Saturday, August 30, 2014

From Rocket News 24: Japan’s secret garbage problem–and what you can do to help

This is a reblog of an article from Rocket News 24. The plight seems serious and heartfelt, so I figured I'd reblog it and get the word out. Keep Japan clean!

Japan’s secret garbage problem–and what you can do to help

Japan is one of the cleanest countries you’ll encounter as a traveler. The inside of the bullet train is kept absolutely spotless, taxi drivers can be seen buffing their vehicles of dust and road grit while waiting for the next customer. Graffiti is rare here and men in jumpsuits are employed to scrape off gum and anything else adhered to train station floors. Glamorous and gleaming is the way the Japanese like things. Even diesel trucks are washed down in their terminals after a day on the roads.
So it’s no surprise that the city streets are litter-free, that public trash bins ask you to separate your refuse into burnable and non-burnable bins, or that the Japanese have a reputation for taking their garbage home with them when attending sporting events.
So it may have been a surprise to some of our readers when someone commented on the trashiness of Japanese beaches in response to my previous article on Japanese beach culture, saying: “The number one beach activity in Japan is actually turning it into a giant open dump, full or empty beer cans, cigarette buds, and plastics of all kinds. It’s a big paradox when you see how clean the streets are.”
While I can’t speak for other beaches, our public beach on Shiraishi Island is quite clean. Beach-goers clean up after themselves and take their garbage home with them. We regularly clean the beach of any stray debris that washes up, including P.E.T. bottles, plastic bags and cans.
But I think I know what our disgruntled reader was talking about. And it’s one of Japan’s biggest, dirtiest secrets that needs to be addressed.
While Japan is known for recycling garbage and having clean streets, there is one big secret that most people don’t know about.
▼Trash cans that are found in stations and in front of convenience stores in Japan ask you toss your waste into the appropriate bin: Cans & Bottles, Newspapers & Magazines, and All Others
garbage cans
▼At 7 a.m. on the way to Okayama Station, this coffee can in the gutter was the only piece of litter I could find!
clean streets
▼As you can see, the water and beach on Shiraishi Island (where I live in the Seto Inland Sea), is sparkling clean.
clean water
You may not know it, but Japan has a garbage problem. Those who live here are well aware of the refuse constantly dumped on Mt. Fuji, a cultural World Heritage Site. As a matter of fact, because of Mt. Fuji’s garbage dispute, the sacred mountain did not qualify for status as a natural World Heritage Site when it was first nominated. After being turned down, it was resubmitted as a Cultural World Heritage Site instead, in which it qualified due to its significance to Japanese culture. Only now that it has become a World Heritage Site has the garbage predicament being tackled.
Other people are cleaning up Japan as well.
Mangetsuman is an individual who has taken it upon himself to clean some of the streets of litter in Tokyo.
 ▼Mangetsuman (Full Moon Man) volunteers his time to clean up streets and entertain people while doing so.
street cleaner
Greenbird is an NPO that has “teams” all over Japan of volunteers who go out and clean the streets of litter.
So it seems that Japan is doing a pretty good job with garbage on land. But what about the sea?
The truth is that the Seto Inland Sea is filthy. Sailors often have to dive into the water to untangle their engine propellers from floating plastic bags that get wrapped around the blades, freezing the shaft. Sailors, kayakers and fishermen see oil floating on top of the water as well as unbroken chains of garbage floating by on currents that are meant to bring plankton and seaweed to sea creatures to feed on. This flotsam is regularly tossed up onto beaches that dot the Inland Sea. Take a look yourself: 

