History on the march – Lindsay Hawker’s alleged murderer arrested

The police have finally arrested Tatsuya Ichihashi for the grisly murder of Nova teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker. You can find the details from any number of sources. I am very glad the police followed through and finally brought him to justice after initially letting him get away. He was on the run for around two and a half years.

This is a minute detail, but Ichihashi’s arrest means that from now on there will be no more wanted posters with Ichihashi’s face. Ever since I arrived in Japan around two years ago his face has been plastered just about everywhere. In fact, the murder occurred just a month before I touched down. Now I’ll miss not seeing him at every police box. It’s not that I was fond of him – I will just instinctively feel a sense of loss. Today he was there, and at some point in the next few days he’ll be gone from everywhere but the TV. And all this time, he didn’t even look like that anymore because of the plastic surgery!

It’s the same with the Tokyo Olympics 2016 signs. From the time I arrived here (as far as I can remember) until just a couple months ago they were all over the place – but now that the games were awarded to Rio they are gone, too.

Curzon visits Yamba Dam

Last week, I took a day trip out to see the Yamba Dam, a planned 130 meter high dam that would flood a small rural village snuggled in a valley in western Gunma. The primary motivation for the plan is to stop flash floods that rage through the Tonegawa River and cause havoc in Gunma, Saitama and Tokyo once a decade or so, and also to control and manage the water supply for the Kanto region and to generate power. If constructed it would only be Japan’s 25th largest dam and 10th largest reservoire, but it has turned into one of the more costly projects because of the massive peripheral infrastructure built to appease fierce local opposition.

The project has long been controversial and has dominated the headlines since the DPJ took power last month and announced the project would be cancelled — despite the fact that the project has burned through more than 70% of its US$4 billion budget.

As a student in the Robert D. Kaplan school of national policy, I wanted to see this project with my own eyes, and see the entire surrounding landscape, not suddenly arriving by train or car. So I took my bicycle by shinkansen out to Karuizawa in Nagano, from where I traveled north over the ride of Mt. Asama, then down into the valleys of Gunma and east into the valley, for a total day trip of more than 100 kilometers. This post summarizes my trip.

Traveling to the Dam
It’s easiest to feel the scale of the project by traveling from the west of the dam, down the river valley north of Mt. Asama in Nagano. As you approach the project, there are suddenly new bridges, most complete or near complete, covering imaginary areas of water. There is also the classic concrete lining of a natural water source that can be seen all over Japan. There are also brand new buildings sitting on the side of what will be a new lake.

Yamba Dam2

Traveling towards the dam brings the existing road “deeper” into the future lake, which brings us to the representative structure of the project, the No. 2 Yamba Dam bridge. The bridge is unique for its hollow structure and that they are building simultaneously out from the supporting stems. This bridge will permit road and rail to cross the lake and connect the two halves of the community. At present, there was also a JR line running through the town, which was also to be relocated up the mountain.

Yamba Dam1

You may notice that construction on the bridge is proceeding. The reasons for that soon became clear.

“Yamba Kan” (やんば館)
At the foot of the No. 2 Yamba Dam bridge sits a two-story facility called the “Yamba Kan,” built in 1999 by the Ministry of Land and Infrastructure to explain the dam’s purpose and its construction to locals and other interested visitors. Like a typical Japanese shiryoukan, it is a small but carefully organized and boasts an impressive set of topographical maps, audio-visual media, photographs, and information regarding the history and construction of the dam. There are also guides on hand to answer questions about the project.

Interest has exploded since the DPJ took power and have announced the cancellation of the dam. According to the informational (and pro-dam) website damnet.org, the number of visitors to the “Yamba Kan” hit a record in September, receiving three times as many visitors as in August. When I arrived on a weekday afternoon, the 40 car parking lot was full, and included a chartered tour bus.

