Monday, May 30, 2011

Only in Japan: Ghibli Animation

Giant Robot from Laputar/ Castle in the Sky film. Taken at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the famous Ghibli museum located in the city Mitaka in Tokyo.  Now I am not a huge fan of Ghibli animation but I do appreciate its unique style and storytelling.  The mainstream Manga or Anime is quite different and I think lacks the artistic style found in the Ghibli franchise. 

The Ghibli museum does not allow pictures except for this robot located at the very top of the museum in the garden area.  The museum itself is filled with gadgets, elevators, trinkets, and machines much like
Howl`s moving castle

Image from

The museum also has a restaurant and movie theatre that shows short movies of rare or never seen before Ghibli animation.  If you are a Ghibli fan it is definitely a place to experience. If you have never seen any Ghibli animation I encourage you to watch them.  Most Japanese have a fondness and appreciation for the Ghibli works and they are very popular with a variety of ages from young to old. 

DVD cover of one of Ghibli`s most popular movies Tonari no Totoro
Perhaps Ghibli is best known for its movie Totoro which I have read is going to reworked into a new film by Disney`s pixar.

For a full list of Ghibli`s movies and more facts visit STUDIO GHIBLI

Ghibli`s stories, though often set in a European style, depict a flowing, vibrant animated form that truly captures the mystery and heart of Japan. At times the imagery can be overwhelming or even grotesque.  But it is surreal and honest to its audience.  It definitely leaves people with a sense of wonder and awe. It brings you back to storytime perhaps when you were a child.

Enjoy Ghibli Animation brought to you Only By Japan

Ghibli museum website- You can only go by booking a reservation in advance!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tales from Japan: Fighting with Radiation

Farmers try to sell local food at a train station in Yachiyo city, Chiba. Yachiyo is suffering from high radiation despite government urging people that produce and milk are safe.
Putting all the politics and feelings aside for a moment and looking at the day to day routines of life, I ask myself,  "What measures can be taken to reduce the intake of this poisonous radiation? What ways can we avoid exposure to these potential harmful elements?"

We have air born radioactive particles that can be avoided by staying indoors or wearing a mask, hat, and protective clothing to some extent.  This does not entirely prevent exposure but only reduces it.  But if it is done daily it can make a difference in the long run and that is the big issue. Radiation can have grave consequences in the long run and it is something that stores up in the environment and our bodies daily, year after year.  So I think the mentality of "long term" needs to be taken when trying to combat this invisible enemy called "radiation."

Taking conscious effort to make changes in our life style choices can help reduce the daily risks we might be undertaking.  Certain vegetables that are mineral rich can be very toxic if the mineral elements are filled with radiation.  Hence the warning for spinach, usually a very mineral rich leafy plant.  Also milk from cows is quite mineral rich that is why it is thought to be healthy to drink and is provided at schools in Japan (but that is debatable even without the risk of radiation).

Rain water, soil and plant life soak up radiation and in time it becomes concentrated so it is important to keep children away from puddles of water, exposed soil or plants. This is quite difficult to do since children naturally want to play and interact with their environment.  So the best thing to do is wash hands, feet, and hair as soon as you get home from a trip outside, especially if it was the park!

Children gathered at a local park in Funabashi, Chiba Japan. 

One of the biggest ways to fight radiation is with diet.  Obviously diet cannot combat acute radiation poisoning and the nasty side effects of a massive radiation dose but it can keep radiation from storing up in your body.

The intake of mineral rich foods from safe sources helps prevent toxic minerals from being absorbed.  In Japan the traditional diet already consists of many of these mineral rich foods like seaweed, nori, kelp, miso, hijiki, agar, and many other ocean plants. Also beta-carotene loaded vegetables like leafy green vegetables, green beans, asparagus and Brussels sprout help in the fight on the cellular level .

For more food go here Radiation Fighting Foods

In conjunction with diet staying hydrated with safe water will flush out radiation from the body as it tends to collect in the lymphatic system.  The most common cancer associated with radiation is thyroid cancer, usually caused by radioactive iodine.  Radioactive caesium and strontium are known to cause cancer in the bones in the form of leukemia and other forms of cancer in the internal organs.  Women and children are more susceptible than men mostly due to the ability of muscle tissue to repel the radioactive ions and keep them from working their way to the organs and blood.  Men have more muscle tissue and therefore these elements are more likely to "slide off" without causing much harm.  Of course we are talking about low grade levels of radiation not levels that would cause acute radiation poisoning. (wikipedia link)

Radiation is a natural phenomenon, but in regards to nuclear power also a very dangerous one.  It is a game of numbers and chance, as your body`s cells interact with millions or even billions of radioactive particles every day. It is best to fight radiation with healthy living but also be aware and know your limits. However, the truth of the matter is, unfortunately for some people in Japan evacuation is not an option.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tales from Japan: A Future at Risk

Woman holding her baby boy at a hospital in the Chiba Prefecture waiting to be called, taken in Funabashi city
Japan is starting to become divided.  It is very clear that people are not sure what is going to happen.  Lack of information and lack of communication between leadership and the public amidst the growing concern about the amount of radiation present in the affected areas around Fukushima has become a focal point for news and media.  News stories accusing the government of cover ups and neglect on one side and conservative news defending the government position and accusing others of creating panic and rumor from misinformation on the other.  Both seemingly are causing confusion about what can be done.

