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This year it is 100 years ago that Osaka was devastated by a fire that raged through the Northern part of the city for a full 24 hours. At 4:20 in the morning on July 31, 1909 (Meiji 42) a fire broke out at a knit-wear factory in Osaka’s Kita-ku. In late Meiji (1868-1912), there were only two fire engines—powered by steam—for the whole city, and most of the buildings in Osaka were made of wood. This proved disastrous. As a strong north-eastern wind drove the fire from one bamboo gutter to the next, it soon went wild. Within hours, a huge area south of Osaka station was engulfed in flames.
Japanese TV treats us almost daily with reports of terrifying crimes that make you check your locks three more times. If we are to believe the Japanese media, we now live in very dangerous times and Japan is far less safe than it ever was in the past. Most Japanese, if not all, believe that the country has become unsafe. Society is falling apart, many think. Oh, those good old times, when you could trust your neighbor and walk the streets safely. Here is some data about those good old days:
Former top LDP member Yoshimi Watanabe stepped out of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) this week. In this clip of an ANN interview of Jan 13, he explains why he was about to take this step (sorry, no subtitles). “Kasumigaseki has too much control,” he says. Kasumigaseki refers to the Japanese bureaucracy. His dramatic divorce from the governing party was approved by 60% of the voters according to an opinion poll. Watanabe is a former Minister of State for Financial Services and Administrative Reform of Japan (2007-2008) and former Minister of State for Regulatory Reform of Japan (2006-2007). When an important person like Watanabe leaves, the downfall of the LDP can’t be far off.
Tamarah Cohen of Kansai Gaidai University has created a very interesting, and to many Japanese probably surprising, video series that explores the notion of Japanese identity. Highly recommended.
Ryukoku University of Kyoto has announced a plan to open a comprehensive Buddhism museum in the spring of 2011 to showcase a wide range of Buddhist cultural assets from Japan and overseas.
It is the end of the year and time to look back at what kind of year it was. This has turned into the most depressing year that I can remember. There is doom and gloom everywhere and it now takes extraordinary amounts of energy and effort to remain positive and optimistic. Crises are times to learn, to reconsider your priorities and options and to start on a new path. They offer infinite pain, but also infinite opportunities. Let’s embrace all what this crisis has to offer so we can re-invent ourselves and our society. To learn our lessons for 2009, let’s look at what 2008 has wrought:
Four Ainu fishermen stand in log boats, two of them holding spears as if ready to catch fish. Fish was, together with venison and other game, a very important part of the Ainu diet. It was actually so important that in the many Ainu tales recalling famines, the cause is usually the absence of fish. The very Ainu word for fish, chep, is a contraction of chi-ep, which means food. “Coming from Japan,” one 19th century European observer wrote, “the first thing that strikes a traveller in the Ainu country is the odour of dried fish, which one can smell everywhere.” The primary catch was trout in summer, and salmon in autumn. Salmon was often called kamui chep, or divine fish. Other fish, like itou (イトウ, Japanese huchen) and ugui (ウグイ, Japanese dace), were also caught.