Fishing on the tetrapods

On Tuesday, I took a long bike trip from my home in Ayase to Kasai Rinkai Park in Edogawa-ku. While I recover (going long distances on a mamachari can be tiring), I will post some photo highlights (you can see the whole album here).

First up we have this guy fishing on the tetrapods. Not sure what he is trying to catch, but maybe these tetrapods in the middle of the river give him a strategic position away from other fishermen.

This photo was taken from the Kasaibashi bridge.

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Daimonji

Last night was the Gozan Okuribi (五山送り火) in Kyoto, the culmination of the O-bon Japanese festival of the dead, in which giant symbols of fire are ignited on the mountains surrounding the city to help spirits find their way. Watching the fire ignite at 8pm (as with many festivals in Japan, often while drinking) is an ancient tradition in Kyoto, with modern hotels even holding special events on their upper floors. While I was feeling too lazy to actually go out and find a spot where I could see multiple daimonji, as the giant characters are called, go up in flames, the dai character on the east mountains is visible from my house, so I tried to get some photos of it.

All photos taken with Canon 50D. The first photo used the Canon 50mm/1.8f lens and the others used the Canon 100-300 4.5-5.6, a poor quality but extremely cheap telephoto lens. The photos could have been better, and I was reminded that I should pick up a tripod some time for such situations, but the low light capabilities of my new camera continue to impress, and there were a few respectable shots. In the fourth one, notice that you can actually see people hanging around the bonfires.

50 1.8F lens @ 3200ISO, 2.5f, 1/60 sec

100-300mm lens @ 3200ISO, 110mm, f4.5, 1/25 sec

100-300mm lens @ 1600ISO, 300mm, f5.6, 1/13 sec

100-300mm lens @ 3200ISO, 300mm, f5.6, 1/100 sec

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Meet the bicycle parking enforcers

Yesterday evening on the way home I caught Adachi-ku’s bicycle parking enforcers in action:

From Adachi-ku bicycle parking enforcers

The open area outside Ayase Station’s east exit is normally filled with illegally parked bikes (because it basically serves no other function). As in most areas, Adachi-ku bans bike parking near stations except in designated parking lots (there is one that’s free of charge on the south side and several fee-based ones). But in reality, most of the time the only thing stopping people from parking in this area are some old men in yellow vests (apparently officially sanctioned volunteers) who verbally warn people not to park there (even as 5 others are parking their bikes directly behind them).

But about once a week the enforcers come around, and it’s on these days that the park becomes oddly bike-free. On this Saturday in particular I was walking in an area that’s usually so flooded with bikes it’s impossible to walk through comfortably, but when the enforcers came around there were only two or three bikes to be found. Somehow everyone seems to know what day the enforcers will be there.

According to the Adachi-ku homepage, the district only enforces bicycle parking within a 300-meter radius of train stations, as those are the places where offenders concentrate.

If your bicycle is caught by the enforcer’s net outside Ayase Station, you must make your way to the Kita-Ayase relocation center (on foot, presumably). To retrieve a bike that’s been confiscated will cost you 2,000 yen and require you to produce proof that you own the bike along with a working key. Act fast, though – bikes in custody for two months will be “disposed with.” While I don’t know exactly what Adachi-ku does with the orphaned bikes, many abandoned bicycles nationwide end up exported to North Korea,  so if you don’t want to fund Kim Jong Il’s regime, you need to retrieve your bike as soon as possible!

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A Yomiuri photo of bicycles slated for export.

The Wikipedia article on this issue makes an interesting point – in most cases, there are more people who benefit from illegal bike parking than who are adversely affected by it. No one might be explicitly advocating that bikes should be permitted to park wherever they want, but the fact remains that the fee-based parking lots are expensive and often inconvenient. This means that politicians have a hard time taking decisive action as it would upset the population.

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Awesome eclipse pics and video

(Updated with video below)

The solar eclipse this morning was absolutely gorgeous. Watched on NHK’s live streaming coverage, you could see the sunlight flicker as it peeked out from behind the moon.  Here is what it looked like from Iwo Jima:

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Asahi has a nice photo gallery of views from around the country. The full eclipse was only visible on outlying islands in southern Japan, but much of the rest of the country could enjoy a partial eclipse if the weather was right.

NHK will have user-submitted videos on its site momentarily.

