Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Washoku Makes UNESCO list

Hiroshima has two famous places on the UNESCO world heritage list- Miyajima's Itsukushima shrine and the surrounding area as well as the A-bomb dome in Peace Park. Many people don't seem to know that before the UNESCO status of these places there was debate about whether to preserve or demolish the famous ruins in Peace park. Making the official list has helped preserve this iconic feature of this historical city. 

As of 2013, the traditional Japanese cuisine style, Washoku, has been added to the UNESCO "Intangible Cultural Heritage List". According to the official UNESCO cultural sector page, 

The practice favours the consumption of various natural, locally sourced ingredients such as rice, fish, vegetables and edible wild plants. The basic knowledge and skills related to Washoku, such as the proper seasoning of home cooking, are passed down in the home at shared mealtimes. Grassroots groups, schoolteachers and cooking instructors also play a role in transmitting the knowledge and skills by means of formal and non-formal education or through practice.

Accordint to the Yomiuri shimbun newspaper, the heritage listing also notes, 
"it is associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature that is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources." 
The document also emphasizes how washoku uses dashi to create a rich, umami taste; fermentation processes of shoyu and miso as well as distinctive cooking utensils and beautiful food presentation which include materials from nature like ornamental leaves and utensils made of wood and bamboo. 

Health benefits are also mentioned as a reason for the Japanese to live long lives and prevent obesity problems due to a balance of proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables. The commissioner of the Cultural Affairs Agency says they will make every effort to pass Washoku on to future generations. Japanese Washoku now joins four other foods on the UNESCO list: French, Mediteranean (Greece & Portugal), Italy, Cyprus, Morocco, Mexican, Keskek (Turkey), Croatia and Spain. 

Certain regional dishes have made special mention on the list:
Shojin-ryori traditional vegetarian food found in Buddhist temples also gets a notation as well as the beautiful food displays of Kaiseki-ryori famous in Kyoto, which are mostly vegetarian, but also include dishes made with dashi from a fish stock as well as seafood and fish dishes. Sushi from Tokyo and Nabe (one-pot) dishes from Tohoku. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hiroshima, Nagasaki and North Carolina May Have Shared Fate

Cynthia McCabe's, "Why the Country didn't stand D.C strong," is an article not only about the sadness McCabe felt about the actual deaths of victims in the Navy Yard shooting; but also her shock at how little press it received. She was perplexed at how it had little to no effect on the nation, president and even people who live and worked nearby in D.C.

This article set off a rush of questions raised by this week's article in the Guardian about a secret file that was hidden away and only recently released, under the freedom of information act, that really should be shocking the world, or at the very least Americans.

America had a near-atomic-bomb miss in 1961 that would have been twice as bad as Hiroshima!

"There was a B-52 bomber that started leaking fuel," he said. "While it was preparing emergency landing, there was a weight imbalance, and the plane started to break apart mid-air. There were two hydrogen bombs on the plane, and as the plane was breaking apart mid-air there were so many wires that if one of those wires had crossed with the arming wire of the bomb, there would have been a full-scale detonation of this hydrogen bomb in North Carolina. There would have been huge firestorms, and the lethal radioactive fallout could have extended as far north as Washington, D.C."

Command and Controlby the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser 

This news has disturbingly been so lightly covered it makes you wonder how America has avoided any mistakes like this from happening since with the moving around and storage of nuclear weapons. 

This summer, I had the honor of doing a short interview with a Hiroshima Hibakusha after the Peace Memorial Ceremony. She took the chance at having a video interview with an American as an opportunity to appeal to young Americans to look closer at their own country's nuclear weapons and power as the plants are aging. 

Her words are all the more powerful in light of this newly disclosed information.

The Guardian report states, "the US government has repeatedly and publicly denied that its nuclear arsenal has ever put Americans' lives in jeopardy through safety flaws. But in the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concludes that "one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe".

Read more about this incredible report in "Atomic Gaffes" in the New York Times.

As a long-time resident of Hiroshima, a city that saw total nuclear devastation in 1945, I have seen so many powerful stories over the years because of what has happened here.

The hard work of rebuilding has made Hiroshima the city of peace and focal point of anti-nuclear rallies. Yet had a more powerful nuclear explosion happened in the center of American political and corporate life nearly 20 years later... It certainly would have seriously altered America as we know it as well as the history of the entire world.
There is no doubt that the responsibilities of nuclear powers needs to be examined and debated more honestly. Shouldn't journalists, or at least ethical 3rd parties, be given access to review all of these secret documents that could have real effects on nuclear policy happening now?

