The Hunter and the Triangle

9 Jan

Hi blog.

2017 is here.  Winter is being its typical cold self, and the worst is yet to come.  Did I ever mention that I don’t particularly like winter?

Just recently we visited the Tamarokuto Science Center, home of the world’s 4th largest planetarium and the most advanced projector – said to be able to reproduce the night sky to some 140,000,000 stars.  (I lost count, so I can’t confirm this!)

The planetarium displays change with the seasons, and the focus of this season’s display was Orion.  Most Japanese kids are familiar with Orion, as they do some elementary astronomy at school and often have homework over the holidays to observe the night sky and locate several asterisms, constellations or individual stars or planets.

It seems that Orion, or at least Orion’s belt is one of the oldest known asterisms in the world.  The ancient Chinese, for example, knew of Orion’s belt and named it Shen (參).  Incidentally, 参 is sometimes used to mean the number three.  In classical Japanese, asterism is known as karasukiboshi (唐鋤星), literally “Tang spade star”.  Modern Japanese uses the name Orion – however, they pronounce it not as /əˈrʌɪən/, but as /ɒrɪɒn/ and write it  as オリオン座 (Orion-za).

Orion and some of the nearby constellations.  Image taken from Stellarium (a free virtual planetarium for your PC)

Orion and some of the nearby constellations. Image taken from Stellarium (a free virtual planetarium for your PC)

It is hard not to mention Orion without covering the Winter Triangle, which had a co-starring role (bad pun intended) in the display.  Formed from the three brightest stars in the winter sky, it is sometimes used as a reference point for finding other astral formations.  It is hard to find a Japanese kid who is not familiar with this asterism.

Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky), Betelgeuse (Orion’s armpit), and Procyon (the brighter of the two stars that make up the constellation of Canis Minor) form the three vertices of this approximately equilateral triangle.  It can be seen high in the sky over Japan at this time of year.

The above image with the Winter Triangle drawn in.

The above image with the Winter Triangle drawn in.

My son has expressed an interest in seeing the stars some clear night, so I’ll see what I can do.

Season’s Croakings

25 Dec

Hi blog.

Just a quick, mostly visual post this time.

This post involves a mistake I never got around to correcting.  You may possibly remember a post from several years back in which I mentioned obtaining a pair of tadpoles that metamorphosed into what I thought were kajika frogs.

The first one to morph died soon afterward, but the second is still with us.  However, I have consulted several books on the subject and come the the conclusion that it is not a kajika frog but in fact a Japanese brown frog (Rana japonica), or Nihon akagaeru (日本赤蛙) – literally “Japanese red frog” in the local language.

(There is a very slight chance that it the physically similar montane brown frog (Rana ornativentris), but this will require time to get a good look at it – the frog tends to spend a lot of its time hiding.)

You may be wondering why I’m writing about a frog in winter – it should be hibernating, right?

Normally, yes.  But frogs will become active even in mid-winter if the weather is warm enough.  And December 22nd and 23rd brought us that kind of weather.  The forecast for the 22nd – incidentally the last day of term 2 at school – was for temperatures topping out at about 17℃ before moist air brought rain.  The warm temperatures didn’t come although the rain did.  It rained heavily late in the night – trust me, I was walking through it – through to the early hours of the morning.  The 23rd, however, brought that warm change, and the frog became active in the warm (-ish) humid weather.



“Get that camera out of my face!”


You can see some of the stripes on the legs and the yellow on the underbelly.

You can see some of the stripes on the legs and the yellow on the underbelly.


They have beautiful eyes, eh?

They have beautiful eyes, eh?

I might not see this little chap again until spring.

Until next time, stay safe.


I won’t let the sun go down on me…

12 Dec

Hi blog.

Just a very quick post as today marks the earliest sunset for the year.  I remember hearing about this last month, and made a mental note to post something on it today.

We still have 10 days until the solstice, and sunrise will occur later.  In fact, sunrise will continue to be increasingly late for the next month or so, even though the total number of daylight hours will slowly increase.

As it is, I will be arriving home in total darkness!  (It is dark outside as I write this; in six months the sun will be up at this time)

Stay safe!

And here you have the stats.

And here you have the stats.

Where Does All the Concrete Come From?

29 Nov

Hi blog.

