Please no stealing! (please!)

“If your home was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a tsunami, and radiation from a nuclear power plant, you’d be forgiven for not remaining calm”, speculates Christopher Beam in a recent Slate article. “Yet that’s what many Japanese quake victims appear to be doing. People are forming lines outside supermarkets. Life is “particularly orderly,” according to PBS. “Japanese discipline rules despite disaster,” says a columnist for The Philippine Star.”

Nick Kristof of the NYTimes also observed the same phenomenon during a similiar tragedy in Japan’s history: “Japan’s orderliness and civility often impressed me during my years living in Japan, but never more so than after the Kobe quake. Pretty much the entire port of Kobe was destroyed, with shop windows broken all across the city. I looked all over for a case of looting, or violent jostling over rescue supplies. Finally, I was delighted to find a store owner who told me that he’d been robbed by two men. Somewhat melodramatically, I asked him something like: And were you surprised that fellow Japanese would take advantage of a natural disaster and turn to crime? He looked surprised and responded, as I recall: Who said anything about Japanese. They were foreigners.”

Slate‘s Beam goes on to speculate that the reasons for this uniquely Japanese phenomenon run deeper than the oft-invoked ‘culture’ argument (which, he also mentions, is at any rate fallacious for employing circular reasoning). ‘Structural’ differences, such as the long-standing reward system for honesty, a ubiquitous police presence, and the ironically crime-reducing organized crime groups, may help to reinforce the cultural expectation of group over individual.

Jake also contributed information about how the yakuza are keeping looting down and even assisting, on a fairly large scale, in the tsunami relief efforts; “The Sumiyoshi-kai claims to have shipped over 40 tons of [humanitarian aid] supplies nationwide and I believe that’s a conservative estimate.”

For the full Slate article, please go here

For the Nick Kristof blog, go here

There are 22 organized crime groups in Japan. The top three groups and others are distributing humanitarian aid all over Japan, partly for PR, partly as part of living up to their self-professed codes of 任侠道 (ninkyodo). (List taken from National Police Agency Report 2010)

Updated list: How to donate to relief efforts in Japan

Note: This is an updated list from the previous entry. If you have anything to add, please let us know in the comments.

For those who are interested in contributing to relief and recovery efforts, below are some of the organisations that are taking donations:

Japan Society has created a disaster relief fund to aid victims. 100 percent of contributions will go to organizations that directly help victims recover from the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunamis.

PayPal is giving you the option to donate to several different charities through their website.

Washington DC-based Convoy of Hope is accepting donations. They’re providing food and supplies by working with local organisations inside Japan.

A group called Give 2 Asia is accepting donations to support immediate relief and short-term to long-term recovery projects. According to Reuters, they are currently “working with local advisors based in Tokyo to assess the current situation and to obtain more information on the needs of survivors.”

Donate directly to the Japan Red Cross here, even if you’re abroad.

The American Red Cross is accepting a minimum of $10 to support disaster relief efforts by the group in Japan and affected areas of the Pacific. The Canadian Red Cross also has a special site set up. The British Red Cross and Australian Red Cross are taking donations as well. You can also donate money to the American Red Cross through iTunes.

Global Giving will let you donate on the website or send them a text to contribute funds towards their earthquake and tsunami relief fund.

The Salvation Army are reportedly asking for financial donations and have sent teams from the US to join those already in Japan.

Save the Children has dispatched an international support team to help staff in Japan, and say donations will go to relief efforts.

International Medical Corps has put together teams and supplies to work with partner groups in Japan, and is asking for donations to help throughout the region. They’re also accepting donations through Groupon.

Operation USA is looking for financial donations, “bulk quantities of disaster-appropriate supplies”, and air mile donations through United Airlines Charity Miles program at www.united.com.

Shelter Box is accepting donations to send relief supplies in to affected areas.

Charity Navigator gives ratings to these organisations and more. Make sure your money goes where it counts!

Within Japan:

Time Out Tokyo, which has been providing fantastic updated via both their website and Twitter throughout the disaster, has the most comprehensive information on how to help from within Japan, including information on donating blood in Tokyo.

