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Posts Tagged ‘japan’

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Photo: Mizuki Production/via Kyodo
An amabie drawn by the late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki. The amabie, says National Public Radio, is a “sea monster from 19th century Japanese folklore that has become an Internet meme and pop culture mascot in the fight against COVID-19.”

Isn’t it interesting how we turn to ancient wisdom and mythology to find meaning in crisis? It’s not so much that we believe in fantasies, but we begin to realize that metaphor may have something to tell us that can’t be captured in headlines or scientific reports.

Consider the little amabie, a friendly, protective monster that has risen up from Japanese folklore to address coronavirus.

From the Japan Times: “Social media users have been getting creative recently with images of a legendary Japanese [monster] said to have emerged from the sea and prophesied an epidemic. …

“The story of the half-human, half-fish amabie monster was first featured in a 19th century woodblock-printed news sheet from the Edo Period (1603-1868). The creature was depicted with long hair and a beak, and a body covered in scales.

“An amabie is said to have [told a Kumamoto] official, ‘There will be a bountiful harvest for six years, but disease will also spread. Quickly draw a picture of me and show it to the people.’ …

“On March 6, Kyoto University Library posted on its Twitter account a picture of the original news sheet, dated April 1846, with an illustration of an amabie and a description beside it. …  Since then, social media users have posted amabie images in myriad forms — including clay figurines, embroidery, paper cutouts and manga — alongside phrases wishing for an early end to the current pandemic. …

“A drawing of the monster by late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki (1922-2015) [was] published on the Mizuki Production Twitter account on March 17. …

” ‘Japan has traditionally had a custom of trying to drive off epidemics by such means as drawing oni ogres on pieces of paper and displaying them,’ said Yuji Yamada, a professor at Mie University who is well versed in the history of faith practices in Japan.

“ When many people are suffering and dying, our wish for an end (of the pandemic) is the same in all ages,’ he said.” More at the Japan Times, here.

National Public Radio (NPR) points out that even the Japanese health ministry has pressed the amabie into service:

” ‘Stop the infection from spreading!’ The words appear to come straight from the beak of a creature with a bird’s head, human hair and a fish’s scaly body, in a recent public service announcement from Japan’s health ministry.’ ” More at NPR, here.

P.S. Since most of us continue to be fascinated by humanoids sporting fish tails, I have to point you to Asakiyume’s post about a real-life maker of mermaid and merman tails, here.

Art: Kaori Hamura Long
At NPR, another illustration of an Amabie.

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Photo: Ryan Jenq for the New York Times
Robby Kraft created two origami, left,
“using his own custom code for developing new crease patterns.” He also folded “Hyperbolic Cube,” right, which was designed by Thomas Hull of Western New England University.

Origami is an ancient paper-folding technique that is turning out to have some very modern applications.

Kathleen Massara at the New York Times interviewed a few folks who know a lot about it.

” ‘I would say the biggest rule is no cutting,’ said Wendy Zeichner, the president and chief executive of OrigamiUSA. It’s ‘one piece of paper and no glue.’

“OrigamiUSA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the art form. The group traces its roots to the 1950s, when Lillian Oppenheimer, one of its eventual founders, began to communicate with paper folders around the world, including Akira Yoshizawa in Japan, who is often credited as the father of modern origami — they would send each other diagrams explaining how to fold different shapes from a single square sheet of paper. …

” ‘Origami is really almost as old as paper,’ Ms. Zeichner explained — it means ‘to fold paper’ in Japanese — and paper in sheet form is thought to have been invented in China around 105 A.D. To start making shapes like cranes and frogs, it boils down to two basic techniques: mountain folds and valley folds, which are different ways to make the edges meet. After that, you can get creative….

A few years ago, NASA engineers were able to create foldable telescopes and a flower-shaped shade to block out light from distant stars by using paper-folding techniques.

” ‘If you want to send something in a rocket, it has to be packed small,’ Ms. Zeichner said. ‘The same algorithms you would use in origami would be used in this.’ The same goes for folding an airbag into a car, or creating pop-up homeless shelters.

“Precision is key, whether someone is folding a humble crane or a complex modular structure with interlocking parts. So is enthusiasm. ‘The majority of people are either enthusiasts on the simple end or on the complex end,’ said Jason Ku, a lecturer at M.I.T. and a faculty adviser to the origami club there. …

“The goal is to arrive at the most efficient and elegant means of achieving a particular effect. ‘I want the result to be complex, but I want to simplify the process it takes to get there,’ Dr. Ku said. …

“As in math, it’s important to show your work. … ‘Showing your technique is one of the biggest aspects of origami,’ said Taro Yaguchi, the founder of Taro’s Origami Studio in Brooklyn.

“Before the 1950s, certain origami objects were more difficult to create, partly because diagrams weren’t standardized. Some guide books simply presented the results, without the necessary steps to get there. Yoshizawa, in Japan, and Samuel Randlett, in the United States, helped develop a set of international diagram conventions that is now referred to as the Yoshizawa-Randlett system.

