Monday, June 29, 2009

Panasonic to sponsor anti-whaling protests?

You might be surprised to hear that such a bastion of Japanese society would sponsor the new Sea Shepherd boat, but here it is in full technicolour (click on it for a larger pic, the logo is clearly visible on the near outrigger):

And here is the story about how this boat is joining forces with the Sea Shepherd expedition to harassment Japanese whalers.

Of course the sponsorship predates this announcement. I predict some rapid strategic re-painting.

[jules' pics] 6/28/2009 05:57:00 PM

gargoyle, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

The other day we found a shrine not on the Kamakura tourist map. Too small to be included I suppose, but google maps on my iphone knew it was there. It had some nice carvings, and the gargoyles were rather cute and only slightly scary.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/28/2009 05:57:00 PM

Sunday, June 28, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/28/2009 05:52:00 AM

James, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Thirteen years ago on midsummer's day, James and I got wedded. It has taken me a whole week to take a half-decent photo of him, to show you just how well marriage has suited him.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/28/2009 05:52:00 AM

Saturday, June 27, 2009


This looks like pretty serious news for the Hadley Centre - a 25% cut in their funding. It seems to be effective immediately, with the MoD reneging on their existing 3 year deal. No doubt there is a desperate scramble underway to pick up funds from alternative source.

It's a shame, as the HC had always seemed to be one of the more secure and stable research centres in the UK (ref previous posts 1, 2, 3). If history is a guide, there will follow several years of budgetary struggles, low morale, reduced productivity, drawn-out redundancy processes and some of the best staff will give up on the place and find something else to do.

Incidentally, there seems to be some huge "stimulus fund" sloshing around in Japan right now, to the tune of $50m annual funding per project, but I think we didn't bother to apply because there wasn't any way we could find the necessary scientists to spend the money on...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/24/2009 09:11:00 PM

fragile opportunists, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Unlike some, these tiny flowers have real character. I have previously seen them flowering colourfully in the cracks between ancient flagstones that pave temple grounds. These ones were found dangling elegantly from one of the pots in our "garden". The next day they were completely gone, thanks to an overnight rainshower.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/24/2009 09:11:00 PM

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/24/2009 01:27:00 AM

butterfly, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

B is for butterfly but the blue pattern on its wings makes a V in this picture. The Japanese for V is Bwee. It gets even more confusing when bwegetarian lunch at the canteen is described as stuffed pork parcels.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/24/2009 01:27:00 AM

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/23/2009 12:23:00 AM

jin-riku-sha, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Nothing stops the touristic fun in Kamakura. Noon on Sunday, the rain had just decreased from tipping buckets to merely torrential.

While it seems the beauty ideal for most Japanese is the anorexic twig, I much prefer the look of the well toned outdoorsy guys and gals who pull the rickshaws.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/23/2009 12:23:00 AM

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dogs and Demons

The latest in my occasional forays (see here, here for previous) into reading Japan-related literature is the widely-discussed "Dogs and Demons" by Alex Kerr. The author is a long-term resident with a serious involvement in the cultural history of Japan (he has built/restored an old farmhouse which is widely visited) and his account of "the fall of modern Japan" is heavily biased towards criticism of the unstoppable pave-and-build policies of the bureaucratic machine.

His book falls somewhere in between the previous two I've read: like Niall Murtagh, he's a long-term resident with a wealth of personal experience, but in contrast to "The bue eyed salaryman" this book is no autobiography, dealing instead with Japanese culture in a much more general and comprehensive sense. However, the comparative analysis does not match the level of Alan Macfarlane's "Japan through the looking glass", and too often for my taste seems to generalise from a few anecdotes without any evidence that they represent something specific to Japan. I'm sure we have all experienced the problems of obdurate unyielding bureaucracy in our own countries, and some anecdotes about city councils ignoring the wishes of the people hardly prove Japan to be uniquely bad in this respect.

The bulk of his book deals with the pave-and-build policies which have rubbed out much of Japan's past, which is probably where the author's own experience and authority to speak is greatest. It is pretty convincing and horrifying stuff, but weakened slightly by my own daily experience of living in Kamakura and frequent visits to Yokohama, the former of which is a particularly beautiful and reasonably well-preserved town and the latter which has a rather well-designed and attractive cityscape. However I fully agree that most of the coastal plain is packed with a hell of mis-shaped jumbled boxes that pass for accommodation and offices here, and the countryside and coastline is concreted over to a ridiculous extent. When we cycle into the surrounding countryside, the villages are unremittingly ugly and heaps of abandoned tyres and derelict corrugated iron sheds are common sights. It is also interesting to read the stories behind the numerous imposing cultural centres, art galleries and town halls which seem so superfluous and uneconomic.

