the crushing burden. If the government is to ease their fears, a broad review of the pension and other systems, including the way all tax revenue is spent, seems to be in order.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 19(IHT/Asahi: November 20,2003) (11/20)
SDF is neither a `hard' nor `soft' target

The word ``soft'' implies something pleasant and delightful, as in a soft fabric or a soothing voice. But there is nothing soothing about the expression ``soft target,'' which we now see frequently in newspapers.



Unlike military and government facilities that are heavily guarded, a soft target is one that is defenseless and vulnerable to attack. In Iraq, United Nations and Red Cross facilities were attacked and many lives were lost. In Afghanistan, a French U.N. worker was shot dead. People are naturally outraged by these wanton, one-sided attacks against defenseless targets.


And terrorist car bombs on Saturday exploded near Jewish synagogues in Istanbul, killing 24 and injuring numerous worshippers.

I wonder what thoughts could have passed through the minds of the terrorists when they targeted these unarmed civilians. Perhaps they were convinced the Israelis were the perpetrators of violence against defenseless Palestinians, whose land Israel continues to occupy by force under its hard-line Palestine policy.

There is no simple solution to the dilemma and I know I sound like a wimp, but all I can say is that neither side should ever resort to terrorism.


In Iraq, attacks are escalating against ``hard targets'' of the U.S.-led occupation forces, and the Americans have restarted missile attacks against resistants in Iraq. Japan has reportedly decided against sending Self-Defense Forces personnel before the end of this year.


I wonder what the Iraqis think of the SDF. It must be difficult for them to fully grasp the concept of ``armed forces for self-defense.'' Would it make any sense to them, if one were to explain that the SDF is neither ``hard'' like the U.S. military, nor ``soft'' like the United Nations?

 自衛隊は、現地ではどう受け止められるのだろう。英語での「Self−Defense Forces」の「自衛」の意味と実体は、なかなか理解できまい。米軍のような「ハード」でもなく、国連のような「ソフト」でもないと言って、通用するだろうか。

Japan should take time out now, not only to discuss when to dispatch SDF troops to Iraq, but rather to rethink the dispatch itself. And we certainly need to think twice about the meaning of this war in Iraq.


-The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 18(IHT/Asahi: November 19,2003) (11/19)
Athletes and their special brand of magic

Naoko Takahashi, the Olympic women's marathon champion in Sydney, looked exhausted. I feared she would collapse as she crossed the finish line. Instead, she stayed on her feet, looking as if she were not tired at all. She even managed a small smile.

This surprised me. Even though she finished second in Sunday's Tokyo International Women's Marathon, I felt reassured that she was not a run-of-the-mill runner.



``My legs became wooden,'' Takahashi explained. This expression refers to when we are worn out and our legs defy our will to move forward. Sometimes, we have to continue walking even then, dragging our unwilling feet. By her own account, Takahashi's legs suddenly wouldn't function as she wanted shortly before the 30-kilometer point. Even so, she kept on going because she was determined to finish.


Yuko Arimori, who won medals in two successive Olympic women's marathons, writes about ``the wonders of human capability'' in ``Watashi Kakumei'' (Revolutionizing myself), published by Iwanami Shoten. According to the author, something short of a miracle occurs when a runner tests his or her personal limit. ``The more you defy your limit, the more your limit stretches,'' she says. In this way, runners can continue to improve themselves.


Conceivably, the wonders lauded by Arimori may also backfire. It is quite common for an athlete who conventionally has no problem, having worked out properly and is feeling fine, to suddenly come down with a disorder.

Athletes always tread a fine line, not knowing which way the magic will work.


Grand sumo champion Musashimaru, who has just announced his retirement, weighs five times as much as Takahashi. Sheer weight is a potent weapon itself in a sport in which the outcome of a match is decided quickly in a small ring. But it imposes a great burden on the wrestler as it makes him liable to lose his balance. This was especially true of Musashimaru in the present tournament. For fear of losing his balance, he often stood upright, which didn't allow him to exercise his full power.


