But what about the country at the other end of the spectrum? What is the role of guns in Japan, the developed world's least firearm-filled nation and perhaps its strictest controller? In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.
Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country's infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.
Bluefin tuna are being caught faster than they can reproduce, which is terrible news for bluefin tuna and people who like to eat them (but seriously for the tuna). These fish are awesome, and I didn't know farming tuna was possible, but it is, with a few caveats. Bluefin in captivity don't procreate unless they're shot with a hormone-tipped spear gun (really). Also, the fish the bluefin are fed still have to come from somewhere, so calling farm raised fish sustainable is something of a misnomer. More sustainable though. I loved this video from Perennial Plate looking at a Japanese tuna farmer. The farmer seems so happy (but does not consider himself a conservationist).
Sukiyabashi Jiro is a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo that many say serves the best sushi in the world. The chef/owner, 86-year-old Jiro Ono, was the subject of last year's excellent Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary film.
Adam Goldberg of A Life Worth Eating ate at Sukiyabashi Jiro yesterday. The meal was 21 courses, about US$380 per person (according the web site, excluding drinks), and lasted only 19 minutes. That's more than a course a minute and, Goldberg estimates, around $20 per person per minute. And apparently totally worth it.
Three slices of tuna came next, akami, chu-toro, and oo-toro increasing from lean, to medium fatty, to extremely fatty cuts. The akami (lean toro) was the most tender slice of tuna I've ever tasted that did not contain noticeable marbelization. The tuna was marinated in soy sauce for several minutes before service, perhaps contributing to this unique texture. The medium fatty tuna had an interesting mix of crunch and fat, while the fatty tuna just completely melted in my mouth. My friend with whom I shared this meal began to tear (I kid you not).
The sushi courses came out at a rate of one per minute. 19 courses in 19 minutes. No ordering, no real talking -- just making sushi and eating sushi. After the sushi is done you are motioned to leave the sushi bar and sit at a booth where you are served your melon. We took that melon at a leisurely 10 minute pace, leaving us with a bill of over $300 per person for just under 30 minutes time. Nastassia and Mark thought the pace was absurd and unpleasant. They felt obliged to keep up with Jiro's pace. I didn't feel obliged, but kept up anyway. I didn't mind the speed. I could have easily eaten even faster, but I'm an inhuman eating machine -- or so I'm told. At the end of the meal, Jiro went outside the restaurant and stood guard at the entrance, waiting to bid us formal adieu. This made Nastassia even more nervous about rushing to get out. Not me. At over 10 dollars a minute I have no problem letting an 86 year old man stand and wait for me to finish my melon if he wants to.
The values were almost comparable to general Japanese workplace values, actually. Most yakuza gangs actually have neighborhood offices, and the plaques they have on the door state core values like "respect your superiors," "keep the office clean," and so on.
One thing I noticed early on with gang life was how subtle everything was. Everything was unspoken, and will was expressed through group pressure. A pressure was constantly there. There was this innate understanding of form-if someone did something wrong, no one would say anything; he would simply be expected to apologize. And the fact everyone would be so silent about it made the pressure really intense.
Imagine going into an espresso bar, as I did in Tokyo, ordering a single shot, and being told that it's not on offer. The counter at No. 8 Bear Pond may feature the shiniest, spiffiest, newest La Marzocco, as well as a Rube Goldberg-esque water-filtration system, but the menu, which lists lattes and Americanos, makes no mention of espresso or cappuccino.
"My boss won't let me make espressos," says the barista. "I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos."
Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe's owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond's main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.
This is a nice story for the afternoon. During the cleanup process following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, citizens have turned in tons of wallets containing $48 million. 5,700 safes washed out to sea in the tsunami have been recovered containing another $30 million. Most of this has been returned to the owners. This is the type of story that makes me say, "Please don't be fake, please don't be fake," as I click submit.
For the vast majority of people, nuclear power is a black box technology. Radioactive stuff goes in. Electricity (and nuclear waste) comes out. Somewhere in there, we're aware that explosions and meltdowns can happen. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that set of information is enough to get by on. But, then, an emergency like this happens and, suddenly, keeping up-to-date on the news feels like you've walked in on the middle of a movie. Nobody pauses to catch you up on all the stuff you missed.