“ ‘Before it got codified, it could be very confusing,’ said Jeannine Mosely, a software engineer in Cambridge, Mass. Ms. Mosely is known for large-scale projects such as an origami Menger sponge, a series of cubes adding up to a giant cube, made out of business cards. At the time, the fact that she didn’t use square paper caused ripples throughout the origami community. ‘There were people who didn’t want anything to do with my work because I started with rectangles,’ she said. …

“Diagrams and algorithms won’t be much help if you’re not using the right materials. ‘It’s a mistake a lot of beginner’s make: they go online and find the most beautiful kind of paper,’ said Jewel Kawataki, a New York-based jewelry maker who creates different designs with chiyogami, a sleek fabric-like paper. “You can see their frustration in YouTube tutorials. They’ve used the wrong paper.’ …

“Toshiko Kobayashi, an art therapist in Manhattan who grew up folding as a child in Tokyo after World War II, believes in the art’s ability to heal. ‘Just after the war, there was nothing. Paper was one of the readily available toys for me,’ she said. In New York, she has been busy introducing the art to different communities through the Origami Therapy Association in Manhattan, which she founded in 2002. …

“For many, the practice is embraced for its calming aspects. ‘It’s lessened my anxiety a lot,’ Ms. Kawataki said.

“Regardless of techniques, the community, whether in person or online, keeps people excited about the art form. ‘Origamists from around the world will meet and fold together,’ Ms. Mosely said. ‘They might not be able to talk to each other, but they can fold.’ ”

For some breathtaking photos, check out the New York Times article, here.  And be sure to watch the origami documentary Between the Folds by Vanessa Gould.

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Photos: clockwise from top left, Emma Smales/View; Afyen Hsin-Chu; Takanobu Sakuma; Hufton+Crow/View
The bottom right photo shows Shigeru Ban’s Paper Log Houses, temporary housing in Kobe, Japan, created after a 1995 earthquake left many residents homeless. The
New York Times took an in-depth look at Ban’s body of work here.

It’s inspiring to see a successful person in any field turn her or his talents to a humanitarian cause. That is what innovative Japanese architect Shigeru Ban did after seeing problems with post-disaster housing in Africa. He knew he could do better.

Nikil Saval at the New York Times wrote an in-depth feature on Ban’s larger body of work and explained how he got into building temporary paper-tube shelters.

“His move to create shelter architecture came out of seeing the temporary structures offered to Rwandan refugees in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1994. At the time, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was handing out plastic tarps and aluminum poles to hold them up, but many people were instead selling the aluminum and harvesting nearby wood to frame their tents, contributing to massive deforestation.

“Ban wrote to the U.N.H.C.R. several times before flying to Geneva. There, he encountered the organization’s senior physical planner, Wolfgang Neumann, who became interested in Ban’s idea of using recycled paper tubes to build shelters. Ban was hired as a consultant and the concept was later implemented at a camp in northern Rwanda.

“The first time Ban used paper tubes for a disaster relief project was in Kobe, Japan, in 1995, where a series of small houses — about 170 square feet each — were constructed for victims of an earthquake that killed more than 6,000 people.

As is typical for Ban’s humanitarian projects, each shelter cost less than $2,000 and took a single day to construct; according to Ban, about 30 were built over the span of a few weeks, mostly by volunteers.

“These shelters remained in Kobe for about a year, after which they were dismantled and recycled. But a church and community center in the city, also designed by Ban and built out of recycled paper, stood for 10 years, a testament to the durability of his work.

“He has also used shipping containers to build thousands of small housing units in Onagawa, on Japan’s northeast coast, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami there, and beer crates weighted with sandbags have occasionally served as the foundation for his Paper Log Houses (including in Kobe), illustrating Ban’s commitment to relying on ‘local materials’ in the most expansive sense: whatever is cheap and locally available that won’t result in waste.

“These structures are off-the-cuff, constructed quickly by staff members of the Voluntary Architects Network, a nongovernmental organization founded by Ban in 1995, along with the help of local students and volunteers. Initially, he was able to pay for them through donations and his own earnings; some of his relief projects now receive public funding. But he often uses his expensive commissions to test out ideas for his aid work, toying with cheap materials in structures for the rich so he can use them later to help those who have lost everything. …

“Ban is not given to displays of pity or indignation; he usually explains his humanitarian efforts by citing his horror at waste rather than some charitable impulse. It is an austere, utilitarian front for the architect to present, considering that, at the moment, he is trying to expand his humanitarian efforts beyond temporary structures and has just begun working with the southeast Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to develop housing for its new capital, Amaravati — multistory units for which paper tubes would not likely be appropriate (he has instead been considering fiberglass foam-core panels). But disasters will continue to preoccupy him.