While Musashimaru has left the sumo ring, sensing that he has reached his limit, Takahashi will continue challenging herself, thereby extending her limit.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 17(IHT/Asahi: November 18,2003) (11/18)
Ginza keeps changing, but for the worse

The novelist Matsutaro Kawaguchi (1899-1985) wrote: ``The Ginza district takes on a different aspect every day.'' This sentence appears at the beginning of his novel ``Yoru no Cho'' (A butterfly at night; published in 1957). ``The Ginza keeps undergoing imperceptible changes at some corners,'' he added.



Only recently, I noticed that the ``face'' of the Ginza district in Tokyo had visibly changed. What I mean by this is not the look of the town but the roadway running north-south through the entire Ginza district. The color of the asphalt covering the main Ginza avenue had been changed from black to bright gray. But the change was confined to half of the stretch-from 1-chome to 4-chome.


At the most congested 4-chome intersection, the color was a mix of black and gray. This was because the color of the asphalt remained black as before from 5-chome to 8-chome. At first, I thought a mistake in mixing the paint ingredients was to blame for the confusion of colors. I learned later that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport was experimenting with ``environmental pavement.''


The growing urbanization has been driving the summertime temperatures in the heart of Tokyo to unbearably high levels. The so-called heat-island phenomenon poses a serious problem not just in Tokyo but in other major cities as well. The experiment on the Ginza represents an effort to cope with this problem by coating the surface of the pavement with a heat-insulating paint, so that the rise in temperatures on the surface of the roadway could be held down.

I was told that the effect of the heat-insulating paint was still under investigation. The use of a grayish paint seems to have made the contrast between the newly coated half of the main Ginza avenue and its other half startling for infrequent visitors like me.


The aim of the experiment is understandable. Still, I think the feel of artificiality about the main Ginza street has become stronger.

This street has pockets of low trees planted on the sidewalks, but the roadside trees for which the Ginza was once famous were removed a long time ago, with the result that building walls and street lamps became more noticeable. There was always an impression that the street, though orderly, was more inorganic than other streets. I have a feeling that the metallic color tone of the roadway bolsters that impression.


I wonder if the increased artificial look of the street is an unavoidable trade-off in efforts to cope with the unbearable summertime heat levels in major cities. Authorities should explore all possible alternatives, including the use of other colors.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20(IHT/Asahi: November 17,2003) (11/17)
Knowing when to pull back is always crucial

The troops are exhausted. Their spirits are down. We must put an end to the hardships and dangers that keep befalling them. In urging Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) to withdraw his army, Coenus (circa 360-326 B.C.) made these points in front of his soldiers. But the king of Macedonia refused to listen.



Furious that one of his most trusted commanders would suggest withdrawal, Alexander dismissed the meeting. However, after four days of careful deliberation, he declared he had decided to turn back. Cries of joy greeted this announcement and many soldiers wept, according to ``Anabasis Alexandri'' (The campaigns of Alexander) by Arrian (Flavius Arrianus). Its Japanese translation is published as a two-volume Iwanami Bunko paperback. The episode from 326 B.C. illustrates the difficulties a commander faces in deciding to pull back.


The aide who offered this advice did so at risk to his life. The man was emboldened because he had the support of his soldiers. Alexander, who had no choice but to retract his decision to ``advance,'' must have also been troubled. It was a painful decision for a general to whom the idea of ``withdrawal'' was totally alien.


U.S. President George W. Bush, who can be likened to a modern-day king, must also be agonizing. He started a war whose cause was questionable at the outset, and quickly declared the major combat ended on May 1. This, though, is at odds with what has been happening. U.S. troops and those of countries supporting the U.S. endeavor are suffering rising casualties. Belatedly, Bush is trying to change the occupation policy to expedite ``transfer of sovereignty'' to the Iraqi people. If all goes well, this action will lead to early withdrawal of the occupational forces.


The Japanese Imperial Army avoided using the words withdrawal or defeat. Instead it often referred to tenshin (literally changing course or shifting position). It appears Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will also be forced to ``change course.'' He should seize this opportunity to reconsider the propriety of dispatching Self-Defense Forces to Iraq.


