Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Typical Japanese Pet Shop

In my city Inzai, there is a pet shop named "PETCITY"

The relationship between pets and their masters continues to evolve into a phenomenon that the Japanese have never experienced in their past. Let's visit a typical pet shop to see what today's situation is. Now we see the sign of the "PETCITY" in a commercial complex of my city Inzai.

The entrance of the pet shop

Dog Prams
 Today, not only do the masters of dogs become aged but also their pets. Some dogs are too aged to walk normally any more. Still they like to go out with their masters. In order to let them enjoy the pleasure of having a walk together, the master and the pet, to the last moment, pet prams are indispensable.

There's more to the need of dog prams. In Japan, the majority of the dogs are miniature-sized and live in big cities. These small dogs can be easity stepped upon in the crowd by careless people. In addition, some dogs are too delicate to walk on the overheated pavement during the hot summer season.

In public transport, dogs must be confined in a cage. Certain types of dog prams function as a dog cage. More and more dog masters come to find the usefulness of dog prams.

A large space is for dog clothes.

Today dogs are real family members. Most of the Japanese dog masters call their dogs "Uchi-no ko", literally meaning "the child of my home". As "parents", the masters try to do their best to ensure the well-being of their "children". Why not buy pretty clothes for their children.

The clothes are for different occasions.

There are casual clothes, sporty clothes, dress-type clothes depending on different "social" occasions.

Mannequin dogs show how to wear dog clothes.

One corner of the pet shop is a beauty parlor for dogs. Saturday, it seemed fully booked.

I hope you could have a glance over the master-pet relationship of Japan.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rice transplanting

[2011/05/02  Inzai, Chiba-ken]
Rice paddy with rice plants transplanted.
A farmers' family working on the field.

[2011/05/02  Inzai, Chiba-ken]
A rice-transplanting machine on the paddy

[2011/05/02  Inzai, Chiba-ken]
Before the advent of this machine, rice plants were
transplanted one by one by hand.

[2011/05/02  Inzai, Chiba-ken]
Rice plants have been raised on cassettes like this
in the green house.

[2011/05/02  Inzai, Chiba-ken]
Before setting the cassettes on the machine, extra roots
of the plants have to be scraped off. If not, even the wise
machine couldn't pull out the plants smoothly.
This 12-year-old boy was helping his father.
Rice transplanting has been, for thousands of years, one of the most important annual events for the Japanese. After the postwar mechanization of rice transplanting, the festive mood of this work is no longer there, but for many Japanese, observing this rite is something never to miss.

Why don't Japanese farmers sow rice grains directly on the paddies?  Well, the climate of Japan doesn't allow this. By raising young rice plants in the hothouse until they become strong enough to resist the cold, the Japanese ancestors have kept on succeeding in expanding rice-growing regions from the south even to Hokkaido island. This system was a great technological breakthrough in rice farming.

Rice could be grown on dry fields too. But water-flooded rice paddies are superior. The flooded rice paddy was another technological breakthrough. In the water of the paddies nitrogen-fixing algae multiply, thus giving extra nutrients to the rice plants. Thanks to this system, farmers need less fertilizer. Further they can continue using the paddies for thousands of years on end without giving them rest time, because of the continuous supply mechanism of nutrients into the paddies by algae. And more, flooded rice paddies won't cause dust problems in the farming areas. And more, because of the water in the paddies, hundreds of species can survive in the environment of the rice growing farms. In short, rice paddies are a highly environment-friendly system.

For me personally, it is a great pleasure doing cycling in the rice paddy farming areas, observing the growth of rice and other seasonal changes until the autumn harvest season.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Season to eat bamboo

[15 April 2011 Inzai, Chiba-ken]
Bamboos grow naturally all over Japan.

[15 April 2011 Inzai, Chiba-ken]
There are unmanned kiosks like this run by farmers.
They sell bamboo shoots in this season.

[23 April 2011 Inzai, Chiba-ken]
Bamboo shoots are cut, peeled, and boiled. 

[23 April 2011 Inzai, Chiba-ken]
An example of cookings using bamboo shoots.
Seasoned rice with pieces of bamboo shoots.

