All posts by Kara Walker

Can Japan spend it’s way to a brighter future?

Daisuke Horii just collected his summer bonus. It was only slightly more than last year, but enough to compel the 34-year-old shopping mall clerk to Tokyo’s electronics district to look for some high-end speakers.RelatedIn Japan, Prices Stabilize for the First Time in Months June 28, 2013Enlarge This Image Ko Sasaki for The New York TimesA shopper, left, and a clerk at Hankyu department store.

“Things are generally looking brighter, aren’t they?” Mr. Horii said, as he scrutinized, then dismissed, cheaper alternatives at the bustling Yodobashi Camera electronics store. The Bose ones he has his eye on, which he’ll hook up to his TV, go for about $400.

“I don’t really need it, but I want it,” he said. “A good economy means you can buy things you don’t really need.”

Read the rest of the story: Getting Japan to Spend.

The day my mum looked after the Beatles

In rock mythology, John Lennon was the cynical, acid-tongued Beatle, Paul McCartney was friendly and open, George Harrison was the quiet one and drummer Ringo Starr was the group’s clown, always joking around. Satoko Condon remembers it a bit differently.

“Ringo was a bit difficult,” says the Osaka native, recalling how he snapped out orders for food. “He hardly spoke and never smiled.” McCartney wrote a love letter to his girlfriend. Harrison was reliably shy. And John Lennon? “I found him the friendliest,” she says. “He was so comical.”

Forty-seven years ago, the Liverpool mop tops came to Tokyo for a historical and ill-fated visit that helped seal the fate of their live tours. Then a young stewardess with Japan Airlines known by her maiden name Kawasaki, Satoko found herself catering to the four most famous men in the world.

Read the rest of the story: ‘The day my mum looked after the Beatles’.

Japan quake magnitude raised to 9.0

Japan’s Meteorological Agency says the magnitude of Friday’s earthquake that hit the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan was 9.0 instead of 8.8 as earlier announced.

The agency made the correction on Sunday morning after analyzing seismic waves and other data. The magnitude is equivalent to that of the 2004 earthquake off Sumatra, Indonesia, which triggered massive tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.

The agency says the focal zone of Friday’s quake was about 500-kilometers long and 200-kilometers wide. Destructive movement along the fault continued for more than 5 minutes.

The Meteorological Agency says only 4 other quakes in the world have recorded magnitudes of 9 or over.

Read the rest of the story: Japan quake magnitude raised to 9.0.

US presses Japan to act soon on child abduction cases

A senior US official pressed Japan on Wednesday to act in the coming months to address concerns by US parents over child abductions, warning of rising anger by lawmakers against the ally.

Japan said in September that it was seriously considering signing the international treaty to stop child abductions, although officials said it may take time as the nation would need to change domestic laws.

"It’s going to be important that we see progress soon on this issue. There is a building degree of anxiety — and in some places anger — on Capitol Hill," said Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia.

Calling himself a "strong supporter" of the alliance with Japan, Campbell asked the country both to sign the Hague treaty and to deal "responsibly and humanely" with pending cases.

Read the rest of the story: US wants Japan to act soon on child abductions.

U.S. should up child custody pressure with Japan

Japan and India are among America’s key allies. Yet to scores of embittered parents across the U.S., they are outlaw states when it comes to the wrenching phenomenon of "international child abduction."

The frustrations of these "left-behind" parents run deep. They seethe over Japan’s and India’s noncompliance with U.S. court orders regarding children taken by the other parent to the far side of the world, and many also fault top U.S. leaders for reluctance to ratchet up the pressure for change.

"If they really made it an issue to solve these cases, I believe they could be resolved tomorrow. . . . They don’t have the will," said Christopher Savoie of Tennessee.

Savoie was arrested in Fukuoka last year and spent 18 days in custody after a failed attempt to reclaim two children taken from Tennessee by his ex-wife in violation of a U.S. court order.

More than 80 nations have signed an accord aimed at curtailing such incidents, but only a handful of Asian countries are among them. Of the continent’s nonsignatories, Japan and India pose the biggest problem for the U.S. — accounting for more than 300 cases, involving more than 400 children, opened by the State Department since 1994.

Read the rest of the story: U.S. may up child custody pressure.

Coming of Age Day

If you are one of the many people who love Japan and the Japanese culture then it is very likely that you will be trying to learn as much about this fabulous part of the world as possible. A holiday to Japan will help to bring your thoughts to life and if you want to be able to soak up as much of the culture as possible, then arranging your visit to coincide with a special festival will give you much more insight into their way of life. January is a special month in the Japanese calendar, because as well as celebrating New Year, which is always done with much colour and celebration, January also marks another very special occasion – Coming of Age for all new 20 year old Japanese boys and girls.

Every year since its inception in 1948, this festival was celebrated on January 15th, however in 1999, the date was changed and now, the Japanese Coming of Age festival is celebrated on the 2nd Monday of January. It obviously makes for a long weekend and time for Japan`s newest adults to enjoy themselves, as it is not until they are 20 that young Japanese are considered adults. Adulthood obviously brings responsibility, however it is also the first time that these new adults are allowed to vote and, unlike other countries, 20 is the legal age for drinking and smoking!

