Captain rode out tsunami to save island from losing ferry

The 64 year old has become a local hero on the Japanese island of Oshima. Smashed boats adorn the coastline of this once-idyllic tourist spot, but Sugawara’s pride and joy, "Sunflower" is intact and working overtime transporting people and aid to and from the island. It can hold around 20 people at a time.

When the tsunami came, everyone ran to the hills. But Sugawara ran to his boat and steered it into deeper waters. "I knew if I didn’t save my boat, my island would be isolated and in trouble," he tells CNN.

As he passed his other boats, used for fishing abalone, he said goodbye to them, apologizing that he could not save them all.

Read the rest of the story: Defiant Japanese boat captain rode out tsunami.

Hiroko Nagata, leader of the United Red Army dead at 65

The ex-leader of an armed Japanese leftist group from the 1970s has died while on death row, having been in jail since her 1972 arrest over the savage killings of 14 fellow radicals, according to reports.

Hiroko Nagata, 65, a central figure in the now-defunct extremist group the United Red Army, died late Saturday due to multiple organ failure, Jiji Press and other news outlets said, quoting Japan’s Justice Ministry.

The United Red Army was a small group born out of a broader far-left movement, which promoted armed communist revolution and eventually became notorious for its extreme brutality.

Read the rest of the story: Ex-leader of brutal Japan far-left group dies.

Japanese Shrines full of those praying for good fortune as working year starts

Thousands of Japanese packed a Tokyo shrine on Tuesday, the first working day of 2011, to pray for better luck and a rebound in the lagging economy just days after ushering in the Year of the Rabbit.

By midday, some 70,000 people had visited Tokyo’s Kanda Myoujin shrine, dedicated to several gods including the god of good fortune, to bow their heads and wish for a more prosperous year.

"Gloomy news is all we hear around us these days, so I wished that this year we’d get some bright and joyful news for a change," said 46-year-old Yoshiko Saeki.

Japan’s economy is recovering at a sluggish pace from a deep recession. Though a government report last month showed growth of a revised 1.1 percent in July-September from the previous quarter, beating estimates, sentiment remains bleak.

Analysts polled by Reuters expect the economy to shrink 0.1 percent in the following quarter as exports slow and auto output slumps after the expiry of government incentives for the purchase of low-emission cars.

"I wished for an economic rebound from the bottom up so that my business is also positively affected," said Shinya Watanabe, a 24-year-old businessman who has been in his current job for just two years.

Read the rest of the story: Japanese pray for good fortune as working year starts.

Yuri Matsumoto, wife of Actor Ken Matsudaira, dead by possible suicide

Former actress Yuri Matsumoto was found dead during the early hours of Monday, November 15th, in what appears to be a suicide. According to police, she was found hanged at her home in Tokyo’s Meguro ward, where she lived with her husband, actor Ken Matsudaira (56). Matsumoto was 42 years old.

At around 3:00am on Monday, the babysitter who was staying over at the house discovered Matsumoto’s body, hanged by her neck with the other end tied to the doorknob of her bedroom. Police are still investigating for further details, but they are currently saying that it is most likely a suicide.

Matsudaira’s agency stated he has been away from home since November 2nd, as he is performing in a play in Kyushu until the 30th.

Matsumoto was born as Yuriko Suzuki in 1968 in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward, the daughter of actor Shinji Amano and former Takarazuka top star Suzuko Waka. She got her start in show business in 1984, debuting as an idol singer with the song "Kajou ni Only You." A couple years later, she transitioned into acting, though she also served as a newscaster on "NHK Ohayou Sunday" from 1990 to 1991.

She appeared in the drama series "Abarenbo Shogun" with Matsudaira in 1991, and they worked together again for the stage version in 1998. They began dating in 2004, after Matsudaira’s divorce from Mao Daichi (54). The couple married in 2005, and Matsumoto gave birth to a son one year later.

Ryoma still a hit in Japan

From Prime Minister Naoto Kan to Sapporo Beer, lawmakers and companies are invoking the image and legacy of Sakamoto Ryoma, the 19th century samurai who helped overhaul Japan’s government and economy.

Kan mentioned Ryoma in a speech June 8, the day he became prime minister, drawing comparisons between his new Cabinet and the militia groups of the samurai era. Facing an economy saddled with falling consumer prices, rising debt and an aging population, Kan pledged to break Japan’s "stasis."

"Ryoma has been exploited over and over again in society, for Japan’s militarism, and his ghost still remains," said Masaaki Noda, a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. "Japan is suffering from many problems, such as an aging society. We need to seriously think about how to fix the current problems."

Visitors to Ryoma’s birthplace in what is now Kochi Prefecture rose 71 percent to 2.4 million in the first half of this year from a year earlier after NHK started airing the "Ryoma Den" drama in January. Interest in the samurai has added around ¥40 billion to Kochi’s economy, or about 1.8 percent of the surrounding region’s gross regional product, the Bank of Japan said in June.

Read the rest of the story: No end in sight to Ryoma craze.

Where’s Erika Sawajiri?

The Sports Nippon newspaper is reporting that people have recently been unable to contact actress Erika Sawajiri (24). According to Sawajiri’s mother Lila, who was interviewed by the newspaper, the actress has not been heard from in the past three weeks.

Lila, who currently lives with Sawajiri in a Tokyo apartment, mentioned that her last contact with Sawajiri may have been as much as 20 days ago. However, when the newspaper asked for more details, Lila declined to comment and completely stopped speaking on the subject.