Monday, May 27, 2013

2013 Women In Business Summit

The US-Japan council, ACCJ, and ACCJ WIB (Women In Business) Committee hosted a wonderful 1 day summit for over 500 attendees.
It's such an exciting time for women in Japan with the recent forward momentum of covering day care need around the country and encouraging more women back to work. There were many wonderful presentations, group work activities and networking opportunities throughout the day and the facilities, food and service at the Tokyo-American Club were top class.

I'm afraid I can't relay all the wonderful information from the day, but I'd like to share some of the things that I thought were interesting and inspirational as a woman working in Japan for many years.

Sakie Fukushima: Can Women Save Japan?
Sakie Fukushima is the President and Representative Director of G&S Global Advisors, Inc. In 2004, she received a lot of media attention since she was only one of two women who held seats on the Board of top Japanese companies. She talked about how that ranking has recently improved to 2.5% but the rate of women in positions of power in Japanese corporations is still ridiculously low. Her proposal for change is part of her work at the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai). This association checks and publishes information from companies around Japan as well as does leadership training seminars (60% women, 40% men), offers seminars where experts speak on the topic among other leadership building activities. The final point she made was that there should be more equality in regulation: both men and women should be written into child rearing rights law and regulation.

Moni Miyashita: Purpose, Passion and Priority
Moni Miyashita is a senior advisor at McKinsey & Co. who had previously served as director of IBM Corporate Development in Asia. She discussed personal parts of her life which gave her a sense of purpose and then encouraged us to only do what you love to do, but also to feel passionate about it. She did also talk about timing and how it is also important to give parts of your life priority at different periods in life. Raising kids and keeping a healthy emotional and physical balance in your life should never have to be sacrificed for a successful career.

Hiroko Tatebe, founder of Global Organization for Leadership and Diversity, echoed some of Ms.Miyashita's points and added that it's important not to be afraid of failure, so take risks. She also talked about the importance of using the position of where you are in the world to act as a bi-cultural bridge for your company as well as in your career. It's important to develop trusting relationships and network with as many like-minded individuals as you can who will support and mentor you. She advised to think about your career as a lattice, not a ladder, one that you can take breaks from in the pursuit to the top if life calls for you to step back from work commitments. In a later session, I had the pleasure of sitting next to her and she gave some great advice to those at our table and was very supportive about challenges with gender inequality we experienced.

Debra Nakatomi, President of Nakatomi & Associates is a long-time supporter of the Girl Scouts among other ethical and environmental organisations. She talked of the importance of bringing a caring, compassionate leadership to the workplace. "Soft skills are a valuable part of being a good leader," she says. She also emphasized the importance of having good mentors since any successful person has had to benefit from the support of someone who opened the door for them to be successful in their career. It's important, she said, to also find "joyfulness" in life by surrounding yourself with good, supportive people.

Jan Yanehiro has been a successful journalist and media personality in the US for many years. She talked of the importance of listening to your inner voice to tell you what moves to make in life and career. She discussed a big risk in her life when she had to leave a lucrative job to try something new, but her inner voice told her it was right and it turned into a successful career move. "Don't be afraid to move to different jobs no matter where they are around the world," she reminded the international women in the room.

Another media personality, Aiko Doden is a Senior Commentator at NHK. She spent her childhood in the UK and educated in America yet works for quite a traditional Japanese company. She was the first figure in Japanese media to benefit from the Equal employment Act. She added the importance of being professional and humble in business in Japan. She also reported that both men and women working at NHK
seem to be taking the opportunity to work more flexible hours.

Some interesting key targets for diversity came out later from the group discussions. The call for work-life balance for both men and women, develop good communication skills, take credit when you do something well, ask for help from others at work, be your own cheerleader, be passionate about what you do, but not emotional. Take time to network and make alliances within your own workplace, and find ways to develop and improve on your skills whenever you can.

The final session I attended was a leadership training workshop where we discussed and observed images that showed how everyone holds some kinds of unconscious bias. This leads to a realization that everyone around us also has unconscious bias, which is impossible to turn off, and may be affecting how minority groups (like women) are perceived by the majority.

In some ways, this part of the session was depressing as there seems to be nothing you can do to change the way others perceive you or create a bias against you.

However, it highlighted the need for more women to be put in positions of authority to create more opportunities for other women to be appreciated and "seen" for the good work they do.

It is also important to keep working on being positive, showing your skills, being actively involved in the work you do as well as pointing out the successes you have. Speak out at work and in meetings or discussions in order to be more visible. This should start to work in your favor over time and change the opinions of anyone who may have a bias against you. Having more people challenging the stereotype profile can create change in perception and benefits for equality down the road.