The guides were busy answering visitor questions. I patiently waited my turn to ask questions and finally got to ask: “The government has said they will stop construction on the dam but the bridge is still being constructed, why is that?” I asked in the most neutral of tones, but the guide answered on the assumption that I was an anti-dam fanatic — she responded, “They have to finish it! There is no other option! Otherwise are community will be split in two! There are already people living in homes on both sides of the mountain!”

Her explanation and the Yamba Kan maps made the overview of the project more clear. Before the dam could be built, the government had to relocate all 355 households whose homes would be submerged by the lake created by the dam. After decades of fierce opposition, it was only when the central government conceded on a costly compromise to relocate the villagers up the mountain up the mountain from their homes did they finally agree. This is more expensive than it sounds, and calls for massive earthworks and bridges. It would have been easiest to move the people up or down the valley to join their neighbors.

Yet the project is even more expensive than just moving people up the valley mountains. The mountains are too steep to be flattened to accomodate the whole community on one side of the steep valley, so construction has taken place on two sides of the lake, with massive bridges being constructed to connect the two sides of the lake. The government is of course footing the bill to construct the new houses, schools, roads, bridges, and other facilities for the relocated community.

Most of this construction is completed, as evidenced by the almost finished No. 2 Yamba Dam bridge. But once all this is done, I started to ask myself,

What happens now?
Frankly, no matter how hard Transportation Minister Maehara and the DPJ hold out on refusing to construct the dam, I can’t possibly see how the project cannot be finished. At best the DPJ can delay the plan a year or two. Here’s why:

* All the preliminary infrastructure is complete. Learning more at the Yamba Kan, my understanding of recent news stories where the DPJ said that they would continue to invest in “lifestyle” construction became clear. The DPJ will only halt construction on the dam itself, which was scheduled to commence shortly, but will continue construction that affects the lives of the locals. In other words, the bridge will be finished, as will the rest of the construction, but the dam for which all the construction was invested will not be built. What this means is that billions will be spent relocating a community for no reason whatsoever.

* It could cost votes in important prefectures. The DPJ probably isn’t too worried that the conservative, LDP-allied governors of Nagano, Gunma, Chiba and Tokyo are opposed to halting the project. But the governors of Saitama and Tochigi are independents close to the DPJ. The DPJ caucus of legislators in the Saitama prefectural assembly is vocally opposed to the cancellation. The six affected prefectures together comprise more than 25% of Japan’s total population, and the DPJ has strong voter support in Tokyo, Chiba, and Saitama. The only people firmly opposed to the plan appear to be environmental interest groups. Who knows, it could cost the DPJ votes and they may decide to proceed because of it.

* A future LDP administration may turn things around. Even if the Hatoyama administration does refuse to proceed with the plan, the LDP could always pick up where the DPJ left off.

Hiking in Hannou-shi, Saitama

Hannou-shi in Saitama Prefecture is located along the Seibu Ikebukuro line outside Tokyo. Closer to outlying Chichibu than urban Tokyo, the town’s look and feel are like a scene out of the recent Oscar-winning film Departures (which I highly recommend!). Mrs. Adamu and I decided to hike there after finding the town randomly on a web search. It was an extremely convenient trip – after an hour and a half train ride it was just a 10 minute walk to reach the trail. We followed this route on the Hiking Map website.

Anyway, here is what we saw!

This is a monument to local deaths from industrial accidents. Not sure why they died or when.

Going up Tenranzan mountain we came across these oddly shaped Buddhas. The fifth Tokugawa shogun apparently called a monk from a temple near this mountain to heal him with chanting, and it worked. The statues are somehow related to this.
Continue reading Hiking in Hannou-shi, Saitama

Typing on the itouch

I just got one of the new iPod touch models. It’s pretty amazing so far though it’s clear that apple has engineeredamy of the features to try and get you to pay for apps especially in the games department. Still it is a great little machine and I am slot but surely acclimating myself to typing on a glass touch screen.

One disappoinment so far has been ワイヤレスゲート aka wireless gate, a service that let’s you connect to wireless hotspots at mcdonalds and some other areas like the bullet train. so far I have tried it at a few mcds with no luck whatsoever. At just 380 yen a month it’s a steal but only if it actually freaking works.