Coenus advised Alexander that discretion is all the more necessary when the tide is favorable. Perhaps Koizumi, who ``won'' the Lower House election, should heed the same advice.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 14(IHT/Asahi: November 15,2003) (11/15)
A sign of respect-Matsui `uncrowned'

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play in the major leagues. Racial discrimination was rampant in those days, and the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers knew he was taking a big risk in signing Robinson. The general manager made sure Robinson understood that.



According to ``Meja Rigu Supasuta Meikan'' (Directory of major league superstars) compiled by Fumihiro Fujisawa and published by Kenkyusha, the general manager told Robinson as he slapped his right cheek, ``You are going into a tough fight nobody has ever been through. ... You need the guts not to fight back.''

Robinson replied, ``I have another cheek.''


His first season with the Dodgers was in 1947. A teammate from the South complained about sharing the locker room with him. Pitchers of opponent teams threw brush-back pitches and beanballs at him. There was booing from the stands when he came up to bat. He received hate mail.

But all that ``noise'' dissipated as fans became enthralled with his extraordinary athletic prowess and superb play.


The American League Rookie of the Year award was created that year, and Robinson was voted the first recipient. He was not exactly young anymore-28 years old-having played in the Negro League before he came to the major leagues.

Later, the award was renamed to honor him.


Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees missed this year's award. He is 29. An outraged Yankees owner George Steinbrenner issued a statement Tuesday.

``I firmly believe that a great injustice has been done to Hideki Matsui,'' he asserted, and cited Robinson's name in stressing the ``spirit of the award.''

Whatever the past career is, a newcomer in the major leagues is considered a rookie. Matsui has the legitimate qualification as a rookie. And he did have a great season.


Having played in Japan for 10 years as a superstar, Matsui noted mildly, ``I may be a bit too old for a rookie.''

He has chosen to acquiesce in his ``uncrowned'' status. Should I understand this as the major leagues showing respect to Japanese baseball?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 13(IHT/Asahi: November 14,2003) (11/14)
Strategy on SDF dispatch gets odder each day

It almost looks as if Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is trying to avoid discussing the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. If his policy remains unchanged, his current words and deeds would appear to be out of step.



There is speculation that formal Cabinet approval of troop dispatch plans will be put off until after a special session of the Diet. This would result in an avoidance of deliberations on the issue by a Diet where seats held by Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) have sharply increased.

The speculation is odd enough. But remarks Koizumi made in a news conference on Monday, the day after the Lower House election, were more than odd. I found them worrisome.


A reporter asked the prime minister how he viewed the relationship between the massive electoral gains by Minshuto, which was opposed to sending SDF troops to help reconstruct Iraq, and the wishes of voters. His answer appeared to deny a correlation. ``Minshuto was not the only party that came out against it,'' he said. ``The Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party were also opposed, rather more strenuously than Minshuto.''

Minshuto won more votes than Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party in the proportional representation blocs, as opposed to single-seat electoral districts. That, in effect, makes Minshuto the largest proportionally elected party. I had looked forward to the master of catchy phrases uttering a comment that took note of the popular vote in favor of Minshuto. But somehow he spoke equivocally.


Seizing the occasion, Koizumi went to say, ``The three ruling coalition parties clearly stated that it was necessary for Japan to send SDF troops to Iraq, and because of this stand, we were able to secure a stable parliamentary majority.''

This statement is understandable as an assertion by someone still breathing hard after directing a hard-fought election campaign.

But if Koizumi thinks the ruling coalition secured a stable Diet majority as a result of winning over voters on the troop dispatch issue, why does he appear to want to send troops to Iraq in a manner that will conceal the issue from the eyes of the public?

Does he have to follow this strategy because the stable majority won by the ruling coalition is actually unstable?


In a dispatch on the Lower House election, the British newspaper The Independent reported that ``Japanese voters returned Junichiro Koizumi to power as prime minister... but with a reduced majority and a powerful opposition that has pledged to challenge his decision to dispatch troops to Iraq.''


The people elect members of the Diet to have them deliberate important matters on their behalf.

That is their job, but the government is moving to deprive them of an opportunity to do just that.

All legislators should join hands to put up resistance to such moves.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 12(IHT/Asahi: November 13,2003) (11/13)
Lonely autumn rains a harbinger of winter

``Along this road/ No one passes/ An autumn evening.''