This just arrived in my mail box –  a post from fellow blogger, sometime hiking partner, former workmate and general nice-guy, I.G. “Goat” Fraser.  It’s a good read, so I’ll re-blog it here.

Do yourself a favour and follow the link.


Where Does All the Concrete Come From?

“Where does all the concrete come from?”That was my first thought, back in 2000, as I gazed, dumbstruck, through the (hopefully extremely thick) glass of the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 45 floors and 202m above the streets of the western side of Shinjuku station.

View of the twin towers of the Tochō from the courtyard.

View of the twin towers of the Tochō from the courtyard.

I don’t remember which deck it was, North or South — the building, 48 storeys tall, splits into identical twins from the 33rd, with a viewing deck (the whole floor) at the same height in each. Both are free to visit.

There’s not much that will take me to the western side of the tracks in Shinjuku. It’s mostly offices, government departments, and what the tourist guides like to call “skyscrapers”, really quite tame in size when compared to, say, New York. Oh, and a couple of camera-gear megastores which are quite irresistible to geeks of a certain style and undeniable handsomeness.

The Tochō from one of the alleys at its feet.

The Tochō from one of the alleys at its feet.

It’s the eastern side that has the crowds, youth, restaurants, bars, sleaze (again, tame by world standards; this is a polite society) and, if you’re not in the mood and just want to grab that last train home at midnight to your futon on the tatami mats, annoyance. Because every other drunk bastard in Shinjuku wants to share that last train with you…

But let’s stay on the far more sedate west side for now — and resume pondering all that concrete. You remind yourself that this city, the world’s largest conurbation, with more people than my entire country, was all but obliterated in WWII.

At any point on the perimeter of the deck, you’re afforded a similarly limitless (haze permitting; cooler months are best) vista:

Fellow spectator on the observation deck. A special prize (enduring fame) awaits those who can translate the German on her bag.

Fellow spectator on the observation deck. A special prize (enduring fame) awaits those who can translate the German on her bag.

On the extreme right, you can see fellow Tochō spectators in the next tower.

On the extreme right, you can see fellow Tochō spectators in the next tower.

Suitable for framing.

Suitable for framing.

The mountains ringing the city, many of which you might have hiked, are there beyond the rooftops. Outside Summer, you may well enjoy the privilege of a view of snow-capped Fuji-San herself, startlingly close to all this humanity (just 60m south-west), especially when you ask yourself if and when she’ll blow her top again.


“Hey, that’s a coincidence. I think I went to school with that guy down there.”

The building, known colloquially as the Tochō, opened in 1991. It was designed by Kenzo Tange, apparently to approximate the look of a computer chip, and as that description would imply, it doesn’t exactly radiate warmth and welcome. It also feels, whenever I return there, remarkably quiet and uncrowded for a structure presumably jammed tight with bureaucrats.

As for all that concrete: numerous walks through rural and off-the-beaten-tarmac Japan have provided at least part of the answer. Little concrete plants (is that the term?) on some backwater road, standing silent amid mountainous piles of gravel. Fleets of trucks waiting politely for their next load. The monster must be fed.

Another monster, Godzilla herself, trashed the building soon after its opening in a 1991 movie, which seems rude and petulant even by Godzilla’s standards. Fortunately the Japanese exhibited their standard genius in the art of reconstruction, and nowadays you’d never even notice any signs of his/her handiwork.

The views come free.

The views come free.

~ 山羊 ~

Something Fishy…

28 Nov

Hi blog.

I thought I wouldn’t get a second post this month, but Japanese news to the rescue.

The first article was something I saw on the evening news but had trouble tracking down in the English-language press.

Hokkaido cops: 200 hatchery salmon cut open, eggs stolen

Hokkaido cops: 200 hatchery salmon cut open, eggs stolen

Worker found carcasses dumped in nearby river, police say

Some 200 salmon cut open with their eggs stolen were found in a river near a hatchery in Hokkaido (TV Asahi)
Some 200 salmon cut open with their eggs stolen were dumped in a river near a hatchery in Hokkaido (TV Asahi)

HOKKAIDO (TR) – Some 200 salmon cut open with their eggs removed were dumped in a river near a salmon hatchery, police said on Monday, amid rising salmon roe prices due to a poor fishing season.

The slain fish were found by a worker at the Shibetsu River Hatchery on Sunday morning in Shibetsu City, Hokkaido, TV Asahi reports (Nov. 21).