Check out Adamu pontificating on election matters

In case you didn’t catch it, you can watch me commenting on the other night’s election results with Ken and Garrett from Transpacific radio and special guest International Attorney Christopher Gunson.

The video is in three parts:

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Skip around a little because apparently there are parts where the sound didn’t quite work. All the same you can hear us cover:

  • Our election predictions, which are almost instantly shown to be way off
  • How the lower house members are chosen
  • Breakdowns of several races
  • What the religious parties New Komeito and Happiness Realization Party are all about
  • What kind of makeup politicians use to smooth out all their wrinkles to achieve the signature “Ichiro Ozawa as slimy salamander” look (thanks to viewer Kozo, we now know they use a kind of grease-based face makeup known as ドーラン in Japanese).
  • And much more!

Once again, thanks so much to TPR for putting everything together and making it a spectacular evening (and for all the pizza too). Also thanks to Marcus for going out of his way to do the sound and video (he even brought a TV light!)

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.

10 years on: Coming to Japan

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my first journey to Japan, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student going to school and generally getting in trouble in Osaka.

Since then, I have flown a hundred thousand miles, earned three diplomas, and have seen my Japanese high school closed down and stupidly renamed while my American high school gets shuttered due to the swine flu.

I still have many memories of that first year, and for the next eleven months, will be sharing some of those memories here on the blog. (Those of you who don’t care can simply avoid the jump, and Adamu will still regale you with tales of the Adachi-ku ballot). Continue reading 10 years on: Coming to Japan

Off for home

Quick update here, I’m heading off for home (Montclair, New Jersey) in a few hours, by way of San Francisco. I’ll be in the NJ/NYC area until September 10 and then in San Francisco until the 15th, before I head back to Kansai. While at home I’ll probably also make a brief visit to DC for a couple of days. I’m going to try to stay mostly off-line and read more books while I’m at home, but anyone in those areas feel free to drop me a line and I’ll see if I have room in my schedule to meet up.

Just for fun, here’s a (hopefully) complete list of electronics on my person and baggage as I travel.

iPhone (SIM-locked for Softbank, Japan)

External extra battery for iPhone.

Creative Zen Vision:M 60GB (Just in case I run out of iPhone juice entirely.)

Samsung Blackjack (my old phone from last time I lived in US, intend to use with prepaid SIM card while at home.)

Some junky generic Motorola phone (my travel phone when going around Asia. Just in case.)

Asus eeePC 1000

Canon 50D w/ two 8-GB memory cards, 3 batteries and a charger

^ Canon 50mm 1.8F lens

^ Canon 17-85 EF-S lens

^ Tokina 11-16 lens

Sharp electronic dictionary

External USB hard drive (backup of my important files, to leave at home as ultimate emergency off-site backup and swap for a fresh backup drive.)

Travels to Tsushima, Part 1: There and Back Again

In April of 2008, I took a trip to Tsushima island for several days with a close friend, and we spent a long weekend traveling around the island by bicycle. By popular request, here is a brief travelogue of my trip, split into three parts.


What is Tsushima?
Tsushima is an island situated almost perfectly between the Korean Peninsula and the island of Kyushu, but which has been in the Japanese cultural sphere for all of recorded history (since at least the Kofun period). The Mongols invaded the island twice on their way to Japan, slaughtering many of the inhabitants. After their departure, it once again became an independent Japanese province under the control of the So Clan, who ruled the island for seven centuries. The So Clan maintained relatively friendly relations with Korea, and often acted as an ipso facto advocate for Korea domestically in Japan. Today, it is part of Nagasaki prefecture, despite its geographic proximity to Fukuoka.

It has a very small population — despite being Japan’s sixth largest island, it is home to only 34,000 people. (By comparison, the smaller Sado Island off the coast of Niigata has a population of 63,000.)

Continue reading Travels to Tsushima, Part 1: There and Back Again