As I write this, it's still not clear how bad, or how big, the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will be. I don't know enough to speculate on that. I'm not sure anyone does. But I can give you a clearer picture of what's inside the black box. That way, whatever happens at Fukushima, you'll understand why it's happening, and what it means.
Even with the release of steam, the pressure and temperature inside Unit 1 continued to increase. The high temperatures inside the reactor caused the protective zirconium cladding on the uranium fuel rods to react with steam inside the reactor to form zirconium oxide and hydrogen. This hydrogen leaked into the building that surrounded the reactor and ignited, damaging the surrounding building but without damaging the reactor vessel itself. Because the reactor vessel has not been compromised, the release of radiation should be minimal. It appears that a very similar situation has occurred at Unit 3 and that hydrogen is again responsible for the explosion seen there.
Of immediate concern is the prospect of a so-called "meltdown" at one or more of the Japanese reactors. But part of the problem in understanding the potential dangers is continued indiscriminate use, by experts and the media, of this inherently frightening term without explanation or perspective. There are varying degrees of melting or meltdown of the nuclear fuel rods in a given reactor; but there are also multiple safety systems, or containment barriers, in a given plant's design that are intended to keep radioactive materials from escaping into the general environment in the event of a partial or complete meltdown of the reactor core. Finally, there are the steps taken by a plant's operators to try to bring the nuclear emergency under control before these containment barriers are breached.
Had any other populous country suffered the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that shook Japan on Friday, tens of thousands of people might already be counted among the dead. So far, Japan's death toll is in the hundreds, although it is certain to rise somewhat.
Over the years, Japan has spent billions of dollars developing the most advanced technology against earthquakes and tsunamis. The Japanese, who regularly experience smaller earthquakes and have lived through major ones, know how to react to quakes and tsunamis because of regular drills -- unlike Southeast Asians, many of whom died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because they lingered near the coast despite clear warnings to flee.
If you haven't already heard, Al-Jazeera had (and continues to have) some of the best coverage of earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Here's a clip from earlier showing the tsunami rushing through a populated area.
Contrast with CNN, which was apparently home to giggles and Godzilla jokes as the quake was being reported. In the last three or four big events in the world, Al-Jazeera has had the best coverage...is this a changing of the guard?
We did find an example of an American in Japan that made a reference that it was like a "monster movie" (which is included below) but Church handles herself completely appropriately.
Update: Mediaite found a video of the CNN broadcast in question where the anchor chuckles at something her interviewee says. And her whole tone sounds a bit more chipper than it ought to. The sing-song anchor voice might suffice when reporting non-news filler but fails when watching video of dozens of homes (possibly with people in them!) being swept along by a massive wave of water. (via @somebadideas)
The United States Geological Survey said the earthquake had a magnitude of 8.9, and occurred at about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo and at a revised depth of about 17 miles. The Japanese Meteorological Agency said the quake had a magnitude of 8.8, which would make it among the biggest in a century.
The quake occurred at 2:46 p.m. Tokyo time and hit off Honshu, Japan's most populous island. The quake was so powerful that buildings in central Tokyo, designed to withstand major earthquakes, swayed.
The Cove is a 2009 documentary film documenting the annual killing of more than 2,500 dolphins in a cove at Taiji, Wakayama in Japan. The film was directed by former National Geographic photographer Louis Psihoyos, and was filmed secretly during 2007 using underwater microphones and high-definition cameras disguised as rocks.
When I joined the couple for lunch at their favorite all-you-can-eat salad bar in the Tokyo suburb of Hachioji, he insisted on being called only by this new nickname, addressing his body-pillow girlfriend using the suffix "tan" to show how much he adored her. Nemutan is 10, maybe 12 years old and wears a little blue bikini and gold ribbons in her hair. Nisan knows she's not real, but that hasn't stopped him from loving her just the same. "Of course she's my girlfriend," he said, widening his eyes as if shocked by the question. "I have real feelings for her."