Where is this? Shiraishi Island. And believe it or not, that video was taken on a pretty good day for that beach. I’ve seen it much worse.
▼Same beach, different day
These “angry beaches” as I call them, are all over the Seto Inland Sea. I’ve seen plastic car bumpers, old TVs, even a dead cat that have washed up here. But the majority of the plastic is P.E.T. bottles, something people know they can recycle.
Remember I told you Shiraishi Island has clean beaches? Well, we do. But we also have dirty ones. Our public beach is clean only because it faces West, and the sea’s current carries the dreck past it. With just a little effort, we can keep the beach garbage-free. But the East side of the island is different. Junk is deposited on that side of the island daily.
Japanese people who live in this area say most of the Inland Sea garbage comes from rivers on the mainland. When heavy rains, storms or typhoons fill the rivers, the water rushes down to the mouth at the Inland Sea. With it comes refuse that has been dumped into the rivers.
Who knows how long this plastic floats around the Inland Sea, or how many beaches it washes up on and off of, before it eventually empties out into the Pacific Ocean or the Japan Sea via one of three narrow straits that takes water in and out of the Inland Sea with the tides.
▼Even tiny pieces of plastic get hung up in the natural debris that washes up on shore.
tiny bits of garbage
Isn’t it illegal to dump into the rivers? Yes. It’s called fuhou touki (illegal dumping) and is subject to punishment.
In fact, water pollution control laws have been around since 1970. In 1973, the Environmental Agency implemented a Special Law for the Conservation of the Environment of the Seto Inland Sea, an area of Japan undergoing industrialization and thus degradation as a result of good economic times. The law was meant to improve water quality and the sea areas around reclaimed land used to build factories. The destruction of the marine environment had brought on “red tides,” (algae blooms) which resulted in a depletion of oxygen in the sea, which killed off much of the fish population. Wow! Right?
But most laws against water pollution in Japan are aimed at industrial waste. The problem these days is household waste and little is being done to address this.
Beach clean-ups are common in Japan. We even have them on our island.
▼Students from a local school come to clean up Shiraishi Island’s beaches.
Beach Clean-up
▼After the beach clean up. Natural rubbish is a part of nature’s ecosystem and will decay on its own.
Beach Clean-up
The fishermen clean the beaches on the island every year on Sea Day, the third Monday of July. But the sad thing is, these cleaned beaches will only last a day, because more junk will be washed up almost immediately. So, no matter how often the beach is cleaned, it’s never clean.
While beach cleaning activities increase awareness, it ignores the cause of the problem: People. People are illegally dumping garbage into the sea!
▼A full moon rises over Shiraishi Island. It is a bitter-sweet reminder that the full moon tides bring the most debris to our beaches.
Full moon
The tides are highest at a full moon.
▼The high tide mark on the beach after a full moon.
high tide mark
It was this beach in the video that made me go off plastic. I’m happy to say I’ve been plastic-free for two years now. This is not to say that I don’t occasionally have to use it. But I don’t choose it. I’ve also curbed my addictions to Styrofoam, cheap products and cheap energy. And you can too.
The dilemma with plastics is that even when properly disposed of, they are not biodegradable. And no one really knows what happens to their garbage after it has been disposed of. After all, there would have to be tens of thousands of households dumping their waste into rivers to fill up the Inland Sea with the amount of rubbish it has. I don’t believe for a moment that it’s the fault of just a few individuals.
▼Plastics and other non-biodegradables just lie there, then go to a different beach and lie there, forever on a permanent beach vacation.
regular tide mark
While I commend our RocketNews24 reader on bringing up the point that Japan’s beaches are full of garbage, and for prompting me to write an article about it, I disagree with the commenter about one thing. It’s not just beer cans, cigarette butts and plastic that is littering the beach. It’s all kinds of everything! We are all to blame.
Beer drinkers,
beer can
coffee drinkers,
coffee can
tea drinkers
tea drinkers
and 7-11 patrons.
plastic cup
Those who eat candy,
Snickers wrapper
popsicle stick
and the instant food brigade.
instant ramen cup
Those who wash their hair,
shampoo bottlewalk,
or plant flowers.
People with fresh breath,
People who wash their clothes,
detergent scoop
and people who tie up their boxes for shipping.
Those who use plastic containers,
plastic container
Those who eat fast food,
fast food wrapper, milk carton
even those who (gasp!) drink milk.
In other words, it’s everybody. And only we can take responsibility for the garbage we produce. Remember, this is just one of the many beaches on one of over 700 hundred islands in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
Since Japan seems to be doing little towards remedying water pollution, I thought I’d introduce at least one idea that could help. Here is a device I saw recently in Australia, invented to help combat river flotsam. And it seems to work.
▼Melbourne’s “litter traps” collect floating garbage before it becomes a menace.
litter trap
The litter doesn't come from people tossing it into the river–it comes from street litter getting diverted into the river through storm drains (yep, during heavy rains, storms, and cyclones).
▼Signs near each trap explain: “This litter trap is one of 17 [placed] at the most effective collection points.”
litter trap
Why isn’t anything being done in Japan? Good question!
Most people don’t realize the problem is as big as it is, or they’ve come to think it is normal. When people’s reaction to garbage in the sea is: “It comes from the rivers,” or “It’s because of the rain,” you know there is a problem. That’s just twisted thinking! The garbage problem comes from people (not the rivers) and it’s because of people (not the rain).
Or maybe, they just don’t know what to do about it. Perhaps Japan needs suggestions from people like you. After all, this is a world-wide issue being tackled by other countries as well. How does your country deal with the sea pollution?
My second guess at the reason nothing is being done is that people have yet to demand change. And this is where you can help.
If you love Japan like I do, you won’t allow this to continue. Let’s show Japan that we care about her rivers and seas. Demand change by taking the first step: share this article with your friends and on social media. Give your opinions on the subject.
Be proactive! Japan will thank you for it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Amuro Namie Drawing

