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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A blog entry from a Japanese Shinkansen train bound for Tokyo.


As a rail enthusiast and understanding the economic and to a certain extent the national security aspect of high speed rail, it is a pleasure and a unique opportunity to post a blog entry from a Japanese Shinkansen train bound for Tokyo.

Like all the Shinkansen trains I have travelled on for the past seven months, the train arrived on time and left at the scheduled time. I was able to buy my unreserved seat for 100 dollars and get a window seat on the train. All the Shinkansen trains in Japan, cars 1, 2, and 3 are unreserved. You pay less for these seats but you take the chance of not having a window seat or having to sit in the middle seat. However, in all my time on the Shinkansen trains, I have always been able to get a window seat when buying an unreserved seat.
This is because there are usually at least four and sometimes as many as six trains an hour. A majority of the trains I travelled on in Japan were between Hakata and Kokura. I was usually able to get a seat on these trains because Hakata is an end of line terminus for the Tokyo-Hakata Shinkansen line.

On every Shinkansen there are service personal on the trains offering beverages like water, soda and alcohol in addition to light snacks. Unlike the prices charged on airlines, the prices for a bottle of water and other beverages are the same prices as ones in convenience stores. While writing this blog posting, I just bought a bottle of water for 130 Yen or $ 1.30.

There is no reason why America could not begin the process of investing in and building its own high speed rail network. However, I understand that there are numerous interest groups that would attempt to block, delay, and sabotage any efforts by government officials to build a high-speed rail network and associated regional train network and also any kind of light rail city transportation systems. Just a few of the interest groups opposed to any kind of rail mass transit project include any group or business associated with the car, energy, and insurance industries. The other interest groups would be environmental with the lame excuse of building rail lines through forests or other environmental areas or even scenic areas.

This is disappointing as it is enjoyable to freely travel around a country from city center to city center not having to worry about running out of gas, finding a parking spot, getting a flat tire or being tired after driving a 250 mile journey visiting relatives in another state or city in a large state like California or Florida.

Perhaps when American political leaders are forced to give up their global garrison of military bases around the world from the diminished value of the dollar and its eventual replacement of the world currency of the Chinese Rinminbi, America could have its own high speed rail network. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chinese overtake Americans and Germans as the world's top international tourism spenders

In the book, When China Rules the World- The End ofthe Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, the author informs his readers that as the Chinese economy becomes the largest in the world the ripple effects will be felt all around the world in many different ways.

In the closing chapter of the book entitled, When China Rules the World and in a sub chapter entitled Weight of Numbers, the author writes:

Another example will be provided by tourism. The United Nations World Tourism Organization predicts, rather conservatively, there will be 100 million outward-bound Chinese tourists by 2019 (compared with almost 28 million in 2004), and an estimated global total of 1.6 billion in 2020. The World Travel and Tourism Council has predicted that by 2018 the value of Chinese tourism will almost be as great as that of the United States. The impact will be greatest in East Asia, especially South-East Asia, and Australia, where many destinations will seem as if they have been taken over by Chinese tourists, a phenomenon that hitherto has been almost exclusively Western, but which will happen on a far grander scale with the Chinese. The Chinese language, similarly, will assume global   importance simply because it has many native speakers, will contrast with recent periods of history when the USSR and later Japan were riding high but which, partly because of their relatively small populations, had little linguistic impact, apart from on Eastern Europe in the case of the Soviet Union , outside their own borders. In terms of language, it is already possible to glimpse the future through those who use the Internet. Though the proportion of China’s population who are internet users is far smaller than that in the United States, by 2008 the number of Chinese internet users has already overtaken the number of American users.

A recent Guardian article augments the information provided by Martin Jacques in his book and offers more current information on the growing number of Chinese tourists around the world and especially in South-Eat Asia. 

In 2012 the Chinese overtook Americans and Germans as the world's top international tourism spenders, heading off on 83m foreign trips and spending $102bn. By early 2015, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Chinese globetrotters will take more than 100m overseas trips. By 2020 the figure will double to an incredible 200m. In Thailand, the number of Chinese tourists shot up by 107% this year, nudging Bangkok ahead of London to become the world's most visited city in MasterCard’s latest survey.

Everyone is scrambling for a share of the spoils. In October, the British government announced plans to simplify UK visa procedures for nationals from China, with the goal of trebling Chinese tourists to Britain by 2015. India has launched Chinese-language Life of Pi tours after the film was a box-office hit in China, while Greece is promoting "idyllic island honeymoons" to the Chinese market. Even the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe is currently trying to negotiate a "preferential tourism pact" with Beijing – despite diplomatic strains last year after police outside Harare arrested four Chinese migrant workers for allegedly killing and eating rare tortoises.