The stomachs of about 200 to 300 female salmon containing a total of some 100 kilograms of eggs were cut out and stolen, hatchery officials said, in what police are investigating as a case of suspected theft.

Police suspect the crime occurred sometime between 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the hatchery, which raises salmon on fenceless grounds accessible by anyone, NHK reported.

Yoshifumi Shimoshi, vice president of the hatchery, said he was “frustrated because those salmon were being raised for the hatchery business. I hope the culprit is quickly caught.”

“We have to do something so people can’t get in here,” Shimoshi said.

The hatchery was planning to hatch the eggs and raise them before releasing them next year.

Ikura salmon roe prices have been on the rise this fall, stemming from a poor salmon fishing season.

Article ends.

Comment: Fish farming is probably the only sustainable form of fisheries.  My family participated in a project to re-establish salmon populations in a local river by hatching salmon eggs and releasing the fry into the river.

I hope the culprits get caught and get whatever is coming to them…


The second article has been doing the rounds, mostly because it falls into the “crazy Japan” category, something which should always be approached with caution.  (If you have recently read that roadworkers fixed a sinkhole in just two days, you’ve been reading a lie – it took just over a week)

Fukuoka theme park draws ire over 5,000 fish frozen into ice skate rink

Fukuoka theme park draws ire over 5,000 fish frozen into ice skate rink

Billed as ‘not only a Japan-first, but undeniably a world-first’

A theme park in Fukuoka Prefecture is under fire over an ice skating rink featuring 5,000 fish frozen into the ice in a bid to educate visitors about sea life (Space World’s <a href="">Facebook</a> page)
A theme park in Fukuoka Prefecture is under fire over an ice skating rink featuring 5,000 fish frozen into the ice in a bid to educate visitors about sea life (Space World’s Facebook page)

FUKUOKA (TR) – A theme park in Kitakyushu City is facing a growing tide of criticism over its educational attraction featuring some 5,000 sea creatures frozen into an ice rink in what it boasts to be a world-first — and possibly Japan’s last.

Space World, described as a “theme park all about space” by the Japan National Tourism Organization, launched the “Freezing Port” event for its existing ice rink on November 12 as a limited winter and spring exhibition to educate visitors about marine life.

Park visitors can rent ice skates and glide over a wide variety of fish and shellfish frozen into the ice in different zones, according to the official web site, including a section featuring enlarged photos of bigger creatures such as whale sharks that some mistook to be real.

Many of the fish used for the attractions were unfit for retail sale and sourced from public fish markets, a Space World official said.

‘Attraction both unseen and unheard of’

The theme park promised in October that visitors would have a “chance to enjoy skating under unreal conditions at an attraction both unseen and unheard of” in what is “not only a Japan-first, but undeniably a world-first.”

But an initially cautious reception quickly turned to dismay and anger after the theme park began posting preview photos of the ice rink on its Facebook page on October 26, accompanied by what many criticized as inappropriate captions.

Netizens were particularly vocal about a caption for a “Part.7” November 7 photo showing bodies of fish half-frozen into the ice rink that read “I’m d..d..drowning…It h…h..hurts…,” with one comment saying the park shouldn’t “make life into a toy.”

In another photo post dated November 8, visitors urged others to boycott the park while others condemned the attraction as an “insult to life” and urged the park to “go out of business.”

Official: Live fish not used

Space World continued to preview the attraction despite mounting criticism with a final “Part.11” photo on November 11, which drew over 100 comments expressing varying degrees of shock and shame –– including a claim that the attraction was gaining attention in China as “Japan’s vulgar theme park.”

An official from Space World’s public relations department confirmed to news site Netlabo that the park has “received lots of opinions on sites like Twitter, and some have even contacted us directly.”

The official denied allegations that the park used live fish for the ice rink.

“The real fish we used were provided wholesale from public fish markets, and these fish sellers are all aware of the purpose of this project,” the public relations department official said. “Many of these fish don’t meet standards for selling to customers. And the big fish like whale sharks, sharks, and rays aren’t real, they’re simply photos that were blown up and embedded in the ice.”

When asked to explain what the project is about, Space World said it “wanted people to interact with the creatures of the sea…The attraction is divided into multiple zones, including a ‘deep sea zone,’ with accompanying explanations about the kinds of fish on display.”