Google also has some great information on the disaster at their Crisis Response project page. For some of the best updates, check out Gakuranman’s page.

"If the cooling system stops, we could be facing a catastrophe" Nuclear Engineer at FCCJ

Anti-nuclear group, the CNIC (Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center) held a press conference on March 13th, at the Foreign Correspondents Press Club (FCCJ) with Masashi Goto, a former Toshiba engineer who designed containment facilities for nuclear reactors. The following piece was contributed to JSRC by a journalist in attendance. The information is provided as background and her conclusions are based on her knowledge and years spent as a reporter in Japan. (In the last decade there have been several incidents of malfeasance and serious problems at nuclear reactors in Japan that were not earthquake related, though most of you already know this.)

The take-away:

“At present, there’s not an immediate danger of catastrophe. But if the cooling system stops, we could be facing one.”

So the question is, how long before we reach cold shut down?

“It’s hard to say for certain…We don’t know what is going on inside the plant. No one knows…We cannot know in detail what is happening inside the reactor core.

Asking him after the conference, he said the situation changes day by day, but we could know in a week or so, maybe longer, maybe shorter. Readers, please keep in mind this coming from one source. Granted, he’s a very knowledgeable engineer, but he’s one source…

BACKGROUND:

Mr. Goto pointed out the main issue of concern is Fukushima Daiichi. There are two sites, with 10 nuclear generators, 7 of which have the risk of nuclear core meltdown. We move closer to that situation with each day, he says, and not enough has been done to prevent these potential risks.

There are two reactors that pose the highest risk right now, Daiichi unit 1 and unit 3. The control rods to stop the sustained fission reaction worked. But in normal circumstances, it takes days to let those isotopes decay and water needs to circulate as normal to cool the system gradually.

But due to the earthquake’s magnitude and the tsunami, the cooling systems for the reactors failed. So did the back-up diesel generators that would usually generate enough power to keep the cooling system running.

Faced with this emergency, the government employed an adhoc extreme measure of filling the entire containment vessel with sea water to keep the reactor cool. These containment vessels are already at 1.5x the pressure they are designed to withstand because of the temperature and steam. They can withstand 2x to 5x the amount of pressure they’re designed for (depending on the ground conditions on which they are built, etc.).

If the reactors can cool to cold shutdown by continuing this measure of circulating sea water, then we can avert meltdown. (A meltdown is the physical reaction that occurs when the rods get so hot that they melt and that radioactive material mixes with water inside the container causing a ‘steam explosion’ of radioactive particles.) He said that this is something akin to what happened at Chernobyl. Remember that the explosion we had the other day at Daiichi was a hydrogen explosion, not a steam explosion. Also, steam that is vented is a controlled method of releasing pressure from the container.

The problem we face now is that there has already been some melting of the rods, but they don’t know how much. We have already had radioactive material released into the air and more could be released if the cooling down doesn’t happen quickly enough (since more contaminated steam will have to be vented) or if other factors complicate the cooling.

I asked him afterward what would be a good time-frame for knowing whether the government’s cooling system (using sea water) is a success. Success, remember, is cold shutdown. He said it’s hard to tell, perhaps a week, maybe longer.>The situation changes day by day.

EDITOR’S NOTE (JAKE): There is another expert in the field who believes that Japan is in little danger, Dr. Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT in Boston. What he says makes sense to me but on a purely gut level I tend to give Masashi Goto’s views on the situation a little more credence, simply because of his actual working experience in Japan.

For those in Japan: Protecting yourself from nuclear radiation. What you can do.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor (福島第一原発)in Fukushima Prefecture has seriously malfunctioned. The Tokyo government announced on the 15th that levels of radiation in Shinjuku-ward were at their peak as high as 21 times the normal levels but that it is not at a level where imminent physical harm is even a possibility. Whether that’s within a safe range or not, I don’t know. It may simply be a very small increase in the risk of cancer, as one person asserts, like smoking a cigarette. The U.S. Seventh Fleet has moved its ships and aircraft away from the quake-stricken Japanese nuclear power plant after discovering low-level radioactive contamination.