Update: Here is some sweet aerial video footage from Asahi Shimbun:

And here is NHK with video and running commentary from Iwo Jima. I love how the scientific terminology like “corona” and “prominence” is in katakana English:

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Campaigning season is a go in Kyoto : Happy science party posters

I was biking home earlier and passed by two guys from the Happiness Realization Party (幸福実現党), the political front for the new-agey religion (cult?) goofily known as Happy Science (幸福の科学), and snapped a few photos of them putting up posters.

Unfortunately I didn’t notice until after or I would have gotten him to pose, but the man you see here putting up the poster is actually the candidate pictured at top, Karube Yoshiteru, the party’s assistant director for Kyoto Prefecture. I will say, whatever their politics are they were at least very open to being photographed, although when you’re a brand new and obscure party you probably are willing to take any scraps of publicity you can get.

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Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 10 of 10) – Sachiko Miyamoto (Happiness Realization Party)

I am wrapping up this profile series on the final night of campaigning. All ten candidates have had their vans drive by my apartment at least once. Since the average time someone can listen to a passing van is about 3 seconds, the candidates’ strategy seems to be “forget about policy, just repeat your name again and again.”

Last but not least is Sachiko Miyamoto, the candidate sponsored by the infamous Happiness Realization Party:

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

The Happiness Realization Party was formed in May of this year as the political wing of Buddhism-based new religion Happy Science, which claims to have somewhere around 10 million followers (compared to between 12-20 million for Soka Gakkai), an enormous rate of growth for a faith that only started in 1986. I am not sure exactly why Happy Science decided now is the time to enter politics, but they seem to be very well-funded and serious about trying to get elected (their resources quite obviously outstrip someone like Osato Ichikawa).I have probably gotten more literature from HRP than anyone else during this election cycle. Also, they make no attempt to hide their affiliation with Happy Science – it says so right there on the literature.

Whatever else the HRP might have wrong with it (and there’s a lot), you cannot accuse them of thinking small. Every proposal they have is radical and sweeping. This video from their official Youtube channel makes it look like they are prepared to conquer the earth just to install a high-speed rail network:

As you can see from the video, the HRP is promising to build nothing less than a utopia in Japan – prosperous, safe, and above all happy. Unfortunately they are light on details on how they could bring this about.

Among their chief policy proposals:

  • Revise the constitution to allow a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if necessary.
  • Eliminate inheritance taxes and consumption taxes.
  • In the cities, “bring work and home closer together” by building offices and residences in the same building.
  • Build an enormous monorail around the entire city of Tokyo.
  • Allow massive immigration and promote reproduction to increase Japan’s population to 300 million by 2050

Some of their most radical proposals can be found in their draft constitution:

  • Make a directly elected president the head of state. The president would have the right to issue presidential orders apart from parliamentary legislation. If an order and legislation contradict each other, the chief justice of the supreme court would decide which to follow. But if there is no decision in two weeks, the presidential order will take precedence.
  • The emperor “and other traditions” would be kept on but with their power limited by law.
  • The chief justice of the supreme court would be directly elected.
  • Payment for public bureaucrats would be based on performance (this would be in their constitution!)
  • “Equal opportunity” and total freedom within the law.
  • The state must always aim to have a small government with low taxes.
  • “The mass media must not abuse their power and must act responsibly to the people.”

I am not sure how exactly this is related to the Happy Science teachings, and frankly I don’t care. Their mythology is complicated to the point that it’s just about impenetrable. All anyone needs to remember is that Happy Science is that it is a personality cult above all else. They believe that the founder Ryuho Okawa had a vision in the 80s that he is essentially the savior of mankind. If you’re interested in learning more I am sure they’d be happy to talk to you.

Career: Miyamoto’s website offers precious little information. She apparently moved around a lot as a kid – born in Itabashi-ku, then moved to Wako-shi in Saitama through middle school followed by Koshigaya for high school. After studying French in college, she worked for the Palace Hotel company for two years until she got married in 1981. From then until deciding to run for office, she has apparently held no job or responsibility besides raising her two boys to adulthood.

Policy: The main point of her candidacy is to spread the message of the national HRP. To do that, in her speeches she constantly repeats that the HRP is “the party of zero consumption taxes.”

In her more detailed campaign literature, she says Tokyo needs a “transportation revolution” with the following main policies: build another highway on top of the most crowded sections of the Shuto Expressway; make intersections and rail crossings “three-dimensional”; and install double-decker train cars for use at rush hour.

Something interesting: Miyamoto is a mysterious blank slate, so I don’t know what to say here.