Japanese kitchen knives cost more than a camera, they can't be washed in a machine, are subject to rusting and boy, they are so sharp that if you slip you'll lose a finger or two before you can say banzai. There is no doubt that these are the best knives in the world. Nothing comes close to them in terms of sharpness. With one of these knives, you could slice fish so thin you could read a whole chapter of La Physiologie du Gout through the slices. Earlier this month, I had the chance to see how knives are made in Japan like they have been for the last 200 years.
The connoisseur picks out from the menu the girl of his choice, dressed either as a schoolgirl or office receptionist. This girl then beckons him through the window of a mock-up train carriage, which not only broadcasts station announcements, but even shakes and rattles.
Real-life incidents of subway train groping are on the decline, in part because more women are reporting them and the subway offering women-only cars during peak times.
A month after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the US government imposed a code of censorship in Japan, which means that photos of the effects of the nuclear device are somewhat difficult to come by. Enter diner owner Don Levy of Watertown, MA.
One rainy night eight years ago, in Watertown, Massachusetts, a man was taking his dog for a walk. On the curb, in front of a neighbor's house, he spotted a pile of trash: old mattresses, cardboard boxes, a few broken lamps. Amidst the garbage he caught sight of a battered suitcase. He bent down, turned the case on its side and popped the clasps.
He was surprised to discover that the suitcase was full of black-and-white photographs. He was even more astonished by their subject matter: devastated buildings, twisted girders, broken bridges -- snapshots from an annihilated city. He quickly closed the case and made his way back home.
Reduced exercise, the adoption of western foods and an aging population have made Japanese men about 10 percent heavier than they were 30 years ago, ministry statistics show. Women are 6.4 percent fatter.
The ministry estimates that half of men over age 40 and 20 percent of women will be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. For men, a key yardstick is whether they have a waistline wider than 85 centimeters (33.5 inches). Body mass, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and smoking will also be taken into account.
Japanese researchers have developed "melody roads" that play tunes when you drive on them. You could use this technique for traffic calming...i.e. the road plays music only when you're driving the speed limit and hope that there's no second-order melody that plays at two times the speed limit to entice highway hackers to speed for forbidden tunes.
Do Japanese pitchers, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, a new member of the Boston Red Sox, have an extra pitch called the gyroball? "The pitch started on the same course as a changeup, but it barely dipped. It looked like a slider, but it did not break. The gyroball, despite its zany name, is supposed to stay perfectly straight." Nice accompanying infographics as well.
"At elementary schools, kindergartens, and preschools all across Japan, kids are losing themselves making hikaru dorodango, or balls of mud that shine." I really want to make one of these. (via rodcorp)
I've been reading a fair amount of fiction lately, which is not typical for me. My usual regimen of nonfiction followed by even more nonfiction has been wearing on me and I read so much news and short nonfiction pieces in keeping up with kottke.org that I'm getting a little burned out. My latest foray into fiction has been great, a welcome reprieve from a schedule that has been a little brutal recently.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was especially good; I burned through it like I used to do with books when I was in high school. The lives of the characters in the book start out fairly normal but get more and more strange and unsettling as the action proceeds. But from my point of view as a reader, I was overcome by a growing sense of calm as I read. Maybe it was Murakami's quiet storytelling style, but I was especially struck by the duality of self theme running throughout the book. Many of the characters either had two distinct personalities (not in a schizophrenic sense...usually one personality before a dramatic event in their lives and a different one afterwards), talked of leaving their body & looking back on themselves, or had vague feelings that they should be someone else, that some other personality was inside them and couldn't reveal itself. This all ties into Japanese history & culture, eastern religion & philosophy, and Murakami's own experience, but I found it all personally reassuring, a reminder that you could change as a person and still essentially be who you were before or that stepping outside your normal self for a look 'round can be a healthy thing.
 I knew next-to-nothing about Murakami before picking up this book, but when I finished, I did a little poking around. Via Andrea Harner, here's an interview with him from 1997 in Salon. In it, you can definitely see how he feels disconnected with Japan, other Japanese writers, and from his past:
Because it's my father's story, I guess. My father belongs to the generation that fought the war in the 1940s. When I was a kid my father told me stories -- not so many, but it meant a lot to me. I wanted to know what happened then, to my father's generation. It's a kind of inheritance, the memory of it. What I wrote in this book, though, I made up -- it's a fiction, from beginning to end. I just made it up.