The official said reactions from visitors “have been favorable. It seems like children are having a particularly good time.”

Reports of blood in ice

Regarding reports that blood was seeping into the ice and bodies of fish were sticking out, the official said the cause was “probably ice melting when the attraction launched.”

“As for the exposed fish, we believe it’s not a case of ice skate blades scratching and damaging them, they wouldn’t be damaged unless there was intentional digging of the ice or kicking of the fish,” the official said. “But this is the first staging for us as well, so we think there was a lack of experience there.”

Asked if the theme park thought the “drowning” caption had any issues, the official replied: “Another employee wrote that hoping people would find it funny. But I do feel that not enough caution was taken. I apologize.”

There are “no current plans” to shutter the attraction, the official said. “For me personally, I believe people will understand if they come visit, so I would ask them to please visit the link when they have a chance.”

‘Memorial service for the fish’

Regarding the fate of the fish in the ice, the official said the company is “investigating what we’ll do with them afterward. The whole purpose of the project is to have people experience the world of the ocean, including the lives of the fish within, so it’s also been proposed to hold a memorial service for the fish who worked hard for us.”

The official concluded by saying that people would “understand the intention of this project if they actually came to visit. This is a first for us as well so there was some lack of experience in some areas, but if people would have a correct understanding of the purpose of the exhibition…”

A user questioned the official’s remarks in the November 11 photo by saying: “A PR official from Space World said, ‘This project is based on wanting people to interact with the creatures of the sea,’ but just how many people did they expect would say, ‘Wow! I’m right up close with the creatures of the sea!’ when they’re gliding over bodies of frozen fish? I’m having trouble understanding this. All of these comments reflect what society thinks about this event. I would appreciate this message getting across even a little to the organizer.”

Article ends.

Comment: Once we digest (yes, pun intended) the information that the fish were already dead and were unsellable rejects from the market (caveat: Japanese food markets tend to be very particular about appearance, and perfectly edible products are often rejected on grounds of appearance), I’m still baffled.  How does freezing thousands of dead fish in a skating rink educate people about marine life?  There was a VERY good reason this kind of attraction had never been seen before – it was an utterly stupid idea!!

I find the trend of actual aquariums using projection mapping to project images of blossoming cherry trees and fireworks onto aquaria odd (and annoying), but this is simply bizarre.

Typical of officialdom, there is the standard attempt to explain the complaints away as a misunderstanding on behalf of the people who were offended…

As a final thought, the comment that the park was gaining infamy in China (gasp!) was probably the killing blow.

And I wonder if the theme park ever got around to that memorial service…


UPDATE: Space World management has announced that the park will close on the last day of December, 2017.  

The closure is probably unrelated to the fish in the rink.

The White Stuff

25 Nov

Hi blog.

I usually try to get out at least two posts per month, but it just wasn’t going to happen this particular November.

More roller coaster weather, sunset arriving earlier and earlier each day, persistent colds and then secondary infections, laziness, general disgust at certain election results have all sapped my energy.

But November 24th will go down in history as the first time this area has recorded snow piling up in November.

Snow is not particularly common in the metropolitan areas in and immediately surrounding Tokyo, and often melts on contact with the ground or at least on contact with asphalt roads.  Some snow does manage to build up and may remain for several days, but this only happens in the depths of winter.  Except for this time.

The last recorded snowfall in this area in November was over 50 years ago, and it apparently did not pile up to any significant depth.

My phone's weather app from the night of the 23rd.  Those single digit temperatures were looking pretty ominous...

My phone’s weather app from the night of the 23rd. Those single digit temperatures were looking pretty ominous…

I’m not a big fan of snow.  Sure, it’s pretty to look at, but you don’t want to be stuck in it.

On my way to work.  The trains were not quite running on time due to the weather, and were more crowded than usual.

On my way to work. The trains were not quite running on time due to the weather, and were more crowded than usual.


From the staffroom, about 90 minutes before it finally stopped snowing.

From the warmth of the staffroom, about 90 minutes before it finally stopped snowing.


I’ll finish up here as I have to go to work.

Stay safe.

Seven Days a Week

1 Nov

Hi blog.

I won’t be making excuses for my lack of blogging, except to say that the sun is setting earlier and earlier, the temperature is steadily decreasing (except for those wild weeks of roller coaster weather – a maximum of 19 degrees on day, 27℃ the next before plummeting to 14 degrees the following day) and I have a persistent cold.  Yuck.