I used to draw at one point in my life. Not so much anymore, but this is a drawing of mine that I liked. It's of Japanese pop star Amuro Namie (安室奈美恵). Apparently I was a big fan of hers back in the day, big enough to want to draw a picture of her anyway. I'm posting the original as well as a version of it with a filter that I liked on top of it. I can't find the original photograph for reference so you'll just have to take my word on it that it closely resembles it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra: Ska Band For the Ages

One of my most favorite bands of all the bands that have ever banded is Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. They're a nine piece Ska band from Japan that has been around since the beginning of the 90's and they have not slowed down since. They've overcome a couple of tragedies and set backs here and there––the death of two former band members, members leaving for various reasons––but they keep trucking along. As well as keeping it traditional, they also infuse their brand of very danceable Ska with other genres such as Rock, Funk and Jazz. The sound of the band has changed a little over the years––there was more of a Rock sound to it than the Jazzy sound of recent years due to changes in their music direction, but they sound as good and as polished as ever.

The Ska genre is all but dead here in America, and I hear it's dipping in Japan as well (it used to be a haven for Ska fans like myself during the dark times), but you know who keeps releasing albums regardless of this miserable absence of a proper music scene? Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, that's who!

Do not mess with these dudes or you'll get a trumpet up your ass! Or a trombone. Or a Saxophone. Oh, you do not want a saxophone up there, let me tell you.

I count myself lucky being a fan of such a hard working and prolific band as I am never want for new music from them––they put out new full albums seemingly quarterly––and their quality has never waned. I couldn't imagine being a super fan of say, Creed, or something.

For reasons other than 8 year gaps between albums, obviously.

In fact, they have so much output that I missed an album from the end of 2012. I have since rectified the situation, but, as a self proclaimed hyper fan, I still beat myself up over that one.

As of late, they have taken a page from The Skatalites and have recorded a number of singles as a backing band for some of Japan's most popular artists and singers. From Okuda Tamio to Shiina Ringo to Puffy to Chara to Crystal Kay, and, most recently, Yoshie Nakano of Ego Wrappin' fame, Asian Kung Fu Generation and Mongol 800. They've even done a collaboration with Angelo Moore from Fishbone. They don't even stop there, having also provided the soundtracks or theme songs for television shows, commercials, video games and anime, most notably, One Piece.

About ten years ago, Skapara (their nick name) performed in Hollywood, CA and I was extremely fortunate to have seen them play live and it was one of the best Ska shows I've ever been to. They even played Coachella in 2013. These guys are going strong some twenty five years after their formation and show zero signs of stopping any time soon. I, myself, am in it for the long haul.

With all of their collaborations with famous Japanese artists I certain hope they finally do one with my other favorite band of all bands that have ever banded, Sambomaster. Then, and only then, will I be able to achieve full personal musical bliss.

Below are a few choice songs from their catalog. Enjoy:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu LIVE in Los Angeles!

Last night, a few friends and I went and saw the Japanese pop sensation, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ) live on the Los Angeles stop of her "100% KKP WORLD TOUR."According to her Wikipedia page, she started out as a blogger, than moved on to modeling, and finally ending up doing the Japanese idol thing, all before the ripe old age of 20.

That's as perfect an idol/model face as I ever done seen!

Now, none of us had been big fans of hers or anything before seeing this. I had seen about three of her videos previously and enjoyed them as much as I usually enjoy Japanese poppy musical acts, which is to say,  pretty minimally. Cute for sure, but not enough to make me a life long fan or anything.

And I definitely couldn't match this dude's enthusiasm.
But seeing her live last night has turned us all into instant certifiable fans. Her charm and the charm of her songs is unmistakable and perhaps inescapable. We danced along with her, as did the rest of the crowd, and had a very fun night. A friend and I agreed that it made us feel like kids again.