When he ventures into other fields he seems less convincing: it was particularly poignant to read his lambasting of the conservative financial system here in contrast to the innovation of derivatives in the West and particularly the USA, just as the latter has collapsed around our ears. Perhaps there is something to be said for a bit of fiscal conservatism after all! I was also not entirely convinced by his criticism of the house-of-cards nature of the economic management: the fact is that all modern economies run along similar lines in terms of borrowing against the future, and although the JGovt's borrowing is higher than most, so are the savings of its people. Therefore, a direct quantitative comparison with other nations is not necessarily appropriate, and I don't see any reason to trust his judgement about it. He was disappointingly brief on the political system that keeps everything just so - as an indication of this, there are 5 chapters comprising 110 pages which focus directly on construction, but only 26 pages on education, and a paltry 15-page chapter entitled "Bureaucracy: power and privilege". Even this section barely touches on the failure of a real functioning democracy to take root amidst the "shoganai" attitude to life - surely a fundamental issue in any discussion of the ills of Japanese society.

I found the book a bit too negative for my taste: it amplified my own negative feelings about Japan, without counterbalancing that with the positives that have kept me here for 8 years - which is now longer than I stayed in all of my previous 3 jobs combined in the UK. Anyone looking for anecdotes about what is "wrong" with Japan will be well served by this book, but I'm not sure they will be much wiser about the root causes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shorter UK Climate Projections

Be born in London.

Work in Paris and Madrid.

Retire to Nice and Malaga.

All without having to move house, learn French and Spanish, or drink cold fizzy beer. What's not to like?

Disclaimer: This blog post is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information on the subject of climate change. It is provided with the understanding that neither the author nor the publisher is engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services by providing this Web site. The author and publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or other damages. As each individual situation is unique, questions specific to the individual should be addressed to an appropriate professional to ensure that the situation has been carefully and appropriately evaluated. Projections are provided for illustrative purposes only. Your temperatures may go down as well as up (surely not - Ed). Always wear a cycle helmet and adopt the brace position.

Friday, June 19, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/18/2009 06:58:00 PM

vegetation rampant, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

In April the same pond (a different angle) looked like this. Go veggie!

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/18/2009 06:58:00 PM

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Japanese exports up!

This is a story that has had a moderate amount of international press, but it's worth a re-telling. I don't, of course, refer to an (as yet imaginary) recovery in Japan's balance of trade, which has plummetted recently - you aren't buying enough electronic gizmos and cameras! - but rather the Japanese Govt response to the downturn in the economy.

They are trying to export people instead.

Strictly speaking, they are not Japanese, of course - even though they've lived here for up to 20 years and have Japanese ancestry. Yes, I'm talking about the Nikkei (Japanese-related) immigrants, who were invited back here to fill the shortage of manual labour and are being bribed to go home now that times are tougher. After 20 years of paying taxes, social security and pension contributions (which they will lose) it must be a nice little earner for the Japanese government to dump them on someone else's doorstep rather than provide the sort of assistance that one might expect a developed country to offer to the most vulnerable end of society.

I'll rewind a little to the start of this sorry tale. The Nikkei are mostly the descendants of Japanese who emigrated to South American countries about 100 years ago when Japan had a surfeit of labour. Mostly these immigrants ended up poor and exploited like most unskilled immigrants around the world. Of course one or two of them have risen to the level of dictator and mass murderer at which point they were welcomed back to Japan with open arms, but that's another story :-) Fast forwarding on to about 1990, with Japan increasingly short of workers - especially those prepared to do the "KKK" (DDD in English - dirty, dangerous, difficult) jobs that have to be done in a heavy manufacturing country - and the JGovt hit upon these people as a ready source of labour. Immigration law basically prohibits unskilled immigration, so in a touchingly naive display of racism they invented a new long-term visa for these "Japanesey" people who, it was argued, would readily assimilate back into their native culture .

It hasn't worked quite like that, with the immigrant population substantially horded into ghettos in manufacturing cities, and the children often unschooled (did I mention, foreign children get no automatic right of education in Japan). The Govt fears a bit of social unrest as unemployment grows and the chickens come home to roost. So, best to ship them all home, and make them someone else's problem.

Hence the offer of a bribe for these unwanted masses to piss off home, after they have spent up to 20 years working hard for low salaries in difficult conditions, paying into the tax and social security systems.