Japanese television was reporting that at least three residents among 90 tested showed excess exposure to radiation. If you are in Japan, and the situation worsens, there are some things you can do protect yourself from nuclear radiation. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a a useful posting here, if the link won’t open for you. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/emergencyfaq.asp

This is the CDC’s guide to the use of iodine tablets, which are difficult to find in Japan but they are sold in some stores. Supposedly they are available around many military bases.  In Japanese it’s ヨウ化カリウム (potassium iodide). The Japanese government is planning to distribute them close to the reactor area. Some multi-vitamins have potassium iodide (from kelp) in them and at a level that is just enough to be the daily requirement. They might be worth taking. Generally, it will list on the supplement as iodine (as potassium iodide). Some will credit the material as coming from kelp. The average adult should have 150 mcgs of iodine for a healthy thyroid gland as the percent daily values for a 2,000 calorie per day diet. There is one supplement available from amazon.co.jp which contains ample portions and seems relatively benign. The website says that it will be back in stock on the 24th of March. They also note that the maker is donating part of their sales to earthquake relief.  Here’s a picture if you can find some locally. Once again, please talk a physician or someone with medical knowledge about the pros and cons of taking it in addition to your daily diet.

A supplement containing potassium iodide which may be useful in preventing effects from exposure to radiation.

If you cannot speak or read Japanese, please show the following photo to the pharmacy close to you and try to find something containing potassium iodide. Use the pills with caution, and only if it appears that you are at risk to exposure. You should take them proactively. I don’t think taking a multi-vitamin containing potassium iodide would hurt you and may be a reasonable preventive measure. I’m not an expert on nuclear radiation, so please read the CDC faq on radiation emergencies before ingesting pure potassium iodide.

It is one of the worst times in Japan and it is bringing out the best in people. Even the yakuza are chipping in, with the Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai opening their offices as shelters and sending supplies to the reactor site.

Many stores in Japan also sell emergency supply kits (防災キット)which may or may not contain tablets to deal with radiation poisoning. Update: This was posted in the comments but from my limited knowledge of the problem, it’s accurate. “It should also be noted that while flooding your system with iodine will minimize absorption of radioactive iodine – which will otherwise be absorbed into your system, emitting radiation that may kill you – this will not prevent you from absorbing radiation in other ways. The CDC page does mention this, but I think it is very important to emphasize it in case people who do not recall their science classes develop the mistaken belief that as long as they take the pill everything is OK.” I’ve been told that a doctor’s prescription is required to get the tablets and at this point in time, taking them may be more harmful than not taking them.

This is a link to an official geiger counter in Japanese and the same one translated into English for Northern Japan and affected areas . There is a link to an amateur geiger counter in Tokyo in Koto-ward available here. It was made by a science geek with a kit so its reliability is questionable but it’s better than nothing. The normal levels for radiation in Tokyo should be between 10 to 20cpm according to the poster. Due to the rolling black-outs in Tokyo the counter may freeze or be inaccessible at some hours.Good luck and our best wishes to every one in Japan from all of us at the JSRC. For making donations please see previous post. I’m not a nuclear scientist so I can’t tell you what the readings mean. If someone can offer a good explanation of how to read them, it would be appreciated.


iodine tablets for prevention of radiation poisoning. stocked in some pharmacies in Kanagawa Prefecture.

In Battle For King of the Bugs: Saw Beetle Kicks Miyama Beetle Butt New Research Reveals; SEGA Silent on Video Game Repercussions

Nobody expects realism in video games but someday they might. The popular King of Bugs (ムシキング) video games series is one in which players select their bug and fight off arthropod opponents to see who can knock the other out of the ring first. You can play against the computer or you can play against a friend. Real life bug matches between stag beetles (鍬形虫/kuwagatamushi) were a popular games for children in the day before video games and when Japan still hadn’t managed to decimate it’s natural environment.  Generally speaking, when it came to stag beetles, it was thought that all beetles had pretty much the same chance. Well, apparently that’s not the case. And that could have serious repercussions on the pereived accuracy of this gaming classic. (No plans have been announced to revise the board game version or issue a recall.)

Questions have been raised as the accuracy of the Japanese Saw Stag Beetle depiction in the popular King of Bugs (ムシキング)series. Will future editions reflect recent scientific findings?