Although the Coming of Age Festival has only been officially celebrated since 1948, it incorporates many older traditions which make it a wonderful holiday to experience. Proud parents and other family members gather with their children to listen as their children cross from that of child to adult. Local governments arrange special ceremonies all over Japan where speeches are delivered by elders such as Mayors explaining the right of passage and everything that being an adult entails. The Coming of Age Festival in Japan is known as Seijin-no-Hi and if you intend visiting Japan, this would certainly be worth seeing, especially if you (or your children) will be celebrating a similar birthday. Japanese girls enjoy the chance to dress up in their finery and traditionally, all Japanese girls will wear a special type of kimono – a furisode – which has long sleeves, complete with an obi belt. As well as looking wonderful, these costumes are extremely expensive and are sometimes passed down from mother to daughter. Boys traditionally wear suits, however you can sometimes see the boys in traditional dress – the male equivalent of the kimono – which is known as a hakama.

As well as speeches from the elders, Japanese boys and girls often pray for their future at shrines and a very popular shrine for this is the Meiji Shrine. Shrine priests hold a special archery ritual, known as Momote Shiki in which two priests dressed in white fire blunt arrows to a target. As the arrows fly, they make a whistling sound and it is believed that this sound calls the attention of the Gods. Once the first two arrows have been fired by the priests, many more are fired by archers dressed in very colourful robes. This is also a fantastic opportunity for photographers to capture that perfect picture.

Visiting Japan at any time of the year will be a wonderful experience, however if you are able to travel in January, holiday deals you could soak up the atmosphere and learn a lot more about the culture of this amazing place.

Taiji Opens Season on Dolphins

Each year in early September, Japan opens season on dolphins, and today marks the start of the season in Taiji, a now notorious place for slaughtering cetaceans thanks to the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. And of course, activist Ric O’Barry is on the move. He delivered a petition to the US Embassy in Tokyo signed by 1.7 million people from 155 countries demanding an end to the hunt. The embassy wasn’t his first destination — the Japanese fisheries agency was. But death threats from a group known for violence kinda put a damper on that.

As reported by the AP, "The Japanese government allows a hunt of about 20,000 dolphins a year, and argues that killing them — and also whales — is no different from raising cows or pigs for slaughter. Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat and, even in Taiji, it is not consumed regularly.

Read the rest of the story: Taiji Opens Season on Dolphins Today.

Japanese pop art at Versailles incites protests

A show of outlandish sculptures by a cult Japanese artist in the historic Chateau of Versailles near Paris has enraged traditionalists who say it dishonours France’s past.

From September 14 to December 12, visitors to Versailles will see eye-grabbing multicoloured statues in silver, fibreglass and metal by Takashi Murakami alongside the chateau’s ornate murals and chandeliers.

"The Chateau de Versailles is one of the greatest symbols of Western history," Murakami said in a statement on the museum’s website.

"The Versailles of my imagination… has become a kind of completely separate and unreal world," he added. "That is what I have tried to depict in this exhibition."

Versailles enthusiasts however branded it an outrage to their beloved museum in the posh Paris suburb.

"Murakami and company have no business in the Chateau of Versailles!" reads a message on the website Versailles Mon Amour, dedicated to a petition which it says has gained more than 3,500 signatures.

Read the rest of the story: Japan pop artist’s Versailles show sparks protests.

Japan’s Rice Fields of Agri-color Dreams

Rice farming has sustained the people of northern Japan’s Inakadate village for two thousand years. Today, the ancient rice fields are the source of food and art.

Up close, the stalks of rice look like any other found in a rice paddy. CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reports there are several varieties planted here, each with different colored leaves. Combine them together and an enormous 15,000 square foot image is revealed.

Every year, a local art teacher produces a computerized sketch. It’s transferred onto a grid, and mapped with thousands of dots. It’s then painstakingly recreated – point by point onto the rice field.

Then, it’s a family affair as villagers of all generations join in to hand-plant each rice shoot. Three months later, the rice field of dreams comes alive in sweeping images.

Read the rest of the story: Japan’s Rice Field of Dreams.

Twitter a hit in Japan

It should come as no surprise that Japan is embracing burgeoning new social media outlets – like Twitter. Myspace and Facebook (News – Alert) have also tried to break into the market, but it’s Twitter that the Japanese love. Perhaps it’s the cute name or the on-the-go quick updating capabilities – who can say?! But the statistics express volumes – 16.3 percent of Japanese people Tweet, compared to 9.8 percent of Americans.

It’s most likely that it’s it’s all about mobile communication, especially text messaging. That is what the Japanese love about twitter. Twitter just gives you a space to save all your messages and should be an instant hit for any thumb novelist.

Read the rest of the story: Japan loves tweeting on Twitter>^..^<

Read even more: Twitter a hit in Japan as millions ‘mumble’ online