Thailand is at the forefront of the boom. With its mix of temples, beaches and duty-free shopping, the self-styled "land of smiles" is the most popular destination for Chinese tourists after the satellite Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao. Tong is visiting Thailand with 35 others from Hangzhou city in southeastern China, including his youthful-looking grandparents, on a seven-day organised tour. The tour cost £500 each, including flights.
"I wanted to come here to see the elephants and the Buddha statues. It's a very holy place," he says. "But my family chose it mostly because it's only a four-hour flight from China and we got a good deal."
Pattaya is on almost every Chinese tour group's itinerary. A former fishing village, it grew into a tourist playground during the Vietnam war, when American forces on R&R discovered its then-pristine, palm-fringed bay. Girly bars, theme parks and golf courses quickly multiplied. Today it attracts about 8 million tourists annually, including more than a million from China. Yet Chinese tourists are oddly absent from the town's teeming centre and main beaches.

They're not hard to find once you know where to look. Car parks jammed with coaches signal the mass presence of tour groups at Pattaya's numerous elephant shows, crocodile and snake farms, ladyboy cabarets and outlet shopping malls. In Thailand, the proportion of Chinese travelling in tour groups rises to 70%. Most tours go from one self-contained attraction to the next, stopping only for lunch at Chinese restaurants (eating Thai food is usually a separate activity) before returning for the evening to their high-rise hotels. It's left to the Russians – the other great tourist influx in recent years – to play chicken in the main bay on screaming jet skis and haggle with beach vendors over the price of polyester sarongs.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

US Navy Sailors Have Radiation Sickness After Providing relief to tsunami stricken Japan

An interesting story from the New York Post about sailors on an US aircraft carrier getting cancer after being involved a humanitarian mission off tsunami-stricken Japan.

Now, nearly three years after their deployment on a humanitarian mission to Japan’s ravaged coast, Cooper and scores of her fellow crew members on the aircraft carrier and a half-dozen other support ships are battling cancers, thyroid disease, uterine bleeding and other ailments.
“We joked about it: ‘Hey, it’s radioactive snow!’ ” Cooper recalled. “I took pictures and video.”

 But now “my thyroid is so out of whack that I can lose 60 to 70 pounds in one month and then gain it back the next,” said Cooper, fighting tears. “My menstrual cycle lasts for six months at a time, and I cannot get pregnant. It’s ruined me.”

The fallout of those four days spent off the Fukushima coast has been tragic to many of the 5,000 sailors who were there.

 At least 70 have been stricken with some form of radiation sickness, and of those, “at least half . . . are suffering from some form of cancer,” their lawyer, Paul Garner, told The Post Saturday.
  
“We’re seeing leukemia, testicular cancer and unremitting gynecological bleeding requiring transfusions and other intervention,” said Garner, who is representing 51 crew members suing the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima Daiichi energy plant.“Then you have thyroid polyps, other thyroid diseases,” added Garner, who plans to file an amended lawsuit in federal court in San Diego next month that will bring the number of plaintiffs past 70.
  
Even as the Reagan was steaming toward the disaster, power-company officials knew the cloud of steam they were releasing — in order to relieve pressure in the crippled plant — was toxic, the lawsuit argues, a claim that has also been made by the Japanese government.Tokyo Electric Power also knew that radioactivity was leaking at a rate of 400 tons a day into the North Pacific, according to the lawsuit and Japanese officials.

“We were probably floating in contaminated water without knowing it for a day and a half before we got hit by that plume,” said Cooper, whose career as a third-class petty officer ended five months after the disaster for health reasons. 
 The toxic seawater was sucked into the ship’s desalinization system, flowing out of its faucets and showers — still radioactive — and into the crew member’s bodies. 
  “And then we couldn’t go anywhere. Japan didn’t want us in port, Korea didn’t want us, Guam turned us away. We floated in the water for two and a half months,” until Thailand took them in, she said.

All the while crew members had been suffering from excruciating diarrhea.

“People were s- -tting themselves in the hallways,” Cooper recalled.