Not surprisingly this offer has not gone down too well in the relevant population. Recently, the terms were softened so that those who do return "home" can re-apply to come to Japan in the future (originally this was prohibited). Frankly I'm not sure that isn't even worse, the open admission that this wheeze is nothing more than a transparent attempt from Japan to evade its moral (and indeed legal) responsibilities to provide the same social security safety net as Japanese citizens in equivalent difficulties would benefit from until the economy picks up. Because it will pick up, and Japan's depopulation continues apace, so in another 5 years there will be the same shortage of workers as there was 10 years ago. But hey, why think of a long term approach when you can muddle through a month at a time?

[jules' pics] 6/17/2009 11:18:00 PM

cute car, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Super cool salary man brightening up the toxic waste dump part of town.

[photo taken by iphone while riding bicycle]

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/17/2009 11:18:00 PM

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Apparently anonymous bloggers around the world are "horrified" that some previously anonymous blogger revealed enough of himself through his writing that he was identified and "outed" by a journalist.

If there really are such bloggers, I think they need to get out more. And perhaps, they should realise that they are almost certainly less anonymous than they think. While I do think it's a bit rude to "out" someone who prefers to remain anonymous, it can hardly be reasonable to take legal action to prevent an investigative journalist from doing this.

[jules' pics] 6/16/2009 11:21:00 PM

Tokyo cliche, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Next century technology and medieval culture. You already knew that, but it still keeps us entertained each day.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/16/2009 11:21:00 PM

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/15/2009 09:57:00 PM

Hotel Okura, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Actually it isn't true. Rather we had a huge rave at Hotel Okura, one of the top 3 hotels in Tokyo. And I improved my minor-royalty number by one point.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/15/2009 09:57:00 PM

Monday, June 15, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/15/2009 12:39:00 AM

Tokyo, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

We spent a weekend of quiet reflection in Tokyo.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/15/2009 12:39:00 AM

Friday, June 12, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/11/2009 09:25:00 PM

Kamakura beer festival, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Put off by the photo showing a huge throng packed into a small hall, I convinced James to not to go all the way to Tokyo for the Beer Festival last weekend. Instead we went to the Kamakura Beer Festival, attended by two people and held in our lounge. I suppose it was a bit lame compared to the real thing, sampling only 7 beers from a single company, but Kamakura beer is particularly good. I see their website currently sports a picture of some....hydrangea.... there is no escape....

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/11/2009 09:25:00 PM

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Actually I think it sounds ambitious and yet not completely absurd in the way that most politically correct mitigation plans seem to be (2C limit? 80% reduction by 2050? Pure posturing.) I welcome the choice of a goal that might actually motivate some action for once, rather than standing vainly in its stead.

[jules' pics] 6/11/2009 12:30:00 AM

ajisai, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

If you want to see as many hydrangea varieties as possible, covering several diferent shapes and the whole (pastel) rainbow then Hase-Dera (near the Daibutsu) is the place to go. If, on the otherhand, you want blue blob overload then Meigetsuin (yesterday's photo) is not to be missed. Expect queues at both places.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/11/2009 12:30:00 AM

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/09/2009 08:54:00 PM

Meigetsuin stairs, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Even for those who don't appreciate ajisai sufficiently this is a precious shot of a a famous view at Megetsuin in Kita-Kamakura. It was taken at 8.25am yesterday, just before the full bloom was announced on the TV. When such things are announced on the TV, the whole of Tokyo comes to visit Kamakura. Luckily we're heading out to Tokyo this weekend.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/09/2009 08:54:00 PM

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/09/2009 06:41:00 AM

ajisai, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Proper flowers have architecture (like the passion flower), or they might have striking colours, or patterns or interesting smells. After all the idea is blatant advertising; they want the insects to visit them rather than some other flower. Then there is the hydrangea (ajisai). Flat little flowers that form amorphous blobs of pastel. I hate pastel. But in rainy season we must worship the hydrangea. You have been warned.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/09/2009 06:41:00 AM

Sunday, June 07, 2009

We are safety country!

Maybe being number 7 on the list is a little disappointing, but on looking carefully it seems that Japan has actually got safer compared to last year when it was number 4, however other countries have got even safer and overtaken it.

The numbers appear to be largely made-up anyway, including things like public perception of crime (not actual crime) which probably has more to do with media attitudes than reality. Perhaps the funniest is the military assessment. The UK, being recently/currently engaged in a number of wars (ie travelling around the world and killing people, probably in breach of international law in at least one case) gets a fairly high score of 4 out of 5 for its "military capability". Whereas Japan has its laughable "self defence force" that first wouldn't go to Iraq because it was too dangerous for them, and then had to be defended by the Dutch when they did dare to go (and rumour has it they also paid large sums to local militia as bribes to avoid coming under attack). For this rather pathetic display of military prowess they get a maximum score of 5!?!?!