Sawajiri was scheduled to appear at a press conference for a new commercial on September 21, but she canceled the day before, apparently due to a high fever. Her last appearance in front of the press was on September 5.

Sports Nippon speculates that Sawajiri’s disappearance may be related to an article published on a CNN website on September 1. In the article, Sawajiri stated that she reluctantly gave in to her former management agency, which forced her to give a tearful apology on TV in 2007 after she was criticized for unprofessional behavior at a press conference for the movie "Closed Note." The article has apparently caused trouble for her former agency and other parties, so Sawajiri may simply be avoiding the spotlight for the time being.

1Q84 – Murakami Speaks About the Unreal

In the chaotic world after the Cold War and the September 11 2001 attacks, Japanese author Haruki Murakami says metaphors can be even more powerful than what’s real — a reason why his surreal books are read worldwide.

“I think people are gradually starting to understand and accept the realness of unreal things,” Murakami, one of the most widely read Japanese novelists in the world, told Reuters in a rare media interview.

“While it is necessary to write about the post-Cold War ways of the world, no matter how realistically it may be written, it can’t be expressed sufficiently. The only way it could be written about is through metaphors,” he said.

The 60-year-old novelist, a regular in Nobel literature prize predictions, has been writing in Japanese for three decades. His novels, short stories and essays have been translated into more than 40 languages.

In May, he published the two-volume, 1,055-page novel “1Q84,” a title suggestive of George Orwell’s “1984” as the Japanese word for 9 is pronounced the same as the English letter “Q.”

“First, there was George Orwell’s 1984, a novel about the near future… I wanted to write something that was the opposite of that, a novel on the recent past that shows how things could have been,” Murakami said.

The book alternates chapters between two characters, a female named Aomame and a male named Tengo. It deals with themes such as cults and abuse, loss, as well as sex, love and murder.

Incidents such as the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities and the Tokyo subway gas attack in 1995 by a religious cult drove Murakami to write the novel.

“To me, 9/11 does not feel like an incident that took place in the real world. Somewhere, there must be a world in which this didn’t happen,” he said.

“I am always doubtful about whether this world that I am in now is the real one. Somewhere in me, I feel there is a world that may not have been this way.”

Over 2.2 million copies of “1Q84” had been printed in Japan as of October.

For more of the interview: Japan’s Murakami says metaphor more real after 9/11

Source: Yahoo
Photo: Reuters

Internet Kills the Video Star

According to CyberMedia in Japan, and goo research just published results from their latest studies about ‘PC internet usage at home’. The results are not too surprising to me, but boy are the numbers staggering!

Concerning the results, 98.3% of Japanese have a fixed internet connection at home and over 70% use internet at home more than 1h every day. And when it’s blazing fast, why not? Well what is the alternative to the internet–TV? Not really, not anymore. And what are people in Japan saying about TV? It’s boring and there is nothing interesting on…and it’s showing…the major networks in Japan are losing money and advertising dollars that could support more interesting programming daily. But, then again no ones even tuning in through the tube anymore it’s all online through sites that offer the same content or phones that pick up the signals. And it’s not just the internet…it’s mobile internet and gaming that’s eating out the holes in those television execs pockets with an estimated 28% of Japanese playing mobile games. And what about the video and computer gaming industry? It’s getting bigger and bigger everyday. Needless to say there are tons of alternative entertainment to television and it’s not just the tube or even movies, anymore. Heck it’s not even google searches and the results telling us things anymore, when you can go and twitter another person for information. What it is…It’s technology connecting us in new ways and disconnecting us in others.

Oh, but at least we still see our families and friends on Holidays, right? Think again…

It doesn’t stop for holidays, either. When it comes to holidays or days off an astonishing 22% of Japanese become hardcore internet users with a usage of more than 6h per day. About 25% of these hardcore users surf the web even more than 12h per day, when off. Compared to the last survey at the end of 2008 the heavy user ratio increased by more than 1%. So to rephrase the question asked by CyberMedia–Did the internet turn into an alternative to going out and meeting people on holidays in times of recession or did it just take over? I think it took over with the help of the recession keeping more of us at home and not going out and using the technology in our homes as our entertainment.

What will be more interesting is to see what innovation comes out of all this new ‘heavy’ user interaction. And, if when the recession is over, what sticks around, what’s been created, and what has improved.

And when this recession ends…will people be going out again or will they stay isolated with their technology?

Photo by: PP@flickr

Respect for the Aged Day

The third Monday in September is Respect for the Aged Day or Respect for the Elderly Day.

It is a kind of like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. You go out of your way to be especially respectful to elderly people on this day.
It is something to celebrate that people in Japan can have long lives. In Japan, people celebrate their long lives at each juncture, such as Kanreki.

Kanreki means 60 years-old. The people who become Kanreki celebrate it by wearing a red Chanchanko (a padded sleeveless kimono jacket) and a red hood.

And there are more celebrating years such as Koki (70 years-old), Kiju (77 years-old), Sanju (80 years-old), Beiju (88 years-old), Sotsuju (90 years-old) and Hakuju (99 years-old).

There is no rule of celebrating those years on this day, but it is a good occasion to do so. And of course you can celebrate elderly people who are not of those ages, as well.

You may send a nice card to them or you can take them to a nice restaurant for dinner.

Here is a ranking of things to do.

1.Dinner together
3.Anything to do with their grand children (if you are a grand child, lucky you)
5.Saying thinks and Thank-you cards
6.Trips with their family
8.Gift cards or money
9.Local goods

Research done by goo (July 2009)
Photo by crschmidt