This also highlights a need for blind promotions in the workplace to be fair to all minority groups, applicants should submit tests or assessments without their names attached to see if they are suited for promotion or not. Sakie Fukushima had said that in her keynote speech at the beginning of the day, she has met many company executives who admit that if applicants were recruited on merits alone, they would be hiring 70% more females than males each year.

There was so much positive energy at the summit, I hope we can all feel encouraged and inspired to keep doing our best at what we do- and love it!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hiroshima Flower Festival Yosakoi Dance Parade よさこい

Every year in Hiroshima city, a 3 day Flower festival is held which fills the city with hundreds of thousands of people enjoying the entertainment on different stages, parades on the first and last day and countless Japanese and international food stalls and game stalls.

Our family go every year and one of my favorite things to watch is the dance parade held on the 3rd day called "Yosakoi". Yosakoi dance groups all have to use some of the same techniques and dance moves, many of the troupes also use the Japanese clapper instrument and Japanese fans. 

This year (2013) it was amazing weather, sunny with blue skies all day. The parade started at midday and featured Yosakoi dance troupes from around Hiroshima and other regions throughout Japan.    

You can see in the pictures in the above slideshow and in the video below how much practice goes into these performances. It is also impressive to see how enthusiastic and full of energy the dancers are, it is impossible not to feel impressed and excited while watching.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Japanese New Year's Post Cards & Sending Etiquette

Now, it's the beginning of December, time to think of designing and writing out your New Year's cards!

If you make your order of New Year cards by December 10th, you can get a discount on the price of the cards. We usually order through our local photo lab and get half of them made with the stamp already on them, as well as the lottery code numbers, and half of them without the stamps that we send abroad to family and friends. It takes a week to 10 days to get personalized New Year cards made with your own photo on it. It usually costs about 10,000 yen for 100 postcards (including domestic stamp).

I made the mistake in years past of ordering the postcards from abroad but when they came, they are not standard size for Japan and I had to trim them or pay a higher price to send them. Also, people in Japan enjoy getting the lottery numbers on the cards as they can win prizes if the numbers are picked at the end of the year (apparently the lucky numbers are posted in the newspaper).

When you send them, the postboxes will soon have a side for new year's cards only and if you put them in that slot, they will be stored and sorted to be delivered on New Year's day. This is in line with the tradition and people are very impressed if you are able to get yours into this first delivery. Any cards posted after the 20th will be delivered on the days following New Year's.

If you receive a card from someone and forgot or didn't plan on sending one to them, it is good etiquette to send a card back. You can buy readymade New Year cards at supermarkets and convenience stores. Just write a quick message and your name and address and pop it in the postbox. The Japanese post is very efficient and it will only take a day or two at the most to be delivered, even during the holiday period!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Asian Studies Conference 2012

Like many, I have been teaching for many years now and the teaching seminars and lectures often offer a few interesting gems, but there is rarely anything groundbreaking happening at JALT and other ELT conferences in Japan. Then I heard about the Asian studies conference in Tokyo at the end of June and I was intrigued.

Rikkyo University, Ikebukuro (Tokyo) 
Although not a scholar of Asian studies myself, I was intrigued by the many topics looking closely at Art, Gender, Nutrition, Environment, History and Society in Japan and Asia. So I made my way to the beautiful campus of Rikkyo university in Ikebukuro, Tokyo early on a Saturday morning. I am often nervous heading through the labyrinth of shoots and tunnels big stations in Tokyo seem to excel in creating, but I was lucky to have many helpful people point me in the right direction. I took the first Shinkansen from Hiroshima (6am- is early, but at least Doutor coffee shop was open in the station) and arrived to Tokyo station just after 10am, transferred to the super-clean and efficient Yamanote-line and arrived at the Ikebukuro campus of Rikkyo University by 10:30. When I registered, I was impressed with the bargain price. This 2 day conference- hosting presentations from academics from across the globe only cost 5,000 yen for non-member registration on the day. (Compare this to JALT's PanSig 2 day at Hirodai for 10,000 at site, or JALT national conference's 20,000yen for a 2 day conference for members who pre-register)

The presentations were very interesting despite many presenters simply reading out their presentations from a sheet of paper without the benefit of any images or photos of reference for the audience. By the way, if any readers are interested in presenting well, Garr Reynolds is a guru of the perfect Presentation model, his website easily presents the good and bad of power-point and other presentation aspects. Unfortunately, although Garr is based in Japan, he was presenting at the TEDxTokyo conference on the same day.
However, I digress, despite the lack of bells and whistles, the research and information of the papers were still very interesting, informative and overall quite inspiring. The audience was also quite impressive, coming up with new anecdotes and other related research to add or contrast with ideas presented during the discussion period at the end of a session.