“He spoke of doing larger urban-scale planning, preparing cities for disaster relief. More earthquakes, certainly in Japan, are likely, to say nothing of climate-change induced nightmares. ‘This moment, the beginning of the 21st century, is a big moment to change the direction — toward sustainability and disaster relief,’ he said. ‘This will continue as the main theme of this century.’ Times had changed since the Modernist era: ‘Those times, people believed that they would have utopia some day. But we know that it’s not true. There’s no utopia.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Guenter Schneider/Kaoru Akagawa
An artist rediscovers kana script, used in medieval Japan by women for secret communications. “I felt as if I were reading a history of my DNA,” Kaoru Akagawa says.

In childhood, I loved the idea of secret languages, mainly for hiding thoughts from grownups, I believe. I never learned Pig Latin, but when I was about 10, my friends and I spoke almost nothing but Goose Latin, which involved throwing a lot of f’s into words.

In medieval Japan, women developed a secret script to hide their thoughts from other authority figures — men. Today the artist Kaoru Akagawa, among others, is giving the mostly forgotten kana calligraphy new life.

Elizabeth Dearnley writes at the Guardian, “Anyone who has ever fired off a text in haste will sympathise with the first point on 11th-century Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon’s list of ‘infuriating things’: ‘Thinking of one or two changes in the wording after you’ve sent off a reply to someone’s message.’

“This list, her messages, and her Pillow Book in which they’re recorded – a sparklingly acerbic, blog-style frolic through the lives of Heian-era aristocrats – were written using kana, a Japanese script mainly used by women for nearly a millennium to write literature, arrange secret assignations and express themselves freely within the confines of court life.

“Women in medieval Japan were discouraged from studying kanji – characters modelled on written Chinese which represent individual words – and began using kana, which transcribe words phonetically. A standardisation programme at the beginning of the 20th century saw 90% of the 550 characters used in kana die out. But these forgotten characters are now being kept alive by the artist and master of Japanese calligraphy Kaoru Akagawa, who became fascinated with them after deciphering letters from her grandmother.

“ ‘Reading my grandmother’s letters was always difficult for me as a teenage girl,’ recalls Akagawa. ‘Her handwriting looked like scribbling, and I used to ask her to write properly.’ But years later, during Akagawa’s calligraphy training, she had a revelation while taking a journey along Himekaido, a historic trading route favoured by women travellers. Reading documents written in kana housed in castles and temples, Akagawa says: ‘I felt as if I were reading a history of my DNA.’ Far from being scribbles, she realised, her grandmother had been writing to her using the same script.

“Akagawa uses the forgotten kana in a style of calligraphy called kana shodo, and also fuses traditional calligraphy with new techniques in a style she’s named kana art, where thousands of minutely painted kana form larger images and paper sculptures

“ ‘When people talk about Japanese calligraphy, they normally mean kanji shodo,’ Akagawa explains, ‘a style imported from China, practiced by samurais and monks.’ Kana shodo uses a script which was known by the 10th century as onnade, or ‘woman hand’, she continues, which became ‘the backbone of a female-dominated literary culture’.

“Sei Shōnagon’s contemporary Murasaki Shikibu wrote her masterpiece The Tale of Genji – often called the world’s first novel – using kana, which were often associated with private and emotional life. Men who wanted to reply to love letters sent by noblewomen used kana themselves to reply. And the tradition lasted for hundreds of years; the 19th-century novelist Ichiyō Higuchi used kana script for her sympathetic portrait of the life of a geisha, Nigorie (Troubled Waters).

“Japan’s government standardised writing in 1900, establishing the system of kanji, hiragana and katakana characters used side-by-side in modern written Japanese. … By the second world war, knowledge of the older kana had almost vanished. One of the last generation to use the script in daily life was Akagawa’s grandmother, born in 1921: ‘When I told her I was learning kana shodo, she was very pleased.’ …

“Whether writing Japanese classics, love letters or embroidered messages, women have circumvented official communication channels in creative ways throughout history. As Akagawa remarks, such handwritten texts frequently feel very personal: ‘I’m always surprised how such a simple action as handwriting can affect audiences’ emotions so deeply.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: All Nippon Airways
In addition to the male Kabuki performers, there’s an onnagata (man in female role) in the in-flight safety video of a Japanese airline.

After seeing one too many airline safety videos about how to buckle a seat belt, passengers tend to tune out. That is, unless the video is really entertaining. Consider this safety video using Kabuki dancers. I know that would make me pay attention.

Andrew Bender wrote about it at Forbes. “Let’s call it like it is: those airline safety presentations have always felt a little like a kabuki dance, no? Now Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways, has taken that literally, with actual kabuki performers in its newest in-flight safety video. I, for one, can’t stop watching it. …

“Supervised by a kabuki performer, the four-minute-plus production opens with an ANA flight attendant wearing a red-and-white striped kabuki mask, before the striped curtain behind her (in the traditional kabuki colors of black, deep-green and the orange-red the Japanese call persimmon) slides to reveal an airplane cabin set.