As I watched the vote count Sunday night for the Lower House election, this haiku by Matsuo Basho (1644-94) flitted through my mind. Perhaps I recalled it because I was thinking about the future ``road'' of this nation's politics. Elections that result in dramatic meetings and partings may have caused me to become sentimental.



I imagined the faces of the defeated candidates the next morning would appear as dark as ``an autumn evening.''

I also remembered another Basho haiku written around the same time of year: ``The sound of voices/ As people go home along this road/ An autumn evening.'' According to Shuson Kato, the poem speaks of ``a hunger for human companionship rooted in a deep sense of isolation.'' Kato's remarks are found in ``Basho Zenku'' (Complete Basho haiku), published by Chikuma Shobo.


In ``Mumei'' (Nameless), published by Gentosha, writer Kotaro Sawaki talks about his father and haiku. He asks his ailing father, who liked poet Mantaro Kubota (1889-1963), which one of Kubota's haiku was his favorite.

His father cites the following: ``Autumn wind blows through/ A crowd of people.''


After his father's death, Sawaki compiled a collection of haiku written by his father. Poems that depicted autumn far outnumbered those describing other seasons. He divided the autumn haiku into two sections so that the collection starts and ends with autumn.

The last haiku his father wrote was also about the fall season: ``As far as this road stretches/ Cosmoses also stretch endlessly.'' The collection is titled ``Sono Kata no'' (The shoulders). He took it from a haiku written by his father, the son's favorite: ``On the shoulders/ Solitude casts a shadow/ With hands in pockets.''


Sawaki's father died in the month of November. ``It was a fitting month for my father's death,'' he writes. Guessing from the book, his father died on Nov. 10. Although Sawaki had little to do with haiku as a writer, one day, as he thought about his dying father, his feelings suddenly emerged in the form of a 17-syllable haiku: ``Drop by drop/ Life trickles down/ Autumn rain.''


According to the lunar calendar, it is officially early winter. But rain continues to fall as autumn advances.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 11(IHT/Asahi: November 12,2003) (11/12)
Minshuto opens the door to 2-party system

The Japanese word for ``road,'' michi or do, is often mentioned in the political world. Opposition politicians, for example, used to speak of kensei no jodo (the normal path, or expected action, under constitutional government) when they pressed the government to resign.

Older people are also familiar with chudo (middle of the road). More recently, daisan no michi (third road) has been advocated as a way to topple the Liberal Democratic Party.

Sunday's election, the first Lower House election held in the 21st century, may have opened the door to a ``new road'' leading to the birth of a genuine two-party system in Japan.



To cite an old story, in a comment on the outcome of the first election under the new Constitution, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the Allied occupation forces, said the people of Japan had opted for the middle-of-the-road political forces, shunning the extremists both on the right and the left.

In that election, three parties-the Socialists, Liberals and Democrats-did equally well and captured the great majority of the seats at stake among them. A senior official of the Japan Socialist Party, which emerged as the largest party, made history by blurting, ``We have an awful problem now.'' The party was utterly unprepared to form a government.


There is no chance of hearing such a comment from Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), the party that sought to wrest power from the LDP and its coalition partners and made massive gains in Sunday's election. It is more likely to be heard coming from the ruling LDP, which failed to secure a simple majority.

The party had expected the goal of winning a simple majority to be possible if it made the most of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's personal popularity and highlighted his reform plans. But voters appear to have applied the brakes, denying the party its hoped-for success.


Issues that did not surface as points of contention during the campaign may have cast a shadow on the LDP's showing. By this, I mean the planned dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq and constitutional revision. Both are issues that remind people that Japan may be retracing its steps to its military past. The sense of deja vu may have caused some people to vote against the LDP.


A poem by Suharu Anryu comes to mind: ``I quietly waited for the door to open/ Thinking it was an automatic door/ When someone pushed me aside/ And opened the door by hand.''

As it turned out, the latest election was not an ``automatic door'' that provided a secure basis for continuing rule by the LDP. In a manner of speaking, Minshuto opened the door by hand. The largest opposition party reached for the door before the LDP by articulating its bid for power and hoisting a manifesto as its standard.


