Archive for March 2011

My Facebook Wall: March 2011

March 31, 2011

My friends’ words are written in italics.

2: You should exercise, because you never know when your life will become an action movie, and you’ll need to run away from something. But you should pray, too, ’cause if you end up in a horror movie, there’ll be nowhere to run.

4: I made up a word in my sleep. Tattoos of abstract designs rather than specific people or things [most