Coming soon: Europe to Haneda?

It looks like the legal framework is now in place for flights between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and the Netherlands. As mentioned in this space last year, the Japanese government has been pushing the notion that Haneda can replace Narita during late night and early morning hours as the capital’s terminal for long-range international flights, and this pairing seems to be the first beneficiary of the idea.

For those detached from the airline industry, KLM (the Netherlands’ main airline) is now owned by Air France, and has been partnered for something like 15 years with Northwest (the #3 international carrier in Tokyo) which is now owned by Delta. Haneda-Amsterdam service could be a boon for the AFKLDLNW bloc in securing a more solid position among frequent business travelers to Tokyo. JAL might be interested in the route as well, but they wouldn’t have the benefit of intra-European feed that KLM enjoys.

Mass transit plea

Having been rather frustrated by the lack of much serious discussion of guiding any of the so-called stimulus money towards investment in much needed mass transit infrastructure upgrades, I decided to compose a letter to my two Senators and one local Representative asking them to work towards this agenda. I’ve attached my text below, and I implore registered USA voters to send a similar letter to their own congressional delegation, and to pass along a request to potentially interested registered voters you know. So few people actually write politicians on these issues that a surprisingly small number of contacts can, on occasion, spur them to take at least a mild stand on an issue. This is the first time in many years that Congress has even considered taking an interest in mass transit/rail investment and we mustn’t let it pass Continue reading Mass transit plea

TSA is on kabuki alert

America left its ticket and passport in the jacket in the bin in the X-ray machine, and is admonished. America is embarrassed to have put one one-ounce moisturizer too many in the see-through bag. America is irritated that the TSA agent removed its mascara, opened it, put it to her nose, and smelled it. Why don’t you put it up your nose and see if it explodes? America thinks, but does not say.

And, as always American thinks: Why do we do this when you know I am not a terrorist, and you know I know you know I am not a terrorist? Why this costly and embarrassing kabuki when we both know the facts, and would even admit privately that all this harassment is only the government’s way of showing that it is “fair,” of demonstrating that it will equally humiliate anyone in order to show its high-mindedness and sense of justice? Our politicians congratulate themselves on this as we stand in line.

That’s from Peggy Noonan‘s new book Patriotic Grace, as quoted here.

Some things about Taiwan

When you’ve lived in a place for a while, and then left for a while, there are any number of details that you haven’t exactly forgotten, but don’t often think about. And when you go back, you notice the un-remembered (but not forgotten) details of everyday life with a reaction that fits somewhere between remembering and discovery. During my first few days back in Taiwan, I kept a list of all of these everyday details that jumped out at me as familiar but rarely thought of since.

  • Roaches- they love the sub-tropical climate. I see them out on the street almost daily.
  • No plastic bag in the convenience store- costs extra by law.
  • The ubiquitous Taiwanese style breakfast shops Chinese/American fusion breakfast shops.
  • Trash: categories of separation, daily pickups, having to bring it to the truck yourself if you don’t live in a building with dumpsters.
  • Gas powered water heater on the balcony- gas canister delivery instead of gas utility. (This works because it’s only needed for hot water and cooking, never for space heating.)
  • The styles of doors and gates.
  • Indoor/outdoor footwear customs influenced by Japan.
  • They LOVE their sweet tea here. You have to really remember to check the labels in the store to get even unsweetened green tea, and restaurants always serve sweet black tea.
  • Binglang (betel nuts) EVERYWHERE. Selling, chewing, blood-red spit stains and dried nut husk.

Next: some photos, then writeups of my visits to Aboriginal villages.

Could be called “10 places I’d like to visit”

I stumbled across a fantastic post on Oddee entitled “10 Most Amazing Ghost Towns“, all 10 of which are officially now on my list of places I’d like to go. My affection for ruins and abandoned places is well documented, so how could I resist places like this sand-drowned Numibian village?

As it so happens, I should actually be able to stop by one of these sites within the next month. The Sanzhi haunted retro-futuristic beachfront housing development is located on the north coast of Taipei County, not very far from Danshui. And I’m going to Taiwan next Wednesday for almost 3 weeks.

While Sanzhi may not exactly be a short walk from Danshui station, it looks like a very reasonable bike ride to me, and I’m fairly sure that Danshui is one of the MRT stations where loading/offloading of bicycles is allowed. Hopefully I’ll have some time to track down this place while I’m in Taiwan.

Original Flickr set.

Location on Google Maps.

So much for that idea

Well, I had been planning to take a trip this summer in which I would go by train from Kyoto to Fukuoka, visit a couple of friends there, then head down through Kyushu by train to Kagoshima, from where I would take a ferry to Okinawa, spend a few days, and then take another ferry to Taiwan. Unfortunately, it looks like the only ferry company servicing the Okinawa/Taiwan route has gone out of business. Arimura Sangyo, which had been making the run for decades, is apparently no more. Their website is gone, the phone number is out of service, and an unofficial mirror of their former web page has added a statement informing that they officially ceased service in June, and went into corporate liquidation just on July 11.

So, apparently there is not currently any sea route between Japan and Taiwan, which has probably killed my entire concept for the trip. I may still book a flight for a couple of weeks in Taiwan, and I will probably at some point do the boat trip to Okinawa, but without the ferry connecting Okinawa to Taiwan, there seems to be little point in linking it all into one trip- unless someone reading this has info on another ferry company which somehow doesn’t turn up with any amount of googling.

Although plenty of other ocean routes still seem to be pretty active, ship is certainly long past its prime as a method of passenger transport. But, as fuel prices continue to climb and air travel becomes increasingly expensive after a long period of relative affordability, might we see a resurgence of medium distance (by which I mean a day or two, say between Pacific Islands, but not trans-Atlantic or Pacific) as an affordable alternative?