The full list of presentation topics and presenter's names and affiliations can be seen on the ASCJ website.

Gender, Family and Nutrition
Some of most impressive ideas that stayed with me were about Shokuiku and the female focused nutrition education of mothers in Japan to encourage family eating time and healthy, Japanese food choices. It seems, like many other aspects of family and child-raising in Japan to be another way to guilt women, especially working women, about not being perfect mothers. The presenters were doing PhD thesis' on the topic from the different angles, comparison of "family eating time" importance between Japan, Korea and Australia revealed a few interesting differences in attitude toward eating alone (Wakako Takeda, ANU). The next presenter built on the ideas that Takeda had presented, but added her research in supermarkets in Japan where she found that despite women not recognizing the term Shokuiku, they were already doing the practices recommended by the "experts" like Mr.Shokuiku, Hattori- author of the best-selling Japanese book [食いくのすすめ」"Recommendations for Nutritional education". However, his teachings are seriously biased as advice and criticisms are limited to women, mothers, wives and grandmothers without ever even mentioning men, fathers, husbands or grandfathers in the book. (Aiko Kojima, UofChicago).

There were another couple of interesting presentations on Gender and Media as two of the researchers had interviewed and observed popular Japanese talk shows. Typically a researcher of a Asa-bangumi found women to appear nameless on screen and treated with a lack of respect off screen, and hired for their ability to act (show expression) more than speak (Elizabeth Rodwell Marks, Rice University). In the Wide Show study women were often berated as horrid, jealous and emotionally out of control perpetrators of crime. And when when they were victims of crime, they were blamed and berated for being too weak or stupid to avoid the problem. (Michelle Hui Shan Ho, Tokyo university).

There were a few related themes to nutrition and social eating in Japan happening in other sessions. One presenter talked of the politics of "meat" in the missionary communities in Nagasaki. There was a lot of political propaganda surrounding the ousting of the Portuguese missionaries by portraying them as cannibals who ate the body parts of Lepers they took care of. He also discussed how the missionaries would also get locals to join their church by drawing them in with tales of eating "healthy" meat. Reminded me of the stories in the historically derived book about Nagasaki in those days written by David Mitchell. (Andres Perez Riobo, Ritsumeikan University).

Then a presenter doing her PhD at Harvard promoted the positive aspects of "Gakushoku" which included social bonding and maintaining of Japanese culture through shared school lunches. This presentation was frustrating because it never once mentioned any problems with this system. Of course there are good points to the system, but it is also very political and flawed when adjusting to change or individual need. After Fukushima, school-children in the area were still forced to eat the school lunch even if their parents wanted to send a bento for fear of food safety. Of course, some schools were testing food for safety of their own initiative, but not others. In my own personal interactions with the inflexible school lunch, we have battled with "untraditional" dishes like kitsune udon (usually vegetarian) with the unnecessary (and unconventional addition of meat) since our kids are vegetarians. We have also had to go back and forth with the teacher, and board of education that oversees school meals, over the school milk mandate post-Fukushima. I was also appalled when they insisted on serving whale to all students in Hiroshima public schools 6 mos after Fukushima without any indication of the whale meat's safety. It seemed like nothing other than a propaganda strategy to get kids to support a dying and unnecessary industry. Many public school policies, which function in the status quo, do not adjust well to change no matter how necessary. 

Modern Art in Japan & Japanese Art Abroad
I was impressed by the passion for art with this panel, there was a lively discussion about the legitimacy of all aspects of modern art including the controversial "Bye Bye Kitty" project to other Japanese artists who are becoming increasingly popular abroad in the "Japanica" boom. One artist that was often mentioned is Tabaimo as her work is creating quite a stir in Japan and abroad as she depicts Japanese cultural and traditional themes in dark and surreal ways. There was some discussion about reviewing what was legitimate art, the consensus being that judging modern art is very subject and attaching value extremely difficult since it is closely related to fashion, music and almost anything in modern culture. But keeping an eye on what the public is intrigued by is important for art reviewers, museum 'gate-keepers' and others in the art world to keep in mind.