“Kabuki actors stow their elegantly lacquered bamboo boxes in the overhead bins and under the seats (not in the aisles, thank you), fasten seat belts over their elaborate kimono and dutifully turn off electronic devices displaying scenes from classic ukiyo-e woodblock prints on their screens. The same style is used to show how high heels, in this case chunky wooden geta sandals, can tear the evacuation slide.

“In another section, an actor wearing an oversized wig and robe and fearsome makeup tries on the oxygen mask, and a child in the classic pure white face makeup demonstrates the ‘brace for impact’ position. And it’s quite a sight to see an onnagata (male performer in a female role, a longstanding kabuki tradition) perform the life vest demonstration.

“Kabuki theater traces its roots to 1603, the early Edo Period, and is on the UNESCO list of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Among its unique features are stunning costumes, stylized dialogue and poses (immortalized in ukiyoe woodblock prints, kind of like iconic modern-day movie posters; see 1:38 in the video), a revolving stage and musicians who sit onstage and animate the action with music and narration. Many of the leading performers have family lineage in kabuki going back more than a dozen generations.

“At various times the safety video shows another feature of kabuki, on-stage assistants covered head to toe like ninjas. Called kurogo, they’re typically dressed in black implying that they’re not visible onstage, but in this video they’re instead in ANA’s signature blue and white. …

“ANA’s safety video debuted late last year and went worldwide on flights this January. As a bonus, a behind-the-scenes video of the production plays during deplaning.”

More at Forbes.

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The result of my grandson’s class in Japanese marbling technique. Suminagashi, or “ink-floating” on paper, has been around since the 12th century.

Not long ago, my older grandson’s class, which is studying Japan, went to the Boston Children’s Museum. The museum features an entire traditional home that was shipped from Japan years ago and rebuilt indoors.

While there, the 8-year-olds practiced an ancient painting technique, Japanese Suminagashi, which uses the unpredictable swirling of water to create one-of-a-kind images.

I love the idea of one-of-a-kind. Children are one-of-a-kind, too, all wonderful in their own way, and I like to hear about them getting a break from standardized-testing molds.

According to the website Beyond the Chalkboard, in which the Boston Children’s Museum helps teachers with enrichment activities, “Suminagashi, Japanese for ‘ink-floating,’ is a paper marbling technique that was practiced in Japan as early as the 12th century.  Creating these beautifully marbled pieces of paper encourages children to relax, focus and observe the changing swirls in front of them. …

“It is very important that everything used in this activity (the brushes, trays and jars) be as clean as possible. The trays or tubs you use should be at least 2 1/2” deep. Tupperware containers and some aluminum pie tins will work. Make sure that the paper you are using is smaller than the width and length of the trays.

“Fill each tray with 2 inches of room-temperature water, making sure to keep the water free of dust, oil or soap. Pour a small amount of sumi ink into each empty baby food jar, and have pairs of students share a jar.”

The instructions include advice on first discussing what swirls are and also what children already know about Japan.

Here are the instructions, in part.

“1. Make sure your hands and the water tray are CLEAN while you fill it with water. Keep the water and the papers free of dust, oil and soap.
“2. Find a steady place to lay your two brushes, wooden skewers or toothpicks.  Place one brush or skewer on the left side of the water tray and one on the right side.  Dip the left side brush or skewer into the ink.  If using a brush, you only need a little bit of ink!  The surface of the water will pull ink from the brush.  …
“3. Carefully touch the very tip of the inked brush or skewer just to the surface of the water in the middle of the tray.  …
“4. Lay down the inked brush and pick up the other brush (the un-inked one on the right side of the tray).  Touch the end of this brush or skewer either to the side of your nose (your nose has lots of oil on it), to a bar of soap, or (just barely) to the top of a detergent bottle.  Touch the tip of this oily or soapy brush/skewer to the water INSIDE THE DOT of ink (or the center of the tray, if you can’t see the ink yet).  You might see the ink that is floating on the surface of the water move away from where you touched. …
“5. Repeat, alternating between brushes, and always touch the brush tips in the middle of the ink circle on the surface of the water. You should soon see many concentric circles. Once you feel you have enough, you can gently blow across the surface of the water to start creating swirls. …
“6. When you like what you see on the water, pick up a piece of paper, holding it from the sides.  Bring the ends together a bit so the middle of the paper bends down toward the water — now you can lay the paper on the water, starting from the center and quickly laying down the sides and letting go. It may take some practice to get this to be a quick, smooth motion. …
“7. Now lift the paper off the water (if there seems to be a wash of ‘loose’ ink on the surface of the paper, try gently, quickly rinsing the paper under the faucet). The ink that actually printed will stay on the paper.
“8. Lay the your print on the newspaper to dry.”