[23 April 2011 Inzai, Chiba-ken]
Another example. Very simple bamboo cooking.
In biodiversity-rich Japan, eating edible parts of wild plants that symbolize certain phases of changing seasons has become something that we cannot miss. By eating them we appreciate the happiness of living in the environment surrounded by rich nature.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Friend in Need: help to rehabilitate Japan

On behalf of my compatriots who suffered a lot because of the disaster of 11 March, I cannot thank enough for the warm help extended by many people, organizations, and governments of the world.

The Rehabilitation of the hard-hit areas will take many years. Continued help will be necessary and appreciated.

I shouldn't compare the immediate relief helps given to my distressed countrymen by the governments of the world because each was precious and valuable. However, I still cannot help mentioning the outstanding "Operation Tomodachi" by the US government that ended on 15 April. That reminded me of the famous proverb "A friend in need is a friend indeed". I am convinced that the Americans have succeeded in impressing many Japanese that the Americans are friends indeed. As a result, I predict that the Americans will continue to see for the coming, at least, one-generation period (20 years), the effects of this operation.

From now on, Japan needs to rehabilitate itself very rapidly, that means, to come back to the normal life of the days before 11 March, when the top newspaper article for many days was the cheating in entrance exam for universities done by a young boy.

What can the world do to help Japan rehabilitate? The answer is very simple. That is to treat Japan just as a normal country.

In this respect, the worst behavior by an individual or a government is to treat Japan and the Japanese as if they were untouchables. For example, checking incoming Japanese tourists with a Geiger counter and with a negligible count, taking them into a hospital. Or, stopping imported industrial products in fear of radiation those machines might contain. Or continuing advising its citizens not to visit Japan. Such hysteric behaviors are caused by excessive fear of radiation not based on scientific knowledge. Whatever the reason for such behavior be, it will be remembered by the Japanese for the coming, at least, one-generation period to form their attitude to that country.

So to help Japan and create pro-your-country Japanese, now is a very crucial moment. And let me tell you that one way to help Japan is to lift restrictions or governmental advice to discourage people to visit Japan.

A few pieces of good news have arrived. By 19 April, Denmark, UK, Sweden, Korea, Australia, Canada, USA, France, Austria, Russia, Hong Kong have lifted their advice not to visit Japan, except for the immediate areas surrounding the problematic Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Very impressive and encouraging comment was from the Russian government that says the levels of radiation in the air in Tokyo is about half of those in Moscow.

I want to hug any Russian who I may encounter in the street in Tokyo.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Japanese love of cherry blossoms

10 May 2011, Hokusou-hanano-oka Park, Chiba-ken
Cherry blossoms look like a mass of mist.

10 May 2011, Hokusou-hanano-oka Park, Chiba-ken
No festivals, nevertheless people come to admire
cherry blossoms. 

10 May 2011, Hokusou-hanano-oka Park, Chiba-ken
In a couple, in a small group ...

12 May 2011, Hokusou-hanano-oka Park, Chiba-ken
Some enjoy viewing them at night.

14 May 2011, Hokusou-hanano-oka Park, Chiba-ken
Cherry blossoms end by letting petals off like blizzard.

14 May 2011, Hokusou-hanano-oka Park, Chiba-ken
Fallen cherry blossom petals scattered on the ground.

Why do the Japanese love cherry blossoms so much?

There seem to be several important reasons, for example....

1. Time to get pepped up
In ancient Japan, more than 90% of our ancestors were rice-growing farmers. Blooming cherry blossoms meant it was time to start working on the rice paddies. To get pepped up for work, festive atmosphere of cherry blossom viewing must have been quite important.

2. Color of the cherry blossoms
The most favored cultivar of the cherry species is "somei-yoshino". The color of its flower petal seems almost pure white. But for the Japanese, it is pink. Pink represents life and vitality like slight flush appearing on pale skin. After long lifeless winter, now starts whole life again. This color naturally excites the Japanese, even makes them amorous.

3. Short life of the blossoms
After the first blossom, it takes about 10 days for the tree to become in full bloom. Then within a few days after full bloom, all the flowers are gone. In total, less than 2 weeks. So, in order not to miss the chance of viewing the year's blossoms at their best, the Japanese get hyper more or less.