I wonder what kind of road lies beyond the door. While it is unlikely to be paved, there is no slighting the wishes of the people who have opted for a new road.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 10(IHT/Asahi: November 11,2003) (11/11)
It's hard to tell masterpieces from trash

On a trip to a bookstore, one takes a look around and looks at many titles before settling down on a book or two for purchase.

Your eyes are first drawn to prominently displayed books and magazines with covers of varying colors. They are stacked flat, each seeming to beckon you to take up.



Huge numbers of books are being published every day. But there are probably many more that are not getting published. Even among books now known as masterpieces, there may be ones that were once turned down by publishers and did not see the light of day.


Pearl Buck's ``The Good Earth'' is one of the masterpieces that overcame the initial misfortune. The letters that rejected them-masterpieces in themselves-can be found in Andre Bernard's book published in 1991 ``Rotten Rejections: The Letters That Publishers Wish They'd Never Sent.'' A Japanese translation ``Makoto-ni Zannen-desuga...'' (We're terribly sorry but...) has been published by Tokuma Shoten. According to the book, a publisher told Buck that he was very sorry, but American readers had no interest in a Chinese story.


Turning down ``Lady Chatterley's Lover,'' a publisher advised D.H. Lawrence not to try to get it published for his own sake.

The publisher who handled Thor Heyerdahl's ``The Kon-Tiki Expedition'' wrote that while an exploration by people on a drifting raft offered an interesting theme, he found the records of a Pacific voyage cumbersome, monotonous and boring as a whole.


Bernard wrote letters of rejection himself when he was working for a publishing company. Looking back, he says that when copies of a book he rejected with confidence were filling the shelves at bookstores, with more printings on the way, he writhed with regret.


A secondhand book festival is an annual event held in Tokyo's Kanda district, an area known for having many bookstores. As usual, I saw small crowds formed here and there in the alleys and on the sidewalks. The focus of attention was on books that have long been out of print. The age-muted covers of these books made an excellent match with the soft light of the autumnal sun.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 1(IHT/Asahi: November 10,2003) (11/10)
Viewing our tiny life in the boundless universe

The Subaru telescope in Hawaii has captured light emitted from the most distant galaxy ever observed, 12.83 billion light years away.

Since the universe is expanding, it must have sent a faint flicker while moving away from Earth. It provides a clue to the development of the universe, astronomers say.



To begin with, how old is the universe? This has long been a subject of controversy. At one time, the universe's estimated ``age'' ranged between 10 billion and 20 billion years. In February, NASA stated the Big Bang that created the universe likely occurred 13.7 billion years ago. Currently, this is the most prevalent view.


Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), the father of modern astronomy, who in 1929 determined that the universe is in a continual state of expansion, estimated it to be about 2 billion years old. Since then, however, his calculation has become obsolete with the emergence of other theories, including one that estimated that Earth itself was created 4 billion years ago.


I recall a well-known poetry collection titled ``Nijuoku Konen no Kodoku'' (Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude) by then 21-year-old Shuntaro Tanikawa. The book was published more than a half century ago. Come to think of it, his poem reflected Hubble's idea of the universe:

``Because the universe is distorted,/ we all seek for one another./ Because the universe goes on expanding,/ we are all uneasy./ With the chill of two billion light-years of solitude,/ I suddenly sneezed.''


(The poem was translated by William Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura, in ``Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude,'' The Hokuseido Press). The contrast between the expanding universe and the sneezing self was striking. People go about the trivial matters of everyday life while awed by the boundless stretch of the universe. That is all too human.


It is also around this time of year when the sky grows bright with stars that Minamoto no Shitago (911-983) composed the following poem: ``The galaxy is clear and bright in the autumn sky/ I see dewdrops glisten in a round shape in a tree-filled garden.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 7(IHT/Asahi: November 8,2003) (11/08)
Showing how governments change hands

I wish to give an example of how governments change hands. I am fully aware the circumstances are quite different between Japan and Britain, a country where a two-party system has been maturely established, but let us look back on the 1997 British elections in which the Labor Party recovered administration after 18 years.