More here and at Suminagashi.com. My grandson also alerted me to a Japanese anime called My Neighbor Totoro that he saw in school, and my husband and I got it from Netflix. We like Japanese animations.

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Photos: Sonia Narang for WHYY
Kamikatsu has become a hub for workshops on recycling. Employees from the Osaka branch of the Patagonia clothing store traveled here to learn waste-reduction techniques. Recyclables are sorted into 45 bins.

The other day I was reminiscing with my husband about the first time we took our recyclables to a voluntary recycling station outside Philadelphia. It stands out in my mind because John was a brand new baby in the car seat and the young man who assisted us said, “Oh, what a tiny baby,” and I was indignant because I thought John had gotten really big in his first three weeks!

Today most municipalities offer or demand curbside recycling, but if you think we are advanced in this department, consider Kamikatsu, Japan.

Sonia Narang reports at Philadelphia’s WHYY, “It’s not yet 8 a.m., and the recycling center in the town of Kamikatsu is already bustling. Locals arrive in a steady stream, unloading bags full of bottles, cans, and paper into dozens of clearly-labeled bins — all neatly lined up in rows.

“Kamikatsu is a rural town of about 2,000 people in the forested mountains of Japan’s Shikoku island.

“The town’s waste collection center runs a tight ship. Each resident gets a thick booklet of recycling guidelines.

“At the collection center, everything is carefully sorted and arranged with the help of staff. There are a whopping 45 different categories of recyclables, and the town recycles 80 percent of its trash.

“Akira Sakano heads up the town’s Zero Waste Academy, a non-profit organization that manages the recycling program. …

“ ‘We have newspapers, cardboard, scrap papers, shredded papers, paper containers, paper containers with aluminum packaging on back, paper cups, hard paper tubes, other papers,’ she says. …

“The town of Kamikatsu adopted a ‘zero waste’ policy in 2003. Before that, the town used to burn all its trash in incinerators. …

“When waste decomposes in landfills, it releases methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. A large amount of that methane leaks into the atmosphere, heating up the planet. …

“Zero waste has become a buzzword, and cities around the world are pledging to drastically reduce waste. But, in Japan — where land is scarce and there’s limited space for landfills — aggressive recycling has been a way of life for years.

“In addition to helping the environment, Sakano says recycling also has an economic benefit for the town. Incinerating trash can be expensive. …

“There’s no garbage truck service here. Almost everyone has to bring their trash into the waste collection center, and only about 20 percent ends up in the dumpster.

“For older residents who can’t drive themselves to the recycling center, the town does send a pick-up truck. Kazuyuki Kiyohara, who works for the town, also drives the truck around. He’s really concerned about using the earth’s resources wisely, and super enthusiastic in his personal life about recycling. He’s got 14 separate bins at home. …

“Everyone has to wash and dry all their food packaging. Many locals say that’s the most annoying part of the town’s trash policy.

“Back at the recycling center, I catch Daichi Hyakuno as he unloads bags of juice cans, plastics, and … dirty diapers. He moved here from Osaka a few years ago.

“ ‘At first, I was quite confused because the categorization was so detailed,’ he says. ‘It was easier in Osaka, since all I had to do was separate trash into burnables and non-burnables.’ … He’s not a big fan, but understands his social responsibilities. …

“Personally, I got better at recycling when it was practically mandatory. Fifteen years ago, when I lived in rural Japan, all the residents in my town had to write our names in big black letters on clear trash bags.

“It made me feel conscious about what I threw away: If I left even one bottle in there, the town wouldn’t pick up the trash, and everyone would see my bag left out there on the curb. …

“The town is small, but Kamikatsu is gaining international attention. Now outsiders are traveling here to take workshops at the academy.

“On the day I visit, folks from a Japanese branch of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia are here to learn.” More at WHYY, here.

Now who’s going to teach this town about composting so it can burn even less?

Hat tip: @morinotsuma, One More Voice, on twitter.

Once every two months, the town of Kamikatsu in Japan sends a truck to pick up bags of recyclables from elderly residents who are unable to drive to the recycling center.

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Photo: Sustainergy
Solar arrays can reduce a farm’s carbon footprint while allowing room for crops and livestock. In Japan, Sustainergy has designed “solar farms at large scale so that farmers could obtain additional stable income.” Above, cloud ear mushrooms.

When a company solves two important problems with one project, I probably shouldn’t call it killing two birds with one stone. Send me a better metaphor, please.

Adele Peters writes at Fast Company about the dual benefits of a Japanese project that provides not only solar power but also a cozy place to grow mushrooms.

“Small farms in Japan are struggling to survive. Rural populations are shrinking, and the average farmer is 67 years old. But two new farms will test a different business model to try to reinvigorate the sector: solar panels with mushrooms growing underneath them.

“The farms, at two locations in northeastern Japan, will produce a combined 4,000 kilowatts of solar power that will be sold to a local utility, while the mushroom farms will yield an annual 40 tons of cloud-ear mushrooms, a crop that is typically imported from China.