According the January 18th, 2011 edition of the Asahi Elementary School Newspaper (朝日小学生新聞), Yoshihito Hongo (本郷儀人研究員)a researcher at Kyoto University Graduate School– the Japanese Saw Stag Beetle (ノコギリクワガタ/nokogirikuwagata)is much more likely to win over the Miyama Japanese Stag Beetle in an even fight. This is surprising when you consider that the average Saw Beetle (3.8 centimenter) is smaller than the Miyama Beetle (4.1 centimeters). The secret: the Saw Beetle’s devestating underhand throw (下手投げ/shitatenage).  The two male beetles often fight over women and food.

Hongo-san who was an old school stag beetle fan noticed that in the Kyoto area that the number of Saw Beetles seemed to be growing in recent years. In 2008, he began to study why. After extensive experimentation and fairly staged fights, he was able to determine that out of 224 battles the Saw Beetle won 145 fights and the Miyama Beetle only 99 fights. In most cases, the deciding factor was the underhand throw. The Saw Beetle would crawl under the Miyama Beetle, sandwiching it between its huge jaws and then and toss it into the air, off the playing grid. The Saw Beetle was also able to perform an effective overhand throw as well.

Researcher Hongo’s conclusion: “The Miyama Beetle may be bigger and better looking but it’s all show. When it comes down to it, the underdog wins in this case.” At the time of publication of this article, Sega was unavailable for comment on to whether future editions of the Mushi King series would reflect the latest scientific data which should techinically give players who chose the Saw Beetle an advantage in fights with Miyama Beetles, especially if they utilize the underhand throwing sequence. Memo: I seriously doubt SEGA will even answer my inquiry on this one but can’t hurt to ask. 😀

Bet on the Japanese Saw Stag Beetle!

Happy New Year From All Of US At JSRC To You

It’s almost 2011 everywhere in the world. It’s the first day of the new year where I am now. 2010 was a long, hard year. It ended well. Our humble site was listed on CNN-Go as  one of Japan’s best English language blogs of 2010 | CNNGo.com #1. It was an honor. This year we’ll be expanding the number of contributors and the scope of the website, for all those who are curious about the magical kingdom of Japan. We’ll be probing around all dark, shady, shadowy and overcast areas of the land of the rising sun. The sunny side we’ll leave to other people.

Some good things happened this year. The police crackdown on organized crime was so intense that it almost made our April Fools parody post (April 1st, 2010) look like a prophecy. Maybe it was. There were also a number of awful events in 2010 that I’d like to forget about but won’t. The 忘年会 (Bonekai/Forget The Year Party) seems like a good idea in theory but in practice if we forget what we learned in the last year, we just repeat our mistakes the following year. We all know this is true but yet we still manage to do it again every year.

Towards the end of the year, Jee-chan aka @A_Bookaholic did a long interview with me (all via email) and posted it on her website, which is fast becoming one of my favorites for reading advice.  Hooked On Bookz: A_Bookaholic Interviews Author of Tokyo Vice, Jake Adelstein is the title of the interview but it really should be titled What I Learned In 2010. I answered the questions in the middle of a very long bout with the flu and had had an unusually long amount of time to reflect on the questions and everything that happened during the past few months and to try and make some sense of it all. It was a wonderful opportunity to look back before moving forward.

A new year is a great thing. It gives us a feeling that we might be able to start over and get things right. But then again every day should be like that.   I’ll paraphrase the Dalai Lama here: “Every day we are reborn. Every day we are reincarnated. It is this day that is the most important day in our lives. It is our chance to do good, to refrain from evil, to purify our hearts.” A lofty sentiment but I like it.

So Happy Birthday and Happy New Year! May it be a good one for us all. May we all get what we deserve, and maybe some nice things we don’t really deserve, and may the rules of karma apply in the best possible ways. Cheers!

Brush up on your pole positions at the International Pole Championship

Tokyoites are no virgin brides; we know a good pole dance when we see one.