Friday, December 20, 2013

Yakuza Mafia Killing in Kitakyushu

While the mafia in Italy is known as Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Camorra in Naples, Ndrangheta in Calabria, and Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia, in Japan the mafia is known as the yakuza. And though most people will think of the Godfather movies when they hear about the mafia in Italy or America, most people will probably think of the Quentin Torintino film, Kill Bill, when they hear about the yukuza in Japan. Unfortunately the tactics used by the mafia are the same the world over with threats of intimidation through violence and murder as their chief mode of operation to get what they want.

I am sure my friends over at Mikeb302000, will be interested in the recent report in the Japan Daily Press reports the latest incident involving the yukuza in the southern island of Kyushu.

The head of one of Japan’s fishing unions was shot dead on Friday in the southern city of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture. This was the second fatal gun-related incident in as many days in a country that is not used to violent crimes that involve firearms.


Local police said that 70-year-old Tadayoshi Ueno was found lying in the street after nearby residents reported hearing gunfire. He was brought to the hospital where he was declared dead upon arrival. It is believed he was shot multiple times but as of the moment, there have not been any suspects identified and the motive is still unknown. Ueno’s family runs a civil engineering company but he is more prominent as the head of the fisherman’s union.


He previously survived a murder attempt back in 1997 when gunmen fired at him in front of his house, where he emerged unscathed. The following year, his brother was killed and several members of the yakuza, or Japan’s organized crime syndicate, were arrested. It is believed he was murdered because he refused to grant favors to the mobsters in several public works projects.


While the details in the killing of Ueno is still unclear, gun-related crimes in Japan usually involve the yakuza. The shooting comes a day after Takayuki Ohigash, the 72-year-old head of the Gyoza no Ohsho (King of Dumplings) chain, was shot dead in the parking lot of the company’s headquarters in Kyoto. Police still have no lead in that incident as well. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gender Gap in Japan worse than China and India


Although Japan likes to consider itself a western country, the manner women are treated in Japan and how Japanese society views the roles of women could not be more different than many western countries.

A recent report by the World Economic Forum entitled, The Global Gender Gap Report, confirms this in its 2013 report with Japan falling four places from 101th in 2012 to 105th in 2013 . The ranking of 105 is greatly attributed to the low rankings in the sub-index categories of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and political empowerment. The ranking for gender equality in Japan would be even lower if not for the relatively high ranking in the health and survival sub-index category. Due in large part to a good national health care system, Japan ranks 34th in the category of health and survival in gender equality.

Recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hosted the leaders ten ASEAN countries in Tokyo at a special Japan-ASEAN summit to cry about a ‘China Threat’. With the other ASEAN economies like Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand becoming more important to Japan, these countries and the multinational companies from the United States and Europe who treat their women employees with more respect than Japanese companies, the ‘China threat’ is a bit hypocritical if you are a woman working for a Japanese company. As the below chart highlights, women in China are treated much better than women in Japan.

How Japan Compares to other countries in the region

Country                                   Global Gender Gap Report score                        Rank

Philippines                                          0.7832                                                 5
New Zealand                                      0.7799                                                   7
Australia                                              0.7390                                                  24
Mongolia                                             0.7204                                                  33
Sri Lanka                                             0.7019                                                 55
Singapore                                            0.7000                                               58
Lao PDR*                                           0.6993                                                 60
Thailand                                              0.6928                                                65
China                                                  0.6908                                                 69
Vietnam                                              0.6863                                                  73
Bangladesh                                         0.6848                                                  75
Indonesia                                            0.6613                                                  95
Maldives                                             0.6604                                                  97
India                                                    0.6551                                                101
Malaysia                                              0.6518                                                102
Cambodia                                           0.6509                                                 104
Japan                                                  0.6498                                                105
Korea, Rep.                                         0.6351                                                111
Fiji                                                       0.6286                                                117
Nepal                                                   0.6053                                                121
Iran, Islamic Rep.                                0.5842                                                  130
Pakistan                                               0.5459                                                 135



Monday, December 16, 2013

Why do Americans write the month before the day?

Via The Guardian.............
If you ask an American about the way their dates are formatted, you may get a response as defensive as 'my jumper is not on back to front, it's supposed to have the v at the back!'.
But let's face it, it's weird. Basic group behaviour shows it's weird. Despite the variety of date formats used around world, the US is the only country to insist on using mm-dd-yyyy.

This condition is diagnosed as middle-endianness. Seriously. It comes from computer science where bytes are arranged according to their size. If the order has larger ones at the front, it's known as big-endian and so too are dates formatted with the years first (see the likes of China and Mongolia in the map above). 