“ ‘The environment needs to be dark and humid for mushrooms to spawn,’ says Minami Kikuchi, who leads the ‘solar sharing’ project that combines agriculture and solar power at Sustainergy, a renewable energy startup. ‘We simply created the suitable environment for them by making use of vacant space under the solar panels.’ ”

As Kikuchi explained to Fast Company in an email, ” ‘We designed the project of combination with solar farms at large scale so that farmers could obtain additional stable income. Of course, this renewable energy technology is contributing to the sustainable development of Japan too.’

“Today, an estimated 10% of Japanese farmland is not in use, despite the fact that the majority of food is imported. Government tariffs have discouraged companies from converting farmland to solar power generation, but a partial change in regulations in 2013 meant that solar power was more viable – provided that it was constructed in combination with agriculture. …

“Sustainergy believes that similar farms could potentially grow other crops that need little light, such as potatoes. In the U.S., researchers at the University of Massachusetts are exploring the possibility of growing a much wider range of crops; a farm in South Deerfield has spent the last two years growing plants like kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard under rows of nine-foot-high solar panels. …

“Farmers also have another option: Grazing sheep or cattle on grass grown under solar panels. Sheep can take the place of lawnmowers, and as the grass sucks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the farm can have a negative carbon footprint.”

More at Fast Company, here.

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Photo: Wycliffe College/PA
English school girl
Gracie Starkey wrote a winning haiku. Here she is at the prize-giving ceremony in Tokyo.

I’ve always liked the standard 17-syllable haiku poem and taught the form to fifth graders years ago. Asakiyume remembers one I wrote for her at a business magazine where we worked. It was about a dream she’d recounted, and it referred to the moon as “trending downward” (business jargon we heard a lot).

Of course, most experts are Japanese. Until now. Here is a story my husband emailed me about a young girl in England who won a haiku contest.

Steven Morris writes at the Guardian, “A British schoolgirl inspired by an autumnal stroll across a newly mown lawn has become the first non-Japanese person to win a prestigious haiku competition.

“Gracie Starkey, 14, from Gloucestershire, beat more than 18,000 entries to take the prize in the English-language section of the contest organised annually by a Japanese tea company. …

“As she and a friend took a walk after [her school’s haiku] workshop, grass cuttings stuck to her footwear and the haiku came to her:

“Freshly mown grass
“clinging to my shoes
“my muddled thoughts

“Her poem – a non-traditional form that does not follow the classic five-seven-five syllable pattern – was entered into the competition organised by the multinational Ito En, first held in 1989. For the first 27 years the English-language section was won by Japanese people. …

“Gracie said she was amazed when she heard she had won and had been invited to Tokyo.

“ ‘I could only tell my mum and dad and sister and my Japanese teacher at Wycliffe College,’ said Gracie. ‘I told my friends that I was going to Wales for a week and that I wouldn’t have any phone reception.’ …

“As well as winning the trip, Gracie’s poem was rendered by a famous calligrapher, and she received a cash prize. Most thrillingly, her poem is being reproduced on thousands of bottles of green tea. …

“Previously she had little interest in poetry. ‘This has certainly made me more interested in poetry and in Japanese culture.’ ”

More at the Guardianhere.

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Image: Reuters/Denis Balibouse
The World Economic Forum touts research suggesting that “forest bathing,” the act of being among the trees, has health benefits.

We love trees. John, for example, serves on the Arlington tree committee and helps with the town’s efforts to inventory its trees, acquire more sidewalk plantings, and assist researchers studying the role of urban trees in carbon reduction.

A master landscaper I know is also into trees. He shared this story about the health benefits of something the Japanese call “forest bathing.”

Ephrat Livini wrote at the World Economic Forum, “Now there’s scientific evidence supporting eco-therapy. The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being.

“Forest bathing — basically just being in the presence of trees—became part of a national public health program in Japan in 1982 when the forestry ministry coined the phrase shinrin-yoku and promoted topiary as therapy. …

“Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher and better — inhaling phytoncide seems to actually improve immune system function. …

“From 2004 to 2012, Japanese officials spent about $4 million dollars studying the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing, designating 48 therapy trails based on the results. Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. These cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. In a 2009 study Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods. …

“Experiments on forest bathing conducted by the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences in Japan’s Chiba University measured its physiological effects on 280 subjects in their early 20s. The team measured the subjects’ salivary cortisol (which increases with stress), blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability during a day in the city and compared those to the same biometrics taken during a day with a 30-minute forest visit. …

“Trees soothe the spirit too. A study on forest bathing’s psychological effects surveyed 498 healthy volunteers, twice in a forest and twice in control environments. The subjects showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores, coupled with increased liveliness, after exposure to trees. …

“City dwellers can benefit from the effects of trees with just a visit to the park. Brief exposure to greenery in urban environments can relieve stress levels.”