``Privatization'' of pensions was a major issue. The Conservative Party advocated privatization before the election. The proposal was aimed at alleviating the heavy burden on the national finance by shifting state-run pension systems to personal pension systems run by private insurance companies. It can be said that the shift was a foregone conclusion of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's reform policy of advancing privatization and attaching greater importance to the accountability of individuals.


At the time, the Labor Party appeared to stand by the policy of not conducting a ``negative campaign'' by finding fault with its opponent. However, as far as the pension problem is concerned, it broke away from that rule to fire criticism at the Conservative Party for a limited period. Later, it returned to a ``positive campaign'' to stress its own merits.


As the ruling party, the Tories tried to seize on the opposition's weaknesses. For example, the party asked how it planned to deal with European integration on which the nation was divided. The Labor Party responded promptly that it would hold a referendum. The Conservatives' election strategy seemed to waver in the face of the opposition party's positive stance. It is also said that the ruling party failed to take advantage of ``a favorable economy,'' which was its strongest point.

 政権党である保守党は、野党の弱みをつこうとする。たとえば、国民の意見が割れる欧州統合をどうするか? 「国民投票にかける」と答える。積極的に受けて切り返す労働党に対し、保守党の選挙戦略は揺れたようだ。「順調な経済」という最も大きな強みを政権党は生かせなかった、ともいわれる。

The Labor Party won 419 seats and the Tories 165 seats. It was a landslide victory for the Labor Party that most people never imagined possible. In addition to an effective election strategy, the victory owes much to the youth and freshness of party leader Tony Blair, who positively advanced Labor Party reform. The timing may have also agreed with the mood of the British people, who were fed up with the Conservative government.


A British newspaper ran the following commentary: ``The people seem to have known what they were doing all along and were preparing long ago to do what none of the professionals could believe. The people are sovereign. Never can I recall my sense of that ancient democratic truth being so emphatically, incontestably made flesh.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 6(IHT/Asahi: November 7,2003) (11/07)
Afghans aiming for Islamic-style democracy

The main news item on Nov. 4, 1946, was a massive rally held in Tokyo the previous day to celebrate promulgation of the new Constitution.

Newspapers carried big photographs on their front pages of the rally held in the square in front of the Imperial Palace. One headline read: ``A massive chorus of 100,000 in celebration.''

Printed alongside the stories was an imperial edict declaring the new Constitution, which was drafted with the aim of rebuilding Japan according to universally accepted principles for mankind, had the blessing of a freely expressed national consensus.

All this came about a little more than a year after Japan's surrender in World War II.



Afghanistan's draft Constitution was unveiled on Nov. 3, a day for commemorating the promulgation of the Constitution in Japan. In all likelihood, this was a mere coincidence. Still, the writing of a new Constitution in Kabul, a crucial first step for nation-building after years of conflict, does not feel like someone else's affair for us. President Hamid Karzai once said he wanted to learn from postwar Japan.


In their procedural explanations about the draft, officials said the people of Afghanistan were weary of war and anxious for peace. Stressing the significance of writing a Constitution, they said ordinary people were participating in drafting a road map for peace for the first time.


But the draft Constitution does not have provisions like the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's Constitution. Instead, anticipating acts of war, it has ``emergency provisions'' to deal with such situations by concentrating all powers in the president and the government.

The political reality is that with regional warlords making a comeback, Afghanistan is bogged down in a state bordering on civil war. ``The situation is worse than any time in the past,'' reports physician Tetsu Nakamura, who is working as a volunteer in that landlocked country.


The draft stipulates that other faiths would be free to conduct religious rites within the bounds of the law. Even so, as an Islamic republic, Afghanistan has no choice but to keep Islam as the central authority. This would mean that while introducing Western-style institutions, Afghanistan will remain Islamic at its core.