Even more bizarrely, computer scientists got their inspiration for the term 'endianness' from Jonathan Swift's 1726 epic Gulliver’s Travels.  In the fictional kingdom of Lilliput people have to open their soft-boiled eggs at the small end (it's a royal decree). While in Blefuscu, eggs are cracked from the other end. Lilliputians are small-endians while Blefuscudians are big-endians. Again, seriously.

Jonathan Swift, like the computer scientists, was basically saying that systems are needed to organise even the most irrelevant seeming of things. As Danny Cohen writes "Swift's point is that the difference between breaking the egg at the little-end and breaking it at the big-end is trivial… but we insist that everyone must do it in the same way, to avoid anarchy. Since the difference is trivial we may choose either way, but a decision must be made."

But why did Americans choose the way they did? Actually, the dozens and dozens of chat forums on the topic reveals that people don't really seem to have an answer. We don't. If you think you do, post a comment below to let us know. Though it seems that Googlers (most of them small-endians) are far more puzzled by other American choices.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Secret' Executions in Japan


Japan has carried out another round of "secret executions," bringing to eight the number of inmates sent to the gallows under the year-old administration of Shinzo Abe.

Media reports said two men had been hanged in the fourth round of executions since Abe took office last December. Previous hangings took place in February, April and September, suggesting that the government plans to carry them out every few months.

This information reveals that Japan is not a progressive center left country, but rather a more conservative and regressive society that is beginning to resemble more and more like its protector and sponsor, the United States.

In some ways, the Japanese government is just as cruel and inhuman as some countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran when it comes to capital punishment as highlighted in the following passage from the Guardian article.

Prisoners, who spend years, even decades, on death row, typically are not told of their execution until hours before they are led to the gallows. Their lawyers and relatives are informed only after the execution has been carried out.

It is a rather ruthless system for the government of Japan to kill a person without even notifying their relatives or legal representatives in advance of the killing. This seems to be more in line with what an authoritarian government like North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran would so than a western liberal democracy.


Over 80 % of the population support capital punishment. As the Guardian article informs its audience;

Japan has brushed aside calls by Amnesty and the European Union to abolish the death penalty, citing strong public support for the punishment. 

Japan and the US are the only G7 countries to retain capital punishment, along with more than 50 other countries, including China and Iran. More than two-thirds of countries, including all European Union member states, have ended executions in law or practice.

Do you think it is acceptable for a government to kill a person without notifying their relatives or legal representatives?




Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The History Behind the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Territorial Dispute

Since 1949, Taiwan has been China’s most acute regional problem. The recent declaration by China however and the creation of a new air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) is the latest evidence that the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands territorial dispute with Japan is becoming China’s most acute regional problem and a potential flash point for military conflict. Thanks to Martin Jacques and his provocative and stimulating global best seller, WhenChina Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a NewGlobal Order,  Jacques offers an excellent analysis of the relationship between China and Japan in his book.

In the chapter, China’s Own Backyard, Jacques informs the reader that:

If the difficult issue of Taiwan is put on the back burner for a decade or more, than by far the most difficult issue facing China in East Asia would be Japan. Until the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, which was a direct result of the Meiji Restoration in 1868- with Japan’s turn to the West, rejection of its own continent, especially China, and its expansionist ambitions- relations between China and Japan had been relatively harmonious. Japan had been a long term tributary state, duly honoring and acknowledging its debt to Chinese civilization and the Confucian tradition, even at times it proved a distant and somewhat recalcitrant one-which given its island status and advanced civilization, was hardly surprising.

For well over a century, however, following the 1894 war, China’s relationship with has been for worse than that with any other power. Many Chinese still see that war and the subsequent Treaty of Shimonoseki as the darkest hour in China’s `century of humiliation’.  China’s ignominious defeat and the extremely onerous terms inflicted on China in the peace left a particularly bitter taste. Defeat by what was seen as an inferior nation within Chinese world order was considered to be a far greater humiliation than losing to Western barbarians, and served to undermine the prevailing Chinese world view. This was a case-in the Confucian discourse- of the student beating up the teacher or the younger brother beating up the older brother.
The ignominy visited upon China in the 1894-5 war-was compounded and accentuated by Japan’s occupation of north-east China in 1931 and then its full scale invasion of north-east, east and parts of central China in 1937; the scars these hostilities left have never been healed. To this day, the Nanjing massacre defines the nature of identity of the Japanese as far as the Chinese are concerned and therefore in large measure their attitude towards Japan. It may have taken place seventy years ago, but it remains an open wound, as present in the relationship between the two countries as if it had happened yesterday. Even the numbers killed- 300,000 in the Chinese interpretation- is still a highly charged issue( See note 1). Of course, the reason why these questions remain so alive today is because the Japanese have failed to apologize properly, or demonstrate any serious sign of confronting their own past, unlike the contrition that the Germans have shown for the behavior in the Second World War. The Japanese paid dearly for their defeat at the hands of the United States and Europe-with huge casualties, the Tokyo trials, the confiscation of its overseas assets and the American occupation- but they have shown little remorse towards their Asian neighbors for their country’s often barbaric behavior, which was far worse than anything Japan meted out to the Western powers. The Nanjing Massacre was the worst example, with the killing and rape of civilians, but this was repeated on a smaller scale elsewhere in China, while the Japanese occupation of Korea was also marked by considerably cruelty (see note 2).