Of course there has been some unpleasant rhetoric here, such as moves to renounce the pacifist constitution and allow first-strike attacks on foreign countries "when an attack is certain" (like Pearl Harbor, for example). But that's hardly military capability, and takes place against a background of North Korea "testing rockets" in the general direction of Japan. Surely it doesn't compares to the UK and USA actually bombing random people.

I'm surprised by the "respect for human rights" where Japan supposedly outscores the UK, as I didn't think Japan really believed in the concept. A Japanese govt minister is recently on record as saying that they didn't want to go down the Western route of allowing too many human rights or they would get "human rights metabolic syndrome" (contrary to that newspaper article, the speech did not cause any great shocks here, it was just business as usual). Off the top of my head, Japan has no general laws against racial discrimination and refuses to enforce CERD despite pretending to sign up to it over a decade ago, it is renowned as a haven for child kidnappers and refuses to adopt the Hague Convention on child abduction, the courts have a conviction rate generally reported as about 98% or more relying largely on forced confessions extracted over 23 days in custody with negligible legal rights, it accepts orders of magnitude fewer refugees than comparably rich nations...the list of human rights transgressions is a long and inglorious one. I would never pretend the UK is perfect, but it's really hard to fathom how it could rate worse than Japan on any rational assessment of this factor.

[jules' pics] 6/07/2009 01:16:00 AM

passion flower, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

In its prime, our passion flower has had at least 60 flowers at once but last year the damp got the better of it, and one of the main branches died. The flowers it does have are, however, no less remarkable than before.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/07/2009 01:16:00 AM

Saturday, June 06, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/06/2009 03:28:00 AM

flowers, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

[Kamakura, Japan]

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/06/2009 03:28:00 AM

Friday, June 05, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/05/2009 12:56:00 AM

hachimangu, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

The classic view of Hachimangu in Kamakura is something like this (only better, of course). Without serious cropping it's only possible with a long lens, since as you move closer to the buildings, the higher one become hidden.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/05/2009 12:56:00 AM

Thursday, June 04, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/04/2009 01:11:00 AM

sugita sunset, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

The toxic waste dump part of town, where we work, at its best.

[photo taken by iphone]

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/04/2009 01:11:00 AM

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

[jules' pics] 6/03/2009 04:36:00 AM

Gorinto, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Two armies ready for battle? Three hundred samurai killed each other here at Sugimotodera, the oldest temple in Kamakura. It's an interesting place for a battle with not much flat ground on the otherwise steep hillside. These gorinto are for the repose of the dead samurai.

I find it helps to put these things in the context of what was going on elsewhere in the world at the time. So here goes. The battle occurred fifteen years before Corpus was founded, while the legends say that the temple was founded around 100 years before Alfred the Great didn't found Univ.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/03/2009 04:36:00 AM

How long??

Via Japan Probe, I found this truly amazing video:

And I thought I was bad at Japanese! Of course, I've been here for 8 years, but not formally studying Japanese for that duration, in fact I have a full time job that involves very little contact with the language and no real incentive to learn (no matter how well acclimated I become, I'll still probably be randomly thrown out with little notice and less justification at some point in the future, given how typical that experience is). Nevertheless, I can manage a few simple phrases about how long I've been here and whether I can eat natto. Shockingly, this interviewee was majoring in English at university! Presumably when she graduates she will end up in the Engrish slogan-writing division of some company. Well, that or "teaching" English to unsuspecting Japanese children, who will themselves end up incapable of stringing two words together after 7 years...the mind boggles.

For the avoidance of doubt, I should point out that there are very many highly capable English-speakers here. In fact I think that almost everyone in my institute is far better than this specimen. But maybe not all.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Monday, June 01, 2009

More on the cabbage knickers

With reference to these, It seems that ITN thinks that they were actually made out of cabbage.
Presumably they think other designs (on show in their video at that link) were made of onion skins, swans, spider webs and fish skins.

It seems that something was lost in translation. They also completely garbled the winning designer's name too.

[jules' pics] 6/01/2009 03:51:00 AM

supersize daisies, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Some things in Kamakura are huge: the insects, the bamboo, the spiders, the butterflies, some of the trees... and the daisies. Even more excitingly, Lan's lens has learned to focus proper like.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 6/01/2009 03:51:00 AM