As one friend pointed out, the production of the show was suspiciously low in quality. I'm know not of the budget of things like this, perhaps her relative obscurity in the states had something to do with it (you couldn't tell she wasn't big here by the huge crowd that turned out, that's for sure), but the quality of the energy was in no way compromised.

But the quality of my phone's ability to take reasonably decent pictures from a distance sure was. 

I left the show wanting a CD, but as the gentle men and women of Club Nokia routed us outside of the venue afterwards and away from the merch table, that was not possible. Thankfully, the US iTunes store does carry her albums and quite a few of her singles and so I was able to purchase one there. Be sure to look her up.

This was her second appearance in L. A., and if she ever makes a stop in your city in the future, wherever you may live, and if you like cutesy J-pop that may be the cutesy-est J-pop that ever popped, be sure not to miss her.

Her music videos are amongst the most entertaining you will ever see, and includes such things as a faceless, chubby dancer dancing to her songs with amazing dexterity, to floating eye balls and ninjas.

Below is some video I took of the show of her performing my favorite song of hers and the actual music video to it.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Makankosappo... じゃなくない?

Apparently, there's a new fad amongst Japanese school girls (that will no doubt spread to the rest of the Japan and THE REST OF THE WORLD!... if we're lucky) where in they take pictures of themselves blasting away friends in a style that's inspired by a move the character Piccolo does in Dragon Ball Z, called Makankosappo (KATAKANA = マカンコサッポウ, KANJI = 魔貫光殺砲).

Okay, guys do it, too. But it's funnier when the girls do it. 

Why it's named after this move, I do not know as it looks nothing like the move being referenced. 

First, you have to cut off your arm, then shoot a large lazer beam from your other good arm. Come on Japanese school girls, where's your commitment?

In any case, it's a very cool trend and I look forward to many years of Makankosappo-inspired pictures. Or months. Or weeks. Or days. Wait, are they still taking pictures like these?

Here's what the actual move looks like in action!

Critiques 4 Geeks
Danny Choo


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tokyo Disney Resort

Anyone who knows anyone that remotely knows me knows that I've been a lifelong Disney fan. And as much as I love a lot of their animated films (and two or three live action ones), my fascination is mostly with their theme parks. Ever since I was a little boy, I've appreciated the minute detail in their theming, never compromising quality for something like quantity or cost. In their rides and structures anyway. In their American parks, if they only paid as much attention to their food quality as they did their architecture it would be that much more perfect.

If you've ever found yourself in a conversation with a Disney fan from Japan, I'm sure you're quite used to cries of "Disneyland in Los Angeles is so small. Tokyo Disneyland is so much better." Apparently nostalgia and loyalty to its creator is lost on the Japanese. Walt Disney actually walked the grounds of Disneyland and kept an actual apartment there, and for that, Disneyland will remain superior to any of the parks in my eyes.

Another popular one is "I was surprised by how small your castle is compared to ours." It was the original, I always tell them. To them, bigger is better, but that is not always the case. It was the first of its kind (theme park castles, not castles in general; those have been around for much longer), so that was probably the largest they could have conceived. We have the original, and that makes it the best, perhaps not aesthetically, but historically.

Besides, if you walk right up to them and force the perspective in your brain, you can hardly tell the difference at all.

I've not yet been to the any of the Florida parks or the one in France, but if you twisted my arm and asked me which of the parks that I've been to is my favorite, I'd have to go with the Anaheim original. But a very close second would definitely have to be Disney Sea in Tokyo, which is adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland. Kind of like the distance between Disneyland and California Adventure, the only difference being a twenty minute walk or a 300 yen monorail ride. Okay, not kind of like it at all.

Disney Sea was designed with adults in mind, and as such all of the details, the style of architecture, etc., has a sophistication that the other parks––the ones here on the west coast at least––lack. It's named Disney Sea because part of it is actually built over the sea, and because of it's nautical theme.

The park is comprised of even distinct areas: Mediterranean Harbor, Mysterious Island (inspired HEAVILY by the works of Jules Verne), Mermaid Lagoon (don't be surprised to see a lot of Ariel here), Arabian Coast (Aladdin themes abound), Lost River Delta, Port Discovery (think SCIENCE!) and American Waterfront, which looks like what the Japanese think New York probably looked like in 1900. For all I know it is very accurate.

And Tokyo Disneyland, I hear, is much like Walt Disney World in design and feel so if you've been there then you have some idea of what it's like, just picture it with 95% more Japanese citizens.