One of the interesting aspects of teaching English is etymology.  I’m often asked questions about English that one would not normally think about.  Take the days of the week.

The Japanese weekdays, starting from Sunday, are Nichiyobi (日曜日), Getsuyobi (月曜日), Kayobi (火曜日), Suiyobi (水曜日), Mokuyobi (木曜日), Kinyobi (金曜日) and Doyobi (土曜日).  As you can see, the names appear to be purely arbitrary, much like the English system.

What interested me when I first started learning Japanese was that the first two days are respectively named after the sun and the moon, just like in English, but there seemed to be no correlation between the names of the remaining five days.  The first kanji of these names mean “fire”, “water”, “wood” (or “tree”), “metal” (literally “gold”), and “earth” (as in “soil”), and many Japanese people take these meaning literally – some flash cards for Japanese primary schools include a picture of the element as a visual hint.

An example of a commercial set of flashcards. Note the ideograms in the weekdays.

An example of a commercial set of flashcards. Note the ideograms in the weekdays.  These are also typical in that the months are illustrated in a combination of American and Japanese notions.

What many Japanese people fail to realise is that the five elements come from the ancient Chinese system of Wu Xing, and that the names actually are abbreviations of the five visible planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (although their order in the week day doesn’t correlate to their order from the sun).  Nor are they aware that this system was brought to China, possibly via India, in the fourth and eighth centuries.

The Japanese were quick to adopt the seven day week, but it then fell into disuse in daily life in Japan until the late nineteenth century, but was maintained separately for astrological purposes.

Under the Hellenic model, the days of the week were named after the sun, the moon, and the Roman/Greek deities Mars/Ares, Mercury/Hermes, Jupiter/Zeus, Venus/Aphrodite and Saturn/Kronos.  While this was the system that was adopted in China, it is largely an imitation of an even older system developed in Mesopotamia (and possibly even earlier in Egypt).

The Babylonians named the “seven classical planets” (the seven non-fixed celestial bodies – the sun, the moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury and Saturn) for their seven primary gods and goddesses.  Furthermore, they calculated a seven day cycle and dedicated a day to each of these deities.

The classical Greeks copied this system but substituted the names of gods and goddesses of their pantheon.  The Romans, admirers of classical Greek civilization, also adopted this system.  For the Romans, whose pantheon almost seamlessly overlapped that of the Greeks, imitating this was a simple process.  We get most of our planetary names in English from Rome.

As the Roman Empire spread west, attempts were made to adopt the Norse/Germanic gods into the seven day week. However, unlike the gods of Greece, the Teutonic pantheon did not smoothly overlap the Roman one.  Norse and Germanic gods were often instead chosen for their attributes.  So, while Zeus and Jupiter were the kings of the Greek and Roman pantheon, their ability to cast lightning bolts was matched to Thor’s hammer – Thor is also the origin of the word “thunder” in several languages.  Odin, the king of the Norse/Germanic pantheon, took the place of the messenger Hermes or Apollo.  The war god Mars’ place was filled by the the war god Tyr.  Venus’ position was filled by either Freyja or Frige (although some believe that these were a single goddess).  For some reasons, however, Saturn seems to have not been replaced.  Many sources state this was due to no major Norse/Germanic god having similar attributes to Saturn, while others claim this is a false etymology, and that

“… the gods were reduced to the rank of demons by the introduction of Christianity, Loki was confounded with Saturn, who had also been shorn of his divine attributes, and both were considered the prototypes of Satan. The last day of the week, which was held sacred to Loki, was known in the Norse as Laugardag, or wash-day, but in English it was changed to Saturday, and was said to owe its name not to Saturn but to Sataere, the thief in ambush, and the Teutonic god of agriculture, who is supposed to be merely another personification of Loki.” (Myths of the Norsemen, by H. A. Guerber, p.229)

The Old English name for Tyr was Tiw (“Tiw’s day” → Tuesday) and Odin was rendered as Woden (“Woden’s day” → Wednesday).   Thor was Þunor in Old English – (“Þunor’s day” → Thursday).  The Anglo-Saxon Frig or Frige seems to be the equivalent of Freyja and/or Frigg (“Frige’s day” → Friday).  Added to this was “Satrun’s day” or possibly “Sataere’s day” (→ Saturday).  With the addition of  “Day of the Sun” (→ Sunday) and the “Day of the Moon” (→ Monday), we have a seven day week in English.