The numerous apologies that Japan has given have been little more than formulaic, while the courts have refused to compensate the individual victims of crimes committed in Japan’s name. The grudging attitude towards its Asian neighbors is symptomatic of post-Meiji Japan- respect for the West and contempt for Asia. Nor, for most of the post-war period, has Japan needed to rethink its attitudes. It rapidly re-established itself as the dominant power in the region, in a different league to its poorer neighbors, while the United States, its sponsor and protector, neither required nor desired Japan to apologize to Communist China during the Cold War, given that a new and very different set of priorities now applied. 

* Note 1- The best known recent book, arguing that over 300,000 were killed, is Iris Chang, The rape of Nanjing. For a Japanese view that denies there was a massacre of any kind, see Higashinakano Shudo, The Nanking Massacre: Facts Versus Fiction, a Historian's Quest for the Truth, especially Chapter 17. The question remains deeply contentious, with a group of right-wing Liberal democratic deputies suggesting in a report in June 2007 that only 20,000 died; see 'Japan MPs Downplay 1937 Killings' 19 June 2007, on ww.bbc.co.uk/news.

* Note 2- Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, 2nd edn (New York: W.W. Norton, 1999), pp. 423-4, 439. Japan's occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945 included sex slavery and the kidnapping of Korean women for the Japanese army, the burning down of Korean villages, the banning of the Korean language and religions, and the forced changing of names.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Teacher in Japan fires gun confiscated from student

While this posting would be more at home on Mikeb302000, one of the most popular and provocative gun blogs on the Internet, since the incident happened in Japan, Il Principe is posting it on Opinione.

Although no one was injured in the incident, except for a piece of furniture, the story showcases how many Japanese people are naive and a bit illogical. While Il Principe will expound on the illogical thinking of the Japanese in future blog postings, the teacher in question should have been able to see that the firearm he was holding was not a toy. The inability of the 25 year old Japanese man to judge that the object he was holding was in fact an operating firearm with genuine ammunition is a consequence of a man living in a society where individual thought is frowned upon and people tend to follow the rules regardless of how inane they are.

The 25 year old teacher who put the bullets into the firearm thinking it was a toy, believed it was a toy because it is very difficult to own a firearm in Japan and so the teacher thought that since it was so difficult to get a firearm, than the object he was holding was in fact a very real looking toy gun.

 FUKUOKA—A middle school teacher in Kasuya, Fukuoka Prefecture, fired a revolver he had confiscated from a student in the teachers’ room, according to police.

The police quoted the teacher as saying he did not believe the gun was real. Nobody was injured in the incident.

According to the police and the school, the25-year-old teacher and others found the student had brought an action figureinto the classroom last Wednesday. The teacher inspected the student’sbelongings and found the gun and what appeared to be live bullets. The teacherthen put the items in the teachers’ room.

At about 5 p.m. Saturday, the teacher put a bullet into the gun and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit a wooden chair in the teachers’ room. Only the teacher and one of his colleagues were in the room at the time.

The teacher reported the incident to the vice principal that day, but the vice principal did not inform the principal until Monday. The principal then reported it to the police.

The police said the gun was a revolver and belonged to the boy's father, who has been arrested on suspicion of violating the Firearms and Swords Control Law. They are investigating how he obtained the gun.

The student reportedly told police he brought the gun from his home and thought it was a fake.

“As the teachers believed the weapon was a sophisticated toy gun, even after it was fired, they didn’t report the incident to me over the weekend,” the principal told reporters. “I’m relieved no one was injured, but we were at fault in our handling of the incident.”

According to the police, the father apparently kept the revolver and some bullets in a shed near his home in Kasuya in mid-September. The student is believed to have taken them into the house at around that time.