I've been to both parks many times and a trip to Japan for me would not be complete without a stop to one, or if I'm lucky, both parks within the Tokyo Disney Resort. Now I will share some of my photos and thoughts from the parks with you, in no comprehensible order. Oh, all right, I'll do my best to divide them up by lands and areas, but that's all you get. I'll focus more on Disney Sea since that's the more foreign (to us) of the two. Enjoy!


The counter service foods within the Tokyo Disney Resort is some of the best I've had at any theme park so far. Above is a picture of a sausage with a suspicious bone attached to it, but don't let that deter you from eating it. It's one of the most juicy and delicious sausages I've ever had. That, coupled with a beer or cassis cocktail that you can also purchase at the same stand, makes a perfect midday snack. It's available at a stand called Barnacle Bill's. Click the link (which is in Japanese).

The second to last picture in the collage above is simply of a sausage wrapped in a tortilla with cheese and is the single best snack food I've eaten at a theme park. It's located near their Splash Mountain at a stand called Rackety's Raccoon Saloon.

Their churros also come in a variety of flavors and have a Mickey shape to them. The ones above were just maple, but there are special flavors that come around here and there. I've had strawberry, Lemon Honey, and, get this, sesame flavored ones in the past.

A bit blurry, but they are definitely Honey Lemon and Sesame flavored churros. What else could be colored that way?

Here's something called an ukiwaman, which is a standard Nikuman (meat bun) shaped like an ukiwa, which means floatation device in Japanese. This one was stuffed with minced shrimp. This had the most clever packaging, as I'm sure you'll agree. Donald never had a tastier time being overboard.

Aside from the usual foods, they also sell popcorn in flavors you'd never see here. I've eaten, curry flavored, strawberry flavored, sea salt flavored, standard caramel flavored, cream soda flavored (which is more like a creamy 7-up there then the American version of it) and my personal favorite, black pepper popcorn. There is a black pepper popcorn at California adventure as well, but it's no where near as good as its Japanese counterpart. I neglected to snap a pic of the popcorn though. My apologies.

The only time I've had a bad food experience there was when I ate a cheese burger, but that was during a time where they had a problem with the beef exports in Japan and were using pork as a substitute, so I'll give them a pass there.


Tokyo Disneyland Hotel

The monorail that takes you from one park to the other.

The monorail interior.

It was gussied up to celebrate the opening of Toy Story Mania.


I went in October, during their big Halloween celebration and the visitors, including adults as well as children, were encouraged to wear costumes, something I couldn't imagining happening on these shores. That may have something to do with the Tokyo Disney Resort being owned by a different entity that's not Disney affiliated. Here are some photos of visitors in costume. There were a LOT of Alices.



The following pictures are from a show they do on the waters of Mediterranean Harbor called, The Legend of Mythica. It's a truly fabulous show with music by Alan Silvestri of Back to the Future fame. 



If there's a better representation of The Little Mermaid than this at another Disney park then I don't know it. Astounding detail. 



I don't have many shots from the Lost River Delta, but these are from the queue for the ride Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. I would like to believe that's where they got the inspiration for the film, but despite the similar locations and the name "crystal skull" I don't think they have too much in common. 

A Hidden Mickey


I have even less of Port Discovery, but I did risk potential jail time to get these pictures while in the queue to Storm Rider, a sort of Star Tours-style adventure motion simulator. Okay, it wasn't THAT dramatic, but they did ask me to put away my phone during their presentation. They are particular about taking pictures of the queue areas. They don't like it.


The pics below are of the Tower of Terror (The "Twilight Zone" is omitted as this version has nothing to do with the TV series). The story line has to with with a Robert Ripley-type (of Ripley's Believe it or not fame) explorer by the name of Hightower. He traveled the world bringing back artifacts to his famed Hightower Hotel, one of them being the mysterious Idol, Shiriki Utundo, an idol that is said to obtain a curse, the curse that may or may not have been the cause of the disappearance of Mr. Hightower. My money says that's definitely the cause.

Mr. Hightower himself!

At night, they have their own version of Fantasmic. I do prefer the original, but theirs is also quite marvelous and very original. And their dragon actually worked!

Here's a little video of it.


There's also a Downtown Disney-type of outdoor mall called Ikspiari located near the parks that's filed with all kinds of shops and eateries and a movie theater, but the only picture I got from it was of the facade of the Disney Store.

All in all, the Tokyo Disney Resort is a very magical place and a must-go destination for any Disney parks fan if you ever find yourself in Japan, and if you can afford it that is.