In short, the Japanese weekday names and the English weekday names can be traced back to the same source!



Mystery Solved

18 Oct

Early 16th century: alteration (by association with grand ‘big’) of Old French grapois, from medieval Latin craspiscis, from Latin crassus piscis fat fish.

Oxford English Dictionary

Hi blog.

Lacking encounters with wildlife has been a bit depressing.  The need to blog is there, but the material is not.  Then inspiration flashed.

This post is the culmination of random information floating around inside my head for over 23 years that has recently crystallised.

Our first year English textbook (yuck!) has a chapter on a pod of killer whales around Hokkaido, and Kotoe Sasamori, a whale and dolphin researcher.  The text uses the word orca exclusively, completely ignoring the term killer whale – the preferred term in science.

I did a Google ngram search on the terms “orca” and “killer whale”, and until fairly recently, killer whale appeared more frequently in books than orca.

Since Orca is the name of the genus, it will almost always appear in scientific texts that mention killer whales, so there will be some double-dipping in its favour.  However, certain interest groups have been promoting the term orca for image purposes – “killer” sounds a little gruesome.

Exception might be taken to the name bestowed upon this whale, on the ground of its indistinctness. For we are all killers, on land and on sea; Bonapartes and Sharks included.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale


I decided to write a small information sheet on the English names of toothed whales.  That included, of course, orca and killer whale, and lead me to the archaic “blackfish” (which can also refer to false killer whales, pilot whales, and other toothed whales) and the equally antiquated “grampus”.

Grampus.  Where have I heard that name before?

Flashback to 1993.

I was living in Nagoya at the time the J-League came into inception, and the local heroes in what was to overtake sumo as Japan’s number 2 spectator sport were the Nagoya Grampus Eight.  The logo depicted a killer whale kicking a soccer ball.

“What does Grampus mean?” Not only did I get asked that, I asked it myself!

“Grampus?  What is that?”  You’ll have to forgive me – I was 20-21, hadn’t yet read Moby Dick, and was completely unaware of some of the obscure and obsolete words that had made their way into Japanese-English dictionaries in preference to vastly more common lexical items.  I simply guessed that it was a loan word from another language but mistaken for or mixed with English.  (Not like it’s the first time that has happened)  I also thought the eight referred to the number of players.  (When you are as apathetic towards ball sports as I am, do you really care how many players there are on a soccer team?)  I have since done some research and discovered that the eight is merely a random rendering in English of the official Nagoya logo – a kanji for eight (八) in a circle.

An eight in a circle. I spent a year in Nagoya and was completely oblivious to this.

An eight in a circle. I spent a year in Nagoya and was completely oblivious to this.

It appears that grampus was once used to describe killer whales but, like the term blackfish, could refer to other cetaceans – it is in fact the genus for Risso’s dolphin – and the name is also used for an American whip scorpion and also a large American salamander.

So far, so good, but how do we end up with a killer whale representing Nagoya?  The answer is in Nagoya Castle.  Or more accurately, on Nagoya Castle.

My own experience of Nagoya Castle in 1992 was disappointing.  The reconstruction was essentially a ferro-concrete office building in the shape of a castle.  “Ah, that must be the elevator the Tokugawa lords used.”  Nagoya, however, needed a symbol, and its historical connection with one of the most important castles in the country could not be severed by something as small as the destruction of that castle…

Back to 2016…

My mum and niece were visiting Japan and had found their way into Nagoya.  They asked about places to see, and I suggested the Atsuta Shrine and Tokugawa Museum.  My father-in-law asked why I didn’t direct them to Nagoya Castle to see the kinshachi…

Nagoya Castle has always been famous for the kinshachi, gold-plated shachihoko on its roof.  Shachihoko (鯱), sometimes translated as golden dolphins or golden carp, are mythological beasts with tiger-like heads and piscine bodies, said to be capable of controlling rain and therefore associated with protection from fire – fire being the major threat to temples and castles.

Avid followers may recognise the name from a previous post and realise that shachihoko can also be read as shachi, meaning… killer whale!

One of the two golden Shachihoko on the roof of Nagoya castle.

One of the pair of golden Shachihoko on the roof of Nagoya castle.