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

***

And so ends my attempt to humanize these people! Once the election is over I will be back with some reflections on voting and analysis of the results. Just for the record, here is my projection of the winners, in descending order of votes:

  1. Satoru Onishi (DPJ)
  2. Haruhisa Tomotoshi (New Komeito)
  3. Nobuyuki Nakayama (New Komeito)
  4. Yoshie Oshima (JCP)
  5. Naoki Takashima (LDP)
  6. Katsuhiro Suzuki (DPJ)

That’s right, I am predicting the LDP will walk away with just one seat. One anonymous Adachi-ku assembly member put the chances of this happening at “around 70-80%” and I am inclined to agree.

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Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 8 of 10) – Mitsuhisa Asako (Independent)

The last post completed our look at the most credible candidates in this election. The remaining three candidates are considered relative long shots, but they still deserve our attention. First among these minor candidates is Mitsuhisa Asako (39), a former Adachi-ku city assemblyman looking to get back into political office.

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Career: This self-described “samurai” was born and raised in Adachi-ku, close to this Don Quixote discount store. After dropping out of Komazawa University, in 1995 he became the “nation’s youngest” city assemblyman at age 25.

He served three terms in Adachi but then left in 2007 for complicated reasons. After LDP prefectural assemblywoman Yayoi Kondo was elected Adachi-ku mayor in 2007, Asako campaigned for LDP backing in the election to replace her, only to lose to Masatsugu Mihara, a more experienced politician who had lost his bid for re-election to the prefectural assembly in 2005. Not to be discouraged, Asako decided to run anyway under a one-man party “Vibrant Prefectural Politics” (活きる都政). This move turned out to be a costly gamble as Mihara won in a landslide while Asako came in dead last (PDF).

Chances of winning: Basically Asako is seen as a long shot. He had LDP backing during his three terms in the Adachi-ku assembly, but he has been out of office for two years and thus enjoys no official party backing or any voter base to speak of.

According to the Sankei, his strategy is to go after political rival Masatsugu Mihara by wooing away hi’s base of voters who supported Mayor Yayoi Kondo. To that end, Asako has placed a former secretary to Kondo on his campaign staff.

It’s unclear how well this strategy will work since Kondo has come out strongly in support of Mihara, going so far as to appear in posters shaking hands with the incumbent. But as I noted, Mihara is the one candidate who gives the impression of not really giving a crap, so maybe Asako will be satisfied if he can woo just enough voters to kick Mihara to 7th place and thus out of office.

Policy: He is running as a “conservative independent” (保守系無所属) affiliated with lower house LDP Diet member Takeo Hiranuma, who is well-known for voting against postal privatization in 2005, leading to his temporary purging from the party (Update: actually Hiranuma is the only postal dissenter who survived purging but did not return to the LDP). Hiranuma is also known for his conservative stances: he is an active campaigner against “anti-Japan events” such as exhibits depicting the Nanjing Massacre, and in 2006 argued against allowing a female to become emperor on the grounds that she could marry a “blue-eyed foreigner.”

In a JANJAN video, Asako can be seen advocating expanded credit lines to small businesses, employment protection, and the by-now-perfunctory child-rearing subsidies and other welfare programs.

On his website he claims that he was the one in 1998 who initially proposed the Harukaze community bus system that runs through Adachi-ku. He is proud to note that the project is completely financed by the private sector and thus uses no taxpayer money.

Something interesting: Roll your mouse over Asako’s profile picture to see him in his matsuri costume:

Also, here’s a picture of him making the peace sign during a radio appearance:

kopon

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Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 7 of 10) – Naoki Takashima (LDP)

In our next installment we turn our attention to the other LDP incumbent running for re-election, third-term assemblyman Naoki Takashima (59).

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Takashima is your typical career politician, with one kick-ass difference – he is the president of his own anko (red bean paste) factory. Born and raised in Adachi-ku, after graduating from nearby Dokkyo University Takashima became a staffer for a prefectural assemblyperson. After that, he spent two years working at the bean paste factory before running and winning a seat at the Adachi-ku assembly in 1983, where he would stay until attempting to move to the next step in his career. He  lost his first attempt at the prefectural assembly in 1993 but won on his second try in 1997 and has been there ever since. Since August 2008 he has been the secretary general for the assembly’s LDP caucus.

Policy: As a loyal LDP man, Takashima supports all of Ishihara’s controversial policies, including the bailout of Shinginko Tokyo, moving Tsukiji Market to Toyosu, and bringing the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016. He also promotes a series of building plans and, of course, juicier welfare options for Adachi residents.