Can I eat that? Attitudes toward food safety in Japan after Fukushima
On the last day, I made it in time for an interesting discussion on the safety issues of food in Japan post-Fukushima. There were three Anthropologists who had done interviews and research in the Tohoku areas since the disaster and were presenting their findings. A researcher from Princeton reflected on her experiences working with people in the fishing industry who did not want to leave the area despite the hardships and lack of public support in their products even when they were testing and found the contamination to be at safe levels. (Satsuki Takahashi, Princeton).
Another researcher told of his talks with people who had been organic farmers before the accident in the area. He also relayed experiences with those working in contaminated areas who were vigilant in  testing the safety of food and drink, but who were worried about other areas further away who were not being as serious about testing for food safety- despite having had significant exposure to radiation. (Nicolas Sternsdorff, Harvard).
In the discussion, a worried audience member who says she herself is from Fukushima was asking questions about the safety of eating contaminated food everyday and what exactly would happen. The panelists couldn't really answer her with any authority and we could all sympathize with her plight as there is so much misinformation and a basic lack of medical research in this area despite the history of nuclear accidents worldwide.

I noted that experts in Hiroshima, like Bo Jacobs, have argued from early on that consumers should not feel obliged to eat contaminated foods, nor should producers feel forced to stay and work in dangerous conditions. Indeed the government should offer a fair deal of compensation for residents, fisherpeople, farmers and others to be able to move and set-up their lives in safer parts of the country. A member of the audience who identified herself as a Biological anthropologist said she recently revisited Fukushima with her family and went armed with a geiger counter and was surprised at how low the readings were in the parks and areas she visited. Sternsdorff then commented on the radiation cleaning methods he saw in use on farms by blasting trees, building and anywhere affected with high powered water hoses.
Also, the issue was raised of external and internal exposure to radiation and the added danger for children to be exposed as their cells multiply faster than adults. The recently highlighted attitude of the elderly in the area to take on more dangerous jobs cleaning up radiation, working in the Fukushima plant, farming or even eating contaminated products has been in the news recently. This amazing attitude of self-sacrifice to spare the younger generation is honorable and an amazing part of the Japanese community.
The Discussant mentioned that many people were equating whether or not to evacuate the affected areas around Fukushima with the debate after Katrina about whether or not to re-populate New Orleans. I would argue that unless New Orleans was dangerous to resettle in for the next 30 years, then there isn't much of a comparison.

I hope if any of you have the chance, you'll also choose to attend this worthwhile Asian Studies conference in Japan or another country someday.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Redistribution of Radioactive Debris a Serious Risk

Families protest the acceptance of debris in Kokura (near Kitakyushu)

In a world that doesn't rely on common sense at times, we have seen a dangerously bad Japanese government policy snowball into an irrational national policy of redistribution of radioactive debris from Fukushima to other prefectures around the country. There have been protests and rallies against it, to no avail. According to our local nuclear expert, Bo Jacobs when I asked what the government could possibly be thinking: 

"I think that they believe that if it is all burned in Fukushima-ken then it will become even more of a no-go zone. They believe they can remediate the land, even though this has never been done before. Also there is some thought that if everyone learned to become accustomed to low levels of contamination the stigma would be removed from Fukushima....
Experts who work for industry tell them that there is no danger in low exposures, even though there is no science to back this up. Since they can't imagine abandoning a large area for decades, they believe the people who say that it "may" be possible to decontaminate.

These experts say that people just need to get over their fear, and this program, burning the debris in every prefecture, will help accomplish this."

It doesn't make any sense and although it is good to see locals protesting the trucks and boats bringing it to their areas, there seems little fighting it now that the decision has been made. According to the blog: cinemaforumfukushima.org the debris has reached and been burned at the Kitakyushu plant despite the protests. They offer a means of making your voice heard by calling or faxing the local government to let them know you disagree with the policy (if you are contacting them from within Japan, drop the 81 and add an 0 before the 93): 

**Please send your voice to the mayor of Kitakyushu, Kenji KITAHASHI , at the Mayor office phone number +81-93-582-2127 , or +81-93-582-2411.  Leave your comment to the Kitakyushu Mayor’s office website, and see English translated instruction. To fax the mayor  at +81-93562-0701 via internet free fax services!

A better solution would be to create huge, safe storage in the Fukushima no-go zone (where it is anyway) since no one is living there and will not be for a very long time. Burning it would send it to other areas and transporting it outside of Fukushima to burn it is definitely sending radioactivity where it doesn't need to be, affecting many more innocent people all over Japan.  It is one of the worst policies endangering human health made post-Fukushima. 

There is no evidence to prove that low levels of radiation are okay- so why is the government willing to put everyone at risk?