Back in 1946, it was asserted in Japan that ``although we have a new Constitution, it just signals the start of democracy, not its perfection.'' The same thing may be said of Afghanistan, a country that is aiming at Islamic-style democracy.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 5(IHT/Asahi: November 6,2003) (11/06)
Some walls express humanity, others crush it

French painter Jean Dubuffet explains his fascination with walls in ``Pari Shashin no Seiki'' (Century of Parisian photography), a book written by Eiko Imahashi and published by Hakusui-Sha Co.:

``Walls are just like the earth, except for the fact that they are vertical ... To me, a wall is like a great book that one can write or read.''



In 1950, Dubuffet published a collection of lithographs entitled ``Les Murs'' (``Dubuffet's Walls'' in English). He was certainly not the only artist who was fascinated by the walls and wall graffiti of Paris. They were a pet subject for photographer Brassai, who cited Debuffet as well as Paul Klee and Joan Miro in arguing the tremendous impact on 20th century art of the ``discovery of walls.''


Walls inspire artists. But when used for political purposes, walls often become utterly ugly. The Berlin Wall was the symbol of the Cold War. Blood has been shed around that and many other walls.


In Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants have feuded for centuries, a wall was erected in Belfast to divide the two groups into separate quarters. Ironically, this came to be called the Peace Wall. In three decades of relentless terrorist reprisals, more than 3,000 people have been killed.


The Israeli government started building a 320-kilometer wall around the West Bank of Palestinian territory last year. About 100 km have been completed. The Israelis say the barrier is intended to thwart Palestinian terrorists. For the Palestinians, however, this wall is exactly what it has come to be known as-the Apartheid Wall.


Brassai was particularly moved by children's graffiti on the lower parts of walls. But Palestinian children do not have the freedom to scrawl their graffiti on the wall of ethnic segregation. It is an ominous wall that rejects the human capacity to feel and imagine.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 4(IHT/Asahi: November 5,2003) (11/05)
A power failure can be a blessing in disguise

I happened to be visiting Italy when a power blackout threw most of the country into darkness about a month ago.

Perhaps because of the noise around my hotel in Rome, I awoke shortly after 3 a.m. I looked out the window and saw nothing unusual on the street below. The television in my room did not switch on, so I knew that the city was in the grip of a power failure.



The power supply was still out when the day dawned. I decided to step out and explore the city, thinking that Rome, full of ancient ruins, might take on the look it had in ancient times.

The clerk at the front desk told me that subway trains were not moving and the telephone service was down. I watched the buses and garbage trucks moving. All shops were closed and I heard beeping alarms everywhere.

There was a cafe doing business. I looked in and saw a clerk scribbling orders and receipts in a notebook by candle light.


Continuing my stroll, I went to St. Angel Castle near the Vatican's San Pietro Cathedral. A staff member refused to let me in because of the power outage. Certainly, I thought, one could not walk through the castle when the lights were not on.


I recalled an essay by Atsuko Suga on the darkness of the Mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian inside the castle. Based on her visit to the mausoleum, she wrote: ``I make my way in darkness. A light guides my steps for several meters. Then, I am enveloped again in darkness feeling like a thick cloak.'' This passage, quoted from a Kawade Bunko paperback, appears in Suga's book ``Yurusunaru no Kutsu'' (Yourcenar's shoes), which is a collection of essays.

So, the mausoleum of Hadrian, known as one of the five ``wise'' Roman emperors, sits in total darkness. He died in the second century.


As far as I could see, traffic signals at all the intersections were out. Drivers on the roads were a study in contrast, no longer behaving violently like hordes of insects crowding around something. I saw drivers mutually ceding the way at corners.


Around noon, I noticed the lights back on at the front of a tailor's shop in a back street. The modern lights that took a pretty long time to come back began to cast a glow in a seemingly reserved way on an old sloping road.

On the boulevards, with traffic signals functioning again, drivers were already back to their usual horn-sounding ways likened to hordes of insects madly scrambling for something.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 2(IHT/Asahi: November 4,2003) (11/04)
Pomegranates credited with miracle power

A pomegranate tree stands by the road I usually take to the train station. Reflecting the progress of the season, the fruits on the tree have colored. There is a feel of porcelain-like lucency about their crimson skins-a quality that appears to bring back ancient times.

The pomegranate has its origin in Southwest Asia. Man began to cultivate it in prehistoric times. Then it spread to the east and west.