Chances of winning: Takashima’s position appears to be solid, barring a complete collapse in support for the LDP. Unlike fellow LDP incumbent Masatsugu Mihara, he’s never been voted out of office (though he lost his first attempt at the prefectural assembly) and thus is less likely to get drawn into the strategy of some of the minor candidates to split the conservative vote, which I’ll get to in a later installment.

Something interesting: Like a true playa, Takashima’s campaign office doubles as a bean paste factory. And since he is a powerful local politician, he’s been able to keep the decrepit building standing in the shadow of several enormous apartment complexes. Here’s the Street View image of the building:

Takashima Red Bean Paste

He considers himself to be computer savvy, bragging in his profile that he communicates with prefectural bureaucrats via e-mail. But since he is used to the keyboards on older Japanese PCs – he mentions the If-800 model from Oki Electric – he claims to have trouble typing Japanese characters using romanized spelling. Older keyboards in Japan used a unique keyboard layout that assigned a key to each kana character (the relics of that system remain on the current keyboards).

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(Wow, there’s a printer inside the keyboard…).

In 2002 his koenkai (support association) held a dance party, resulting in some precious moments of seniors having fun:

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David “Lizard People” Icke in Kitasenju

Now, don’t get me wrong – Takashima has nothing to do with infamous conspiracy theorist David Icke. But thanks to the magic of Google Maps, I now know that in 2008 Icke gave a talk just a few blocks from Takashima’s bean paste factory. Let’s watch:

Personally, I want to know where I can get a sweet gig interpreting speeches for David Icke. I bet he pays pretty well. Icke’s Japanese page is here. You can read his theories of how humanity is controlled by lizard people here in the original English.

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Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 5 of 10) – Haruhisa Tomotoshi

As the election looms, I am frantic to get these profiles done. To that end, tonight I will cover one of the New Komeito candidates: Haruhisa Tomotoshi (63). He is an incumbent and (like fellow Komeito candidate Nobuyuki Nakayama) has a near-certain chance of keeping his seat – LDP estimates of their party’s chances to keep control of the assembly assume that all 23 Komeito candidates will win.

Thanks to close ties with lay Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai, the Komeito enjoys a solid base of support among believers in Tokyo. Adachi-ku is also home to Akihiro Ota, the current president of the national New Komeito.

Some also speculate that the Komeito systematically inflates voter rolls by instructing Soka Gakkai followers across the country to move into election districts three months before the vote (the minimum residency period to become a valid voter). This may be true, but I would be kind of surprised if other parties didn’t at least try and employ similar tactics if they work so well.

Mrs. Adamu and I have a hard time supporting Komeito candidates because, like the Communists, they claim to be moderate but in fact have a hidden agenda. In the Komeito’s case, it is to protect the interests of Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist sect that provides election funding and sets their political agenda. The agenda itself tends to be quite mild, but I find the sum of their activities unacceptable: they inject religion into the political process, they maintain an aura of intense secrecy and refuse to explain why Soka Gakkai feels the need for political representation, and their activities appear to openly flaunt the democratic process to to protect a very narrow segment of society.

Anyway, let’s look at these guys.

Haruhisa Tomotoshi

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

As this poster might suggest, Tomotoshi “the man who really gets it done” does not feel he needs much introduction.

He is a veteran politician who spent five terms as an Adachi-ku assemblyman before moving on to the prefectural assembly, where he is currently on his second term. According to a JANJAN video, he was born in Manchukuo in 1945 just as WWII ended. He was never able to attend high school after his father died around 1960 when Haruhisa was 15. He had to work to support his mother and siblings before becoming an elected official at age 38.

One of the toughest fights of his political career was against Communist-backed Adachi-ku mayor Manzo Yoshida. Yoshida, who was mayor from 1996-1999, cancelled an unpopular building project and pushed to expand welfare services. Tomotoshi and other conservatives in the assembly fought Yoshida tooth and nail, and eventually successfully ousted him through a no-confidence motion.

As for his accomplishments, Tomotoshi takes some of the credit for completing the Tsukuba Express and Toneri Liner (two new train lines that run through Adachi).

It is unclear whether he is a Soka Gakkai believer.

In closing, watch this paranoid anti-Komeito propaganda video. They claim that the Komeito are being used by Soka Gakkai in an anti-Japanese plot to destroy the Japanese people’s lives:

Love the Final Fantasy-esque background music!

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