The government recently decided to raise the safety standard of 1m Seivert/year for public facilities to 20m Sievert/year.  This choice caused senior adviser Toshiso Kosako to promptly resign, who did so regrettably with tears.  This scene stirred doubt in the heart of the public about public safety, especially regarding schools.  Children and young adults are the most susceptible to radiation.  The current levels of radiation present may remain so for generations ultimately cutting thousands, maybe millions of lives short.

A nursery with children from 1year of age to 5 years of age play oblivious in a yard with radioactive soil in Chiba, which has hot spots of radiation as high as Fukushima fallout. 

School grounds are mostly dirt and this dirt is absorbing large doses of radiation around the clock.  Children from infancy all the way to high school daily spend time on these grounds playing, training, and holding events year round. Parents in Fukushima, in particular, are beginning to become fed up with the government`s inability to answer the real concerns over why the standard was raised and what evidence was used to support the decision. They show their frustration by eventually saying to officials in an official statement, "If the government won't remove the radioactive dirt then we'll do it ourselves and dump it outside the headquarters of Tokyo Electric."

Middle schools and High schools use school grounds for practice and events.  These students are gathering on radioactive ground in Matsudo, Chiba. The city with highest level of radiation in the Chiba prefecture.

So the lingering question remains...Who do you trust?

Has Japan`s government passed a death sentence on its future generations? Or is it simply trying to keep the situation under control by re-ammending its overly cautious safety standards? Or is the truth somewhere in between? I wish I could say I know what is going on, but I am still thinking through it all.  I`m still trying to recover from my surgery and everything that has happened in the last two months.

But "risk" is certainly for real in this scenario and that is something that keeps many people like myself up at night checking facts, figures and radiation readings and so on...only 4 hours sleep a night might get to me before the radiation does!

Additional post Fukushima Fallout

Article link below gives you a good idea of the situation in Fukushima, but in Chiba and the Kanto region people are far less aggressive and confrontational about the situation, probably to their detriment.

Senior Adviser resignation link

Here is another link about how the radiation will be effecting the plant life and subsequently the population as well

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tales from Japan: Fukushima Fallout

Photo I took of a newspaper I found showing a man returning home to retrieve pictures and personal items from his home in Fukushima.  He is dressed in a radiation suit and is only allowed a few hours in the quarantined zone of 30km.

It is very clear that something is wrong in Eastern Japan.  There has been a lot of suspicion up till now but no announcement , no concrete illuminating evidence was brought forth by Japanese officials.  It seems now that they can no longer hold back the truth from those who are desperate to know what to do next.  There is clear evidence of meltdown, clear evidence of nuclear fallout beyond the radius of quarantine.  There is now data showing radioactive hot spots up to 500km in distance from the nuclear power plant itself.  These areas are showing numbers in some cases even higher than areas within Fukushima.

I posted a few weeks ago on radiation and ,though I stand by my post, I must admit that the publicized information by Japanese sources was far from the real numbers.  It showed Chiba being at .049 micro sieverts in the city of Ichihara, this data must have been taken from a very tall structure thus making it nearly invalid.  Recent data taken by citizens themselves is showing literally 10 times that number in Funabashi. (site is in Japanese)

Now the government is spilling the truth and telling how much radiation was emitted and when it actually determined a meltdown which was March 20 almost two months ago.  In that time thousands of times the permissable (safe) limit of airborn radiation particules have been spewed from the reactors contaminating the entire region, all the while the average citizen tried to get back to somewhat of a normal life after the devastating earthquake or began to attempt to rebuild their life and town after the tsunami.  Many Japanese people were concerned about the crisis in Fukushima and anxiously awaited information and guidance. However, they only received vague commentary and misinformation, half-truths, even out-right lies from government officials; Kan, Edano, and others on the safety comittee.

The government gives the excuse for itself that it did not want to create panic or breed rumors that would hurt the economy or lives of its citizens.  Yet it put millions at risk with its actions, consequences that may not come to fruitition till years later when they have left office and retired away from the public eye. They clearly neglected the health and safety of their citizens.
Looking at the real numbers and data can be extremely confusing and frightening for many, but knowing the gravity of the situation will help many make the daily decisions they need to, to stay healthy and prevent exposure.

Breaking down the measurements we have two types that are used to measure radiation.

Sievert-the measurement used most often, the amount of radiation absorbed, or that is in an object.

Becquerel- the measurement used to describe the magnitude of the release of radiation, or the amount of radiation emitted by an object.

Using Sieverts as a measurement, the symbols we see most are 1 ╬╝Sv for micro Sievert and 1 mSv for milli Sievert. 1,000micro Sieverts = 1 milli Sievert

Sievert- Wikipedia

A map showing hot spot area in northern Chiba over 200km from Fukushima, as well as Ibaraki.  Blue is weakest and Red the highest.

So currently in Japan we are now seeing many hotspots continueing to absorb 0.5 micro sieverts per hour or higher. In a day that means soil and vegetation can absorb up to 12micro sieverts. If left unchecked this can continue to pile up to 4mSv in a year which is four times higher than most international safety standards for a public area or facility. Now most of this radiation can easily be passed on to children and adults through playing at the park, at school, or can be ingested by eating animals who graze on radioactive grass and so on.  This radiation exposure is internal and is technically referred to as a "dose".  The average dose for Americans is 3.0m Sv/year.  The average in Japan may go a lot higher if current levels stay the same and most likely will since the situation now has been declared a "meltdown"

It is true that some internal radiation can be lowered by diet and other measures but children and infants stand to suffer the most from the situation.  Their bodies still being in the stage of growth and development, radiation will damage the body cells` reproductive function, thus leading to various forms of organ problems, cancers ,and many other health problems.

The Tohoku and Kanto region now stand to become a "Mecca" for research on radiation for the next number of years.  Once the situation further stabilizes, I have no doubt that the international community of scientists will descend upon Japan leaving many Japanese, as I have read, feeling like "lab rats." 

I only hope that the next couple months begin to provide people with answers and solutions, ways to cope, and clarity for the road ahead.  Japan can`t possibly evacuate its entire eastern area of millions of people, so many have no choice but to live through all of this.

As if the earthquake and tsunami wasn`t enough already!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Tales from Japan: Tears and Songs from Japan II

Image Source:

It has been two months since the Great Tohoku Earthquake, and the Tsunami that took thousands of lives and left most of the northeastern coastal towns and cities in ruin.  There have been many that have rallied around Japan in support of it, but to be honest there is still a long way to go.  My heart goes out to the people who are trying to rebuild not only their towns and homes, but those who are trying to rebuild their lives again.  The healing is going to take more than donations of money and supplies, it is going to take time and the efforts of people to listen and to help where it is needed.  Anybody can volunteer, but it takes bonds of friendship and commitment to see people get back on their feet again.

My hope is that people around the world are able to find specific ways to sponsor families and projects by name to ensure the improvement of the quality of life of the victims.  It hurts me to see so much money gone to waste, or know that it never makes it to the hurting people on the other end of the photos.

I came across this great movie that was put together by a 12 year old Japanese boy named Kai.  It brought me to tears. The song in the background is Fix You, and it has Japanese subtitles.  I encourage you to watch and to find a way to connect and give something for the hurting, even it be just a prayer.  God Bless

Friday, May 06, 2011

Only in Japan: Big Buddhas and Big Business

The Largest Statue in Japan and Third Largest in the World, the Ushiku Daibutsu.

This last week was a holiday week in Japan.  I took some time to go on a little road trip.  We went up north about 80 kilometers to the area of Ushiku in the Ibaraki Prefecture.  Ibaraki was a prefecture hit quite hard by the record breaking earthquake on March 11th.  However, we were surprised, as we drove along, that we didn`t see much damage. 

Our initial destination was a shopping outlet, but as we got closer something caught our attention.  A big something! A towering figure standing in the middle of nowhere suddenly appeared as we emerged from the winding road.  I have never seen a statue so large.

I took this from about 4 miles away and you can still clearly see the statue
Taken from the outer court yard under a cloudy sky, the Daibutsu looking as a gigantic shadowy figure.  Simply an amazing human construction!

The statue itself is an amazing feat.  It is enormous but extremely detailed.  From folds in the robe to indentations on the face and hands, the craftmanship is impressive to say the least.  This statue stands over 200 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty and almost 300 feet taller than the Christ Statue in Rio De Janeiro.

To check out the tallest statues in the world click the wikipedia link Worlds Tallest Statues

Now it is not a coincidence that this giant Buddha statue and the shopping outlet are close to one another.  Tourism is a vital part of local economies in Japan.  This landmark is helping sustain the local population by providing jobs and attracting many tourists.  You might even say that the statue was built not so much for religious reasons but more for economic reasons.  Certainly the statue represents Buddhism and its philosophical ideals and teachings, but it also clearly demonstrates the commercialization of Japanese religion.  I`m sure true believers may have mixed feelings about such a thing.

The Ushiku Daibutsu overlooking the crowded market area in the outer courtyard.

Visitors squeeze through crowds passing through souvenir and relic shops.

These people have sat down to have a consultation about buying an expensive Buddhist statue or jewelry with supposed healing properties at one of the shops.
Nonetheless, this is sort of thing is very Japanese.  All over Japan you will see tourist sites based in Shinto or Buddhist art or architecture, but flooded with vendors, shops, and souvenirs all meant to provide income for those who live around the area and for the sponsors and curators of such elaborate projects.

So if you see a Big Buddha in Japan, chances are is that it is big business for somebody...
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