On a related note, while looking for currently active ferries, I found this rather neat web page on the history of long distance ferries in Japan.


Someone posted the following report on Arimura to the Lonely Planet message board.

Arimura Industries, a ferry operator, that is based in Okinawa Prefecture in Japan, plying between Japan and Taiwan, intends to liquidate sometime soon mainly because of the current drastic fuel cost hike. The service has been completely suspended since 6th June. When the operations will resume is uncertain at the moment.

Arimura has been petitioning the Okinawa Prefectural Government to establish a new entity to continuously run the business only to have got an evasive answer. The company will keep on hiring the 120 employees. Its three vessels have been moored idly at Naha Sea Port.

It has been under reconstruction since 1999 based on the Corporate Rehabilitation Law.

Visa experts?

A friend of mine emailed me the following question, and since I don’t actually have a clue I thought I would toss it out here, for people who actually know to take a stab at it.

A friend of mine in Tokyo (hes there until may, but may be going back later this year) may have the opportunity to work at a friends bar starting from next April but neither he nor his friend knows anything about getting a working visa, and to top it all off he’s always worked in insurance so there’s no way of demonstrating any bar experience, unless of course he can make it up.

So, what kind of visa might he apply for, and what sort of documentation/qualifications might he need? And what IS the deal with all those European guys working in bars? Are they all just married to Japanese ladies and residing on spouse visas?

Remembering the Railway of Death

About a week ago the New York Times had an article entitled “Seeking Recognition for a War’s Lost Laborers” on the lack of recognition for the Asian victims of Japanese forced labor in the construction of the famous “Railway of Death.” According to the article, the history of the 200,000-300,000 Asians who were employed, and often killed, in the construction of the railway, which was being constructed to link Bangkok and the Burmese (Myanmarese) capital of Rangoon (Yangon) to provide logistical support for Japan’s invasion of Southeast Asia, has been almost completely overshadowed by stories of the smaller number of Western POWs.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 Asian laborers — no one knows the exact number — were press-ganged by the Japanese and their surrogates to work on the rail line: Tamils, Chinese and Malays from colonial Malaya; Burmans and other ethnic groups from what is now Myanmar; and Javanese from what is now Indonesia.

“It is almost forgotten history,” said Sasidaran Sellappah, a retired plantation manager in Malaysia whose father was among 120 Tamil workers from a rubber estate forced to work on the railway. Only 47 survived.


By contrast, the travails of the 61,806 British, Australian, Dutch and American prisoners of war who worked on the railway, about 20 percent of whom died from starvation, disease and execution, have been recorded in at least a dozen memoirs, documented in the official histories of the governments involved and romanticized in the fictionalized “Bridge on the River Kwai,” the 1957 Hollywood classic inspired by a similarly named best-selling novel by Pierre Boulle.

One reason given for this inequality of historical memory are that virtually none of the Asian victims were from Thailand, giving the local government little incentive to commemorate them. Another is that, unlike the American and British POWs who wrote memoirs and gave countless interviews to journalists and historians, virtually none of the Asian laborers were literate, and they lacked ready access to mass media.

At this point, I would like to present some photos I took at a very peculiar museum that Adam, his (now) wife Shoko, and I visited when we were in Kanchanaburi, the location of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.

The Jeath War Museum (JEATH is an acronym for Japan, English, American and THai) is a rather eccentric museum based on the collection of a wealthy Japanese history buff, who apparently purchased a building a number of years ago, stocked it haphazardly with local WW2 memorabilia of both great and small interest, and has not had arranged to have it cleaned since.

First, some photos from outside the museum itself.

This is a picture of the famous Bridge which I quite like.

Here are Adam and Shoko posing with the bridge behind them. I do not know the sleeping man, but I have to assume that he is a war criminal of some kind.

This is a silly little train which lets  tourists ride across the bridge and 1 or 2km into the jungle on the other side, and then ride backwards to the other side.

I blurrily snapped this memorial obelisk in the jungle across the river, from aforementioned silly train. It says something along the lines of “the remains of the Chinese army ascend into heaven.”

This plaque is location near the bridge. I did not, however, see one for the British POWs, although I certainly could have just missed it.

And now we reach the museum portion of our tour. I do not seem to have any photographs of the entrance area, but the first thing you see upon approaching the entrance to the museum proper are these statues of historical figures, with biography written on the wall behind them. I will transcribe the highly amusing text another time.

Here is Tojo.

Adam and Shoko again, with their good friends Josef Stalin and General Douglas MacArthur.

The lovable Albert Einstein gets a wall as well.

Inside the museum we are confronted with more dramatic statues, such as this tableau of POWs constructing the railway.

Here is one in a cage. Note the real straw.

Eerie closeup of another caged POW statue’s face.

Adam and his new friend, the WW2-era Japanese soldier driving an old car.

The driver.

Another old car. I do not recognize the make, but it is covered in dust that may weigh as much as the steel.

US Army signal core teletypewriter

Recreation of Japanese army tent

Read the text carefully. Do you know when the CD was invented?

A message from Japan to the Thai people. It’s a bit hard to read, so if anyone wants I can transcribe it.

A British anti-Japan political cartoon

Overall, the museum is a complete shambles. While it has a huge array of cool stuff, it is strewn about almost at random, covered in dust, and sometimes behind other stuff. Not to mention placed in crowded and un-lit cases with poor labeling. Despite the numerous flaws, it is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area, but I can’t say that it will do much to provide any sort of historical narrative, and certainly does not even try to meet the standard hoped for by the Times article I began this post with.