The Antipodes Strike Back

6 Oct

Hi blog.

After several weeks of frequent rain, work, rain, family commitments, rain, typhoons… did I mention the rain? … well, I’ve bitten the bullet and have gotten behind the keyboard again, in spite of having no wildlife-related topic to write about.  Not a good way to celebrate Wild in Japan’s fifth anniversary.

No, it’s October, and that means my annual battle with Halloween.

You see, the Japanese tend to have fixed ideas about other cultures.  Basically, the Japanese see other cultures as represented by America.  That one can be a native speaker of English but have no cultural relationship with Halloween just does not enter the equation.  

As an English teacher in Japan I have often been asked to do something special for Halloween.  Usually it is a Halloween themed game, but sometimes the request is basically “Please talk about how you celebrate Halloween in your country.”

The difficulty in this kind of case it that the person who asked the question is not prepared for the answer: basically, we don’t.

OK, that statement needs a little more qualification.  Essentially, Halloween is not an important date in Australia.  Many calendars printed do not mention Halloween at all, or mark it as a minor date.  For those of my generation or older, it was largely seen as a foreign cultural import.  We all were aware of it, largely due to its inclusion in American films and TV programs, and sometimes it would come up in a social studies class.  Urban nightclubs and cinemas would try to cash in by having Halloween nights, and some people threw fancy-dress parties to coincide with the date, but the making of Jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treating was not done at all.

The irony that the meme uses American cartoon characters is not lost on me.

The irony that the meme uses American cartoon characters is not lost on me.

There seem to be two main reasons for the Halloween’s lack of popularity in Australia.   One is the seasonal difference – the notion of a harvest festival seems out of place at time when harvest is several months away, although the seasonal difference has never stopped the exchange of Christmas cards depicting snowy scenes.

The second factor is British influence in Australia’s formative years.  The very same reason Australians like to put up a Christmas tree may be the very same reason they have rejected Halloween – Queen Victoria.  Victorian principles held a dislike for extravagance and there was some attempt to rid Britain of Halloween celebrations, right at the time when settlers from Britain were making up the majority of the population in Australia.  Had the New Holland colonies begun a couple of decades earlier or ended a couple of decades later, Australia may well have been a Halloween-loving nation.

I can't get enough memes taken from a line in a film that was not in the book the movie claims to be based on.  It's just like Halloween!

A meme taken from a line in a film that was not in the book the film claims to be based on. It’s just like Halloween!

Meanwhile, Japan, a world centre for costume parties – they did, after all, invent the word “cosplay” – has  taken Halloween on board over the last decade, at least in terms of decorations and fancy dress.  In other words, the most visible and marketable elements.  However, this has also had its dark side.

A few years ago, a group of revellers from various countries organised a party on a train (admittedly, not the greatest idea in the history of not great ideas) only to be harassed and threatened by local right-wingers and told that “Halloween does not belong in Japan”.  (Somebody tell the Japanese that!)

And just last year there was a huge Halloween event in Shibuya, leading to all kinds of traffic nightmares despite the 800 police called in to oversee it.  But the worst part was the comment by a police big-wig who suggested that people wearing costumes was a security threat because “you can’t tell who the foreigners are”!!

Not to mention my hatred of the popular media’s lack of research.  Leading up to the afore-mentioned party in Shibuya, one morning program managed to present Halloween to the audience as a “Western” tradition (as opposed to being of Gaelic origin) and the accompanying illustrations depicted a 17th century Thanksgiving celebration.

In short, I’m sick of being told to do something for Halloween because the Japanese think it’s part of my culture.  A bit like me demanding that the Japanese should do more activities related to aikido or Yakumaru Jigen Ryu.

End of rant.

Lies, Damned Lies and Research

19 Sep

Hi blog.

This interesting and revealing article appeared on my news feed.

From the Japan Times

Did Japan fudge the truth about whaling?

Did Japan fudge the truth about whaling?



 SEP 17, 2016

If you’ve been following the tragic farce that is Japan’s official stance on whaling, you’ll know that the arguments made by the country’s Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) to try and justify the hunting of whales have been soundly rejected. Japan maintains it needs to kill whales as part of a scientific research program to learn more about whale populations and determine if larger-scale commercial whaling is sustainable. Few people really believe this and even the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan’s whaling program was not scientific. Since 2005, the judges said, some 3,600 minke whales have been killed, and just two research papers have been published.