Or we thought we did, until the International Pole Championship rolled into town last year and took our brains for a ride. Packed to the rafters of Shinjuku’s cavernous Christon Cafe, aficionados and laymen alike were wowed by cowgirls, brides, monks, wild Amazon natives and other masters of the pole. From sultry numbers that would make a Roppongi stripper jealous to exotic acrobatic feats you’d expect of Cirque du Soleil candidates, it was definitely not the child’s play found in any red light district. This was some serious schooling in gymnastics. But sexier!

And as incredibly disappointed as I am that I won’t make it this year, I’m here to spread the word about the International Poledance Championship 2010, run by the lovely Ania Przeplasko of the International Pole Dance Fitness Association. The biggest pole dance event ever, this year’s competition will see representatives from 21 countries work the pole to its limit, including last year’s champions Mai Sato and Dave Kahl (pictured above). As a testament to how popular pole dancing has become (as if it wasn’t popular before!), the venue has been upgraded to the plush JCB Hall, ensuring everyone gets a great view of the acrobatic action on stage.

Jake helped judge the 2009 competition, but I see he’s relinquished the coveted position in order to spare competitors his harsh judgment of inner thigh gripping strength.

And because pictures speak louder than words, here’s some scenes from last year’s competition, including Mai’s breathtaking performance.

International Pole Championship
JCB Hall, Meets Port, Tokyo Dome
9 December 2010
¥4,000

Featuring two world-firsts: First ʻDisabled Divisionʼ and the first time National Champions from around the world will compete for the title ʻUltimate Pole Championʼ

Don’t forget to check out their workshops!

Memo from Jake: Ania Przeplasko has been a close friend for years, and even took the photos for  the cover of Tokyo Vice on a pro bono basis. So of course, I’m totally biased in praising the event, but last year it was awesome and this year I suspect will be even better. And I don’t even like watching modern dance! They have an awesome line-up this year. V. Lea from Hong Kong, when she’s working the silk-ropes, makes Spider-man look clumsy. Sexy fun for the whole family–as long as the whole family is over 18.

Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From the Yakuza or the Cops That Arrest Them #3: If you love your family, don't shoot yourself to death

A few weeks ago, a yakuza boss who I only knew vaguely shot himself to death. He was badly in debt and facing charges of extortion. I’m sure he was guilty.  I knew his son from a story I did years ago on a Korean-Japanese Savings and Loan Bank that had folded  (Saitama Shogin).

When I read the article about his death, I called the son and expressed my condolences. He was relatively calm about it all. He ran a pachinko parlor in Saitama and unlike his father had stayed out of organized crime.

“Yeah, I was sad. He owed a lot of money. He couldn’t pay his association dues and kept borrowing money from another yakuza loan shark. In the end, with the trial coming up and chances of having to pay a penalty, he did what he thought was best. I respect that. But he left behind a huge debt and not much money.”

I asked if they were going to hold a funeral but he said it wasn’t usually done for suicides. As we were talking, he said there was one thing that bothered him a lot about his Dad’s death.  I asked what it was.

“He shot himself with a really expensive gun. He should have sold that gun. It was a great gun. A Sig Sauer. Relatively new model. Worth at least $20,000 on the black market. He should have sold the gun and gave Mom the money and stabbed himself to death or jumped in front of a train or something.  Blowing his brains out may have been the easiest way to die but it was a little selfish.”

Of course, there was no irony as he was saying this. I guess that’s the lesson to be learned: if you’re a yakuza with a family and you’re going to kill yourself, don’t use a gun. Sell the gun, leave something behind, then whack yourself by other means. It’s the courteous thing to do.

There is a slightly happy end to this story. The old man had taken out a life insurance policy for a substantial amount two years previously. In Japan, after two years of paying life insurance, there is a pay-out for suicide. Even for yakuza. (It used to only require one year but it was made to two years to discourage suicides and murders disguised as suicides and loan sharks pressuring deadbeats to make themselves dead so they could collect their loans).

The son called to tell me the good news and I wished him well, but as I was about to hang up, he had to add, “I guess Dad really did think about us. It was a nice gesture. Still, it’s a shame about that gun.”

Note: Portions of this were first “tweeted.” I have altered some details as to avoid causing trouble to the family or his replacement in the organization. 許してください。