The other day, after watching the Canadian movie ``Ararato no Seibo'' (Ararat), I came away impressed by the way pomegranates were employed for effect.

The film is mainly about massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I. Director Atom Egoyan, an Armenian-Canadian, did not confine himself to depicting the massacres. Through deft management of the time axis, he dwelt on portraying the lives and activities of Armenians as immigrants after they were driven away from home. In this way, he turned it into a drama of human beings.


Toward the end, one of the protagonists and his mother talk about their memories of pomegranates. A pomegranate tree stood in the yard of their house. The mother took a fruit off the tree before she was led away by Turkish troops. She had a premonition that she was going on a long journey. She forced a one-seed-a-day diet on herself. Secretly and carefully gnawing on a seed, she took it for a single meal.


Recalling her experience, the mother tells her son to ``try it yourself.'' Then she says, ``A single pomegranate seed teaches me two things-the fortune of being able to eat it and the power of imagination.''

As seen by those buffeted by cruel history, pomegranates were presumably a companion that shared their fate and also something that had the power to bring them back home instantly.


The movie is set mainly in the vicinity of Mount Ararat, to which the Ark of Noah drifted, according to the Old Testament.

While imagining pomegranate trees, a feature of the region, I put a seed in my mouth. I found the sweet-sour taste to be appropriate and refreshing. Somehow, I also sensed a quality that made me feel nostalgia.


Having many seeds inside, a pomegranate breaks open when it matures. These characteristics make it the symbol of fertility and hope.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 25(IHT/Asahi: November 3,2003) (11/03)
How U.S. troops in Iraq see their missions

What conditions are U.S. forces in Iraq facing and how is their morale? From mid-October, Stars and Stripes ran a seven-part series from Iraq.

The U.S. government-funded newspaper for its forces overseas has the advantage of being firmly plugged into the system. I found the series unexpectedly candid and devoid of bias, even critical of the Iraqi campaign.


 イラクに駐留する米軍の士気は高いか? 星条旗新聞が10月半ばから7回にわたって現地報告をした。米軍の準機関紙という立場から内部に深く入ることができる強みを生かしている。意外なほど軍への遠慮が感じられない連載だ。鋭い批判も交えている。

``In Iraq, some service members live like princes while others sleep in the sand,'' says the headline for the third installment of the ``Ground Truth'' series. A division, headquartered at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, has an indoor swimming pool and even an Internet cafe for the staff to use. ``I don't want my soldiers coming up here,'' a senior division commander was quoted as saying. ``I don't want them to see how good the division staff has it.''


On the other hand, many soldiers have been living for months in quarters without proper beds, latrines, hot meals or showers. ``Around here, it's just sit and wait until somebody shoots, so we can do our job,'' shrugged one service member. Some have begun to harbor the resentment of the have-nots toward the better-accommodated units. ``Are we fighting the same war?'' asked another.


Why are they in Iraq? One episode recounted an evening raid on an apartment complex: ``The translator knocked on the door ... the startled family slowly walked out to face a group of heavily armed soldiers... .''

A sergeant noted: ``We're not used to knocking on doors. We're used to knocking doors down.''

There is resentment among soldiers who feel the jobs they are being made to perform are more suited for police or civil affairs units.

 何のためにイラクにいるのか? ゲリラ掃討作戦で民家を訪れる。通訳にノックさせる。恐怖に震える女性が出てくる。「おれたちはドアをぶっ壊すのは慣れているが、ドアをノックするのには慣れていない」とある軍曹。警察や民生関係の仕事をさせられているとの不満も上がっている。

A questionnaire, answered by about 2,000 service members, found that 35 percent of the respondents thought their mission was ``mostly not clear'' or ``not clear at all.'' An almost equal number said ``very clear'' or ``mostly clear.''

Asked to rate their unit's morale, 16 percent answered ``very high'' or ``high,'' and 49 percent answered ``low'' or ``very low.'' The rest said ``average.''


President George W. Bush asserted earlier this week he was staying the course. I wonder how the U.S. troops in Iraq felt about it.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 31(IHT/Asahi: November 1,2003) (11/01)

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