Many supporters of whaling don’t even claim that the program is useful for gathering scientific data. Those who support whaling often cite tradition and culture as reasons for continuing to hunt whales. In fact, whaling doesn’t have a significant history in Japan. It was conducted on a very small scale until after World War II, and then only on a larger scale for 20 years or so.

So I was interested to see a paper published last week suggesting that Japan had falsified its whaling data for whale catches in the Southern Hemisphere. Researchers behind the paper claim Japan all but lied to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) about the whales it was catching.

I spoke to Phillip Clapham, leader of the Cetacean Assessment and Ecology Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, about what he had uncovered.

Clapham and his colleague, Yulia Ivashchenko, compared the length data of whales captured by the Soviet whaling fleet in the 1960s and ’70s with that reported by Japan to the IWC. They found a large mismatch, with the whales caught by Japanese vessels reportedly much longer than the whales recorded by the Soviet boats. The researchers concluded that the difference in length data could only be explained if the Japanese fishing boats had exaggerated the lengths of their catches so that it looked like they were catching legal-sized animals. “It indicates cheating on a large scale,” Clapham says. Clapham and Ivashchenko’s study is published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

Why would Japanese whaling vessels misreport their catches? “Presumably because they wanted to kill as many whales as possible, including undersized animals — those under the IWC’s minimum legal length, which was instituted to protect females,” Clapham says. “That required them to fake the lengths of many of the whales in the catch.”

Clapham knows more than most about the truth behind Japan’s whaling program. Last year, he published a study suggesting that Japan operated a large-scale, illegal whaling program in the North Pacific in the 1960s. Then, as now, whaling was conducted by ships dedicated to harpooning and catching the animals, operating in tandem with a factory ship, where the whales were butchered.

How on earth could Japanese whalers get away with such behavior? The answer is simple: No entity existed to check the validity of the catches until 1972, when the International Observer Scheme was introduced.

Yet even when this system was introduced, Japanese vessels allegedly continued to falsify data beyond 1972. How?

“This system had an independent inspector on board — one of a different nationality than the factory ship, so, in theory, it ruled out cheating,” Clapham says. “But we know from Soviet biologists that it didn’t entirely. Inspectors couldn’t be on the processing deck 24 hours a day and they were sometimes intentionally distracted with ‘celebrations’ by officers who took them to drink in their cabin when something illegal was about to come aboard.”

Japanese whaling has changed — to an extent. As mentioned earlier, the International Court of Justice decided that Japan’s whaling program was not scientific in 2014, but it did not ban research whaling altogether. The IWC allows whaling by indigenous people, and this provision is applied to Greenland and Alaska. It also theoretically allows whaling for research purposes, which is how Japan tries to justify its activities.

Since Japan’s (privately run) Institute for Cetacean Research sets its own quotas for the number of whales its boats can catch, there aren’t rules to break like there were in the 1960s and ’70s. Well, that’s not quite true. It’s not permitted to catch lactating females and calves, although Clapham says there’s good photographic evidence that this does happen. Incidentally, in March this year, the Fisheries Agency reported that Japan’s Antarctic whaling fleet caught 230 female minke whales, 90 percent of which were pregnant.

The ban on commercial whaling has allowed whale numbers to rebound after dropping to dangerously low levels. Whale numbers have also been increasing in the Arctic as a result of sea-ice loss. These factors will increase the number of calls for the ban on commercial whaling to be lifted. That would cause no end of problems, Clapham says. “The whaling nations today maintain that the system of inspection proposed should commercial whaling resume is adequate, yet it’s clear from genetic analysis of what’s being sold in the Japanese market that there’s stuff there that you can’t account for through the whaling we know about,” Clapham says.

Japan and the other whaling countries have refused to accept a truly independent, third-party system that monitors every step, from the catch to the market.

Polls indicate that most people in Japan don’t care one way or another about whaling. Perhaps the public would feel more strongly if they knew more about what happened in the 1960s and ’70s. Many people were misled back then, because Japanese whalers are believed to have fudged the data on the length of whales they were catching. I hope this realization will help shift the mood in Japan from indifference to disgust.

Article ends.

Why am I not surprised?  Since I don’t have anything nice to say, I’ll let you make up your own mind.


%d bloggers like this: