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Japan Before the Quake

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BC: Sayonara! And a special thanks to Hiroshi Nara and Brenda Jordan.

FC: Welcome to Japan!

1: Japanese History is punctuated with disasters. Since Japan sits on the ring of fire, they endure earthquakes, volcanoes, and Tsunamis. The Ring of Fire is an active zone of Plate Tectonics where an oceanic plate is sliding underneath Asia. The Japanese have dealt with this situation over the years in several interesting ways. Firstly, they have developed an awe and love of nature. Secondly, they have developed scientific systems to deal with those natural disasters, and finally, the Japanese have developed a national character of perseverance - a commitment to not giving up in the face of danger, challenge or difficulty. This book is intended to illustrate how the Japanese have dealt with challenges over the years to create a distinct culture. In addition to geography and history, this book will attempt to show Japanese solutions to the problems of modern life, how they have come to grips with the Atomic Bomb, and their uniquely Japanese version of baseball. | The pages in this book are intend-ed to represent chapters as in a textbook. The Chapters are: Geography & Nature [2-3] Transportation [4] Food [5] Education [6-7] Religion [8-9] Earthquake Management [10-11] Hiroshima [12-13] Tourism [14] Art [15] Baseball [16-17]

2: The contrast between flat land and mountain is stark. This picture is taken from Rokko Mountain overlooking Kobe. It is easy to see how close the mountains are to the sea. This makes the people living in a city such as Kobe vulnerable to the destructive power of Tsunamis. It also means that people in the cities are surrounded by beautiful views of mountains and water. It is the combination of stunning beauty and potential danger that gives dynamism to the Japanese experience.

3: Most People in Japan live along a narrow strip of flat land along the South and East coast of the main island of Honshu. Another way of expressing this is that 90% of the people live on 10% of the land. The division between the flat land and the mountains is generally sudden and dramatic, as the picture above from this mountain north of Kobe illustrates. Sudden transitions between flat land and mountains are evident throughout the country. This means that most Japanese live near mountains. | Because most Japanese live near mountains, many people enjoy walking in the mountains as a form of recreation on weekends. It also means that it is difficult to get lost in the cities because one can always regain bearings by locating the mountains on one side, and the ocean on the other. The narrow strip of land where most of Japan's population lives is well suited to mass transit, particularly trains because they all move in the same direction [SE/NW] eliminating the problems of intersections. Four major train lines run through the 2 mile wide strip of land on which Kobe sits. All trains run to Osaka eventually. While Osaka is known for industry, trade and commerce, it functions much like New York City does for the United States. Kobe, on the other hand, is a smaller town, a university town, a fun- loving town. In some ways, it is more like Boston. Whichever part of Japan you visit, you will be struck by the geography - the contrast between mountain and sea.

4: Transportation in Japan is dominated by mass transit. Cars are growing in importance as Japanese affluence continues to grow, but buses, and especially trains, are still king. Locally, bicycles are used more frequently than in the United States and there are more convenient places to ride and park bicycles. Transportation also has strong connections to the past. In most cities, one can find rickshaw pullers dressed in old style clothes. Walking is still popular - both for necessary transportation and for recreation. Mass transit systems are carefully planned and generally run smoothly and on time. One man I spoke with told me that one Japanese mystery novel he read was based around the idea that a particular murder could not have been committed by a particular person because of the precise timing of the train schedule. Even as a foreigner who does not speak the language, I was able to figure out the trains in a few days. | Train travel does have its drawbacks. All trains in Japan run between 6:00 AM to 12:00 Midnight. No trains run between Midnight and six. Thus, if you plan to be out late, you have to find another way to get home. The transportation system n Japan also affects sporting events. Because trains do not run after midnight, baseball games are limited in time so fans can catch the trains home. Thus, games rarely begin late due to rain and cancellations are frequent. Additionally, trains are vulnerable during earthquakes. While the Japanese have developed impressive safety measures including an automatic braking system tied to seismometers, a shallow quake would hit before such systems had time to stop trains. Mass transit is good for the environment and uses less energy. Japan's dense population and geography are better suited to mass transit than most of the United States.

5: Tea and biscuits from a traditional tea house [below] | Bento, or boxed lunch, is a favorite way to enjoy a midday meal at work or on the go. [left] | Japanese food is consistently excellent as the Japanese are sticklers for getting food right. I ate out for three weeks and never had a bad meal. The Japanese often combine foreign foods with their own style to create truly creative cuisine. | Conveyor belt sushi is a great way to be introduced to this famous Japanese method of eating seafood. [right] | Even at the monastery they eat well, but they don't eat meat there. [above]

6: Japanese Education was built on the German and French models, yet remains uniquely Japanese. | Japanese students spend more time at school since their school year is 220 days compared to only 180 in the United States | High school baseball in Japan, known as Kokoyakyu, is more popular than any high school sport in America. | Each August Japanese high school baseball teams compete in a national tournament. The finals are held at Koshien Stadium in Osaka. | Clubs meet after school every day and usually on weekends too. Unlike in the United States, Japanese students usually only choose one club and give it their full attention. | Because of their dedication to one activity after school, many Japanese achieve extraordinary skill in areas such as music.

7: Japanese schools use the physical environment to achieve goals as efficiently as possible. Examples of this include athletic fields that are entirely sand. The advantages are cheaper maintenance costs and it can be used in almost any weather. Students drag the field with large rakes after each use. No lawn equipment or staff hours are required. I witnessed the surface being used for everything from soccer and baseball to tennis. | Many school cafeterias have no chairs or portable benches. Rather metal bars cantilever from the floor. Thus, sweeping is easier, chairs do not break, and it is actually quite adequate for teen seating. Food options include hot lunch or a wide variety of items from ubiquitous vending machines. Many still prefer to bring bento lunches packed by Mom.

8: Japanese religious beliefs are animated by the twin systems of Buddhism and Shintoism. These two systems coexist side by side in often confusing ways. Some simple guidelines will help your understanding. For example, Buddhism has temples; Shintoism has shrines. Buddhism makes extensive use of statuary; Shintoism favors the orange painted gate, or torii. Sometimes these elements mix, but not usually. Since neither of these faiths are driven by dogma, coexistence is possible.

9: The picture to the left shows a glimpse of the famous cemetery at Koyasan. This was established along with the monastery by Kukai some 1200 years ago. Many of the famous people of Japanese history are buried here. | Above right shows a shinto torii. This marks the way to a shrine. Below right is a picture of the largest wooden building in the world, the Todaiji, a Buddhist temple which houses the largest cast bronze image of Buddha in East Asia.

10: Visual evidence of a slip fault on Awaji Island explains the extensive research that Japan carries out regarding how to build structures to withstand the destructive force of earthquakes. | A building shows evidence of structural failure after a visit to the world's largest shaking table at the E-Defense Earthquake Testing Facility. To the right are visible the enormous actuators responsible for agitating the shaking table.

11: Because of the energy required, it costs millions of dollars for every shaking event used at the facility. Care is taken to learn as much as possible with every simulation. The blue surface to the left is the actual shaking table surface. On the far wall above is the control center. | Everything at the facility is super sized. The facility is able to place and shake a 7 story concrete building. A sample of the results appears at center on the previous page. A large parking area is littered with buildings damaged in this way. The information learn-ed here is applied to the design of all new buildings in the country.

12: Hiroshima is a symbol of many things. It is a symbol of the perseverance of the Japanese people, it is a symbol of atomic destruction, but most importantly, today Hiroshima advertises itself as a symbol of peace. The park created to memorialize the victims and the event of the first atomic attack in history capture the many symbolic functions of the city today. Additionally, the Peace Park is a monument to the commitment of this city to never again have populations destroyed in this way. Pictured above is the cenotaph in which are stored the names of every victim of the blast. The "Peace Saddle" guards these names from the elements. New names are added every year as people continue to die of long term effects of radiation poisoning.

13: Much in the Peace Park is laden with symbolism. This welcome stone outside the museum in the Peace Park was half monument half mirror. Are we all victims of the Hiroshima attack? Are we all responsible? Are we tempted to see in the events of the atomic attack what we want to see? To the right in the middle is pictured the Aioi bridge which was the intended center of the blast. The bomb missed by 300 feet. Below right is the Cinerarium where the ashes of over 10,000 blast victims are buried. | Above is pictured a young woman ringing the peace bell. Can the younger generation understand the events that occurred at Hiroshima? Have they learned the lessons that need to be passed down? It is not clear that younger generations will be able to understand since they have not lived through the event themselves. The mayor of Hiroshima is an international peace official whose job it is to write letters of protest for each and every instance of nuclear testing that occurs anywhere in the world. The letters are posted in the museum for the public to read.

14: Japan is well-suited to tourism. It enjoys a rich cultural history, natural beauty, clean and safe modern cities, and top of the line hotels and restaurants. | The Japanese them-selves are among the most meticulous and gracious hosts anywhere in the world. Japanese sensibilities are playful and ambitious - there is always something new to see.

15: The Otsuka Museum of Art provides a great example of the Japanese approach to things. In this modern museum, great art is united with cutting edge technology, which is exemplified by the robotic tour guide complete with laser pointer. Paintings are captured on stone rendering the art touchable and accessible. I was able to touch the Mona Lisa, sort of.

16: Baseball is more popular in Japan than it is in the United States. This might be difficult to believe until you visit Japan and see for yourself. Baseball is much more than a sport in Japan, it is a moral exercise. Thus, there is a deeply religious component to how the game is perceived. The biggest sporting event of the year is NOT a professional sport, but rather the annual high school baseball tournament which culminates in the finals at Koshien Stadium in Osaka. High school players are all required to shave their heads military style to reinforce their group rather than individual identity. Most teams practice 7 days a week. Some practice 364 days per year, only taking New Years Day off from practice. Teams practice in the rain, in the dark, even in the snow! Schools in Hokkaido practice with an orange ball that is visible against the snow. Emphasis is on form and repetition.

17: Professional Baseball has been growing in popularity for decades. Like the high school game, the sport is a test of teamwork and sacrifice. Heroes of the game are linked with the samurai tradition and are portrayed that way in the popular imagination. To some extent, baseball has filled the void as Japan abandoned its feudal warrior tradition for the competitive world of business. Baseball heroes harken to a more nostalgic day when warriors of honor were called upon to sacrifice on the battlefield. Training for the Japanese version of the game is like training for war. Running and calisthenics are intense. One infielder is said to have fielded ground balls for 14 hours straight until he collapsed from exhaustion. This too fits the Japanese proclivity to seek perfection in all things. Their victory in the first World League of American Baseball championships seems to vindicate their tradition.

19: Kobe as viewed from the Harborland Tower

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Tim Jekel
  • By: Tim J.
  • Joined: over 8 years ago
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About This Mixbook

  • Title: Japan Before the Quake
  • Pictures and Thoughts of Japan before the Great Earthquake of 2011
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  • Published: over 8 years ago