4. Beautiful ending
Samurai who spent their life in battle fields hated anything ominous that suggested short life or losing head. For example, fish was always served with head. Serving fish without head was a serious affront. Even today, fish served with head is a widespread way. But even, samurai couldn't refuse the beauty of cherry blossoms. The made exception for cherry blossoms, saying "cherry blossoms teach us moral lesson. They teach us that we must die without hesitation when necessary. Look at the beautiful way of ending their life." Yes, cherry blossoms end in blizzard of petals. Very beautiful indeed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Japanese are not in the mood for merry cherry blossom festivals.

I was walking through my neighboring park and saw a small notice attached on a light pole. It said in Japanese "Sorry, this park's cherry blossom festival is cancelled. for this year."

At home, I searched through the Internet using Google Search with two Japanese key words meaning "cherry blossom festival" and "cancellation" and hit 849,000 search results. Even American base Misawa's cherry blossom festival was cancelled.

Since at least the Heian period that starts in 794, the Japanese have found the greatest seasonal pleasure of the whole year in cherry blossom viewing, picnic, and parties.

While cherry trees are at their best that last for a few days, many Japanese who are generally reserved in their behavior forget about that and get together with friends, family members, and colleagues under the cherry trees and chat, eat, drink, sing, and even dance during the daytime and even at night.

This phenomenon, cancelling any cheerful annual event throughout the country, simply means that the Japanese are still in the mourning for the loss caused by the triple disaster.

Personally I think it is about time we started to get back to normal life, but I also understand the deep wound left in the minds of  many people.

Then how long will the mourning of the Japanese as a nation last? Traditionally when someone dies, his or her family enters in the mourning for 49 days. According to the Japanese Buddhism, a dead person travels 49 days before arriving in front of the Judge Emma of the death world who will decide in which of the 6 worlds of reincarnation he or she should be reborn, or whether he or she should be merited to enter the eternal paradise of Buddha separated from the eternal cycle of metempsychosis. So the bereaved must pray earnestly so that the deceased be allowed to enter the eternal Paradise, or at least, not to be condemned by the Judge Emma to the worst of the six worlds, the Hell.

The important 49th day, including the day of the decease according to the tradition, from 11th March falls on 28th April.

Will Japan finish the period of mourning on this day? I don't know. If the parents die, traditionally, their children are supposed to be in the mourning for 12 to 13 months.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Waku-waku Hiroba" : evolution of farmers' markets in Japan.

In every country of the world, there must be farmers' markets, where farmers sell their products directly to consumers, maximizing their income by excluding middlemen and retailers.

There are many different forms of farmers' markets in Japan.

Asaichi, or morning markets: Farmers around cities bring their products to the town squares or roadside spaces, forming active markets. This tradition is becoming less and less common, though.
Unmanned produce stores (huts): In the country not too far from cities, they are run by individual farmers.

Large-scale farmers' markets at "Road Stations": Road station project started in the 1990's by the government to provide drivers with parking and restroom facilities alongside arterials. Today there are about 970 road stations nationwide and majority of them include large successful farmers' markets for local products.

Stimulated by the success of road station farmers' markets, groups of farmers and JA(Japan Agricultural Co-operatives) constructed similar farmers' markets all over Japan. Many of them are doing sufficiently good business.

Now, the main subject: "Waku-waku Hiroba", a type of farmers' market as collaboration of farmers and retailers.

Simply speaking, a businessman got interested in the booming farmers' markets and made a new model. The business provides market facilities, advertises, and sales, so as soon as the farmers finish packaging, pricing, and displaying their produce, they go back home to work on their fields.

Then what's the difference between ordinary supermarkets and Waku-waku?

Waku-waku only sells as the  farmers'  sales clerks, that is, if the packages are not sold, that's the loss of the farmers, not of Waku-waku, thus farmers are still responsible for the decision of what and how much to bring in, what prices to put, but they can save money, time, and labor necessary for setting up sales spaces and selling. For this service, farmers pay 20% of the total sales amount.

This system seems to be win-win for three parties involved.
Waku-waku: no bad stock, good money flow
The farmers: no investment, free decision, saving investment, time and labor of sales
The consumers: freshness, cheaper prices, and safety of the food

How can it be safe?
Each package carries not only prices but also the name of the farmer who has produced it, thus some clients become fans of farmers who provide what they demand: safe food. In the quasi face-to-face community of producers and consumers at Waku-waku, farmers' pride won't allow them to supply low-quality food.

price label with producer's name and address