More here. Be sure to watch the video.

Hat tip: Paul Kelly on Facebook.

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Art: Tomihiro Hoshino

For more than 30 years, a woman from Hokkaido, Japan, who stayed at our house while studying the local PTA has been sending me magnificent calendars.

The calendars are from a talented artist and former athlete whose paralysis led him to master holding a brush in his mouth. His name is Tomihiro Hoshino.

An article at AccessibleJapan reports, “Tomihiro Hoshino was an experienced 24-year-old gymnastics teacher with a real passion for the sport. An active mountain climber and gymnastics instructor, his life changed completely as he was demonstrating a double somersault technique to a group of junior high school students. Hoshino unfortunately injured his neck during the maneuver and since that day he has been completely paralyzed from the neck down.

“The accident was a serious blow to this extremely active person who was forced to lay motionless for nine years in a Gunma orthopedic Hospital where he was kept under heavy surveillance for respiratory problems and complications as a result of the injury. He and his family never gave up hope that his physical condition would stabilize and improve. Although it took nine years, and he came close to death many times, there was always hope for the future.

“Many say that this hope came two years after his accident. In 1972 one of the patients that had stayed in the same room as Tomihiro Hoshino was being transferred into a different hospital. He asked that the staff, as well as all of the people that stayed with him, to sign a card as a memento of his time in the hospital. Tomihiro couldn’t come up with a solution as to how he would be able to sign his name for the man but with the help of his mother he was able to hold a pen in his mouth and eventually sign Tomo. This would be the beginning of how Tomihiro would begin his career in writing and painting.

“The second event that produced real inspiration for Tomihiro Hoshino was a time that a friend brought him flowers and left them in the window. …

“He was moved to start expressing what they meant to him. He began to gradually draw flowers and eventually became an adept painter with his mouth. …

“Tomihiro Hoshino has successfully produced hundreds of pieces of artwork, many of his essays and poems have been published and his work is displayed in permanent exhibitions at the Tomihiro Hoshino Museum. …

“If you are interested in Tomihiro Hoshino’s works, you can purchase them on Amazon or visit his art gallery in Gunma, Japan.”

More at AccessibleJapan, here. Read about his museum here. Those who read Japanese may click here.

I feel lucky to have had this decades-long friendship with a woman in Hokkaido. Although we haven’t seen each other since the 1980s, her daughter, Mika, came to visit while living in New York. Mika helped decorate our Christmas tree that year. Nowadays, I never do the tree without thinking of her.

Image: Tomihiro Art Museum

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Here’s a great story from the Japan Times about a theater group for people over 60. Where do I sign up?

Nobuko Tanaka writes, “At the age of 91, Saitama resident Izumi Noguchi is speaking at his first press conference — at least as an actor anyway.

“ ‘When I saw an advert in April inviting anyone aged 60 or older to audition for a new project called 10,000 Gold Theater, I just felt like challenging myself to do something I’d never had a chance to try before,’ he says.

“Noguchi is the oldest person to join the 10,000 Gold Theater ensemble. …  ‘Gold Symphony, my dream, your dream’ [is] a staging on an unparalleled scale that features some 1,600 performers (not 10,000 as the name suggests) who are all volunteers and almost all amateurs …

“Arts promoter Taneo Kato came up with the idea [when] he was watching a performance of ‘Hamlet’ in which stage icon Yukio Ninagawa directed members of the Saitama Gold Theater and Saitama Next Theater — troupes made up of older and younger actors that he formed in 2006 and 2009, respectively, after becoming artistic director at Saitama Arts Theater in 2006.

“ ‘Out of the blue, midway through “Hamlet,” veteran enka singers the Komadori Sisters — who are actually twins — appeared and sang “I Want to be Happy One Day,” ’ Kato says, recalling how striking a moment it was to see the women, born in 1938, sing those words.” More here.

I wonder how big an issue memorization is for the performers. My friend Dorothy started a group of older amateur actors in Concord, but they do readings and don’t have to memorize. I have many memorized stories, Bible verses, and poems in my head and can trot them out at a moment’s notice. Not sure if I could acquire new ones to the same extent.

Photo: Maiko Miyagawa
Massive undertaking: Seiji Nozoe directs elderly actors during rehearsals for the play ‘Gold Symphony, my dream, your dream,’ performed in Chuo-ku, Saitama City, December 2016.

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Gudetama, a gloomy egg yolk in a Japanese cartoon series, is one manifestation of an offbeat sense of humor that some observers see as uniquely Japanese.

Patrick Winn wrote the Global Post story.

“Is it possible to market malaise? In Japan at least, the answer is yes. Meet Gudetama, the anthropomorphic embodiment of severe depression.

“Gudetama is a cartoon egg yolk that feels existence is almost unbearable. It shivers with sadness. It clings to a strip of bacon as a security blanket. Rather than engage in society, it jams its face into an eggshell and mutters the words, ‘Cold world. What can we do about it?’

“Gudetama may hate the world beyond its shell. But the world — within Japan’s borders, at least — sure loves Gudetama.

“The misanthropic egg was introduced last year by Sanrio, a Tokyo-based corporation devoted to creating cutesy characters and licensing out their images. Its flagship character, Hello Kitty, is valued at $7 billion and appears on lunch boxes and pajama sets across the globe.

“Gudetama is following Hello Kitty’s lead. Its distressed little face now appears on fuzzy slippers, iPhone covers, plush dolls and even a themed credit card by Visa. …

“Matt Alt, a Japanese-speaking American and specialist in Japan’s pop culture, [decodes] Japan for Western audiences. [He opines that] in Japan, there’s a long history of personifying and anthropomorphizing inanimate objects.

“Gudetama is the most recent of a long, long lineage of mascot characters. Many Japanese mascots will express emotions that Western mascots would not. In the West, mascots are used almost exclusively to cheer people up. In Japan, they’re often used to get a point across or act as mediators in situations where you wouldn’t want to express yourself directly.” More here.

Some US advocates for people with mental illness object strongly to  humor on the subject (even criticizing phrases like “wild and crazy guy”). Others recognize that there are those who use humor to help themselves get well. Wonder what they would think of this egg yolk.

Photo: Sanrio

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Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

So, actually, he was an artist first and only did gardening to support himself as immigrant with no connections.

Los Angeles Times reporter Carolina A. Miranda wrote about him in July, around the time of the “Made in L.A.” biennial at the Hammer Museum.

She says, “When artist Kenzi Shiokava received a telephone call from a pair of curators organizing [the biennial], he says he had little clue of the meteoric effect it would have on his life.

“ ‘I’d never seen “Made in L.A.,” ‘ says the 78-year-old sculptor. ‘I’ve always been off the art establishment.’

“But as he does with anyone who is interested in seeing his work, he invited the curators — Hamza Walker and Aram Moshayedi — to his studio so that they could have a look at his totemic wood sculptures, junk-art assemblages and curiosity boxes featuring orderly, patterned displays of old toys, plastic fruit and discarded religious ephemera.

“Shiokava says he was buoyed by the visit but subdued in his expectations. ‘Lots of shows come and go,’ he says. …

” ‘I didn’t know it’d be like this,’ he says with a resplendent grin. ‘The response has been amazing.’…

“[Walker] says that from the moment he and Moshayedi stepped into Shiokava’s studio, early in 2015, they were sure that this was an artist they wanted to include in the show.

“ ‘It was pretty immediate,’ he says. ‘We were both speechless within 10 paces of the entrance. There were all of these totems right up front and we were like, woooowwww.’ …

“ ‘What’s always kept me going is people coming to my studio and enjoying the work,’ [Shiokava] says in his deeply accented English. ‘But now I know my work will have a legacy. My work will live.’ ”

Read about the artist’s early life as a Japanese immigrant in Brazil, how he ended up in LA, and how he began to develop his art while working as a gardener for Marlon Brando and others (here).

Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Kenzi Shiokava in his studio.

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In a Nippon article by Sakurai Shin, translated, we learn about urban bee culture in Central Tokyo.

“The urban bee farm is the work of the nonprofit Ginza Honey Bee Project, or Ginpachi, founded in March 2006 by Tanaka Atsuo.

“It started when Tanaka, who rented out space in Ginza, learned from a beekeeper that it might be possible to raise honeybees on the roof of the Kami Parupu Kaikan building. From this location, Tanaka learned, the bees could gather nectar from Hibiya Park and the grounds of the Imperial Palace, both within a radius of around three kilometers. Bees are highly sensitive to pesticides and other environmental pollutants, but the Imperial Palace is relatively free of agrichemicals. In this sense, Ginza turns out to be a surprisingly good area for beekeeping. …

“In the 10 years since the Ginza Honey Bee Project began on one corner of a Ginza rooftop, the ripple effect has spread to other parts of Tokyo and far beyond. There are now more than 100 urban beekeeping projects nationwide, and more in South Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere in Asia.

“ ‘Ten years ago, of course, we never imagined the project would have such an impact,’ Tanaka says. ‘I think it’s because people have been able to make it into their own project, reflecting local conditions and responding to local issues.’

“Tanaka also credits the honeybees themselves, emphasizing what human beings can learn from contact with these industrious insects.

“ ‘For example, when I see the bees returning to the rooftop from their flight around Ginza, I can tell from the pollen stuck to them that it’s safflower season, or the tochinoki [Japanese horse chestnut] trees are in bloom. Spending time with the bees puts us in touch with the natural world and its changes. Ginza may seem an unlikely place to be tackling environmental issues, but it’s becoming that sort of neighborhood.’ ”

More here.

This lovely story came to me by way of blogger Asakiyume.

Photo: Nagasaka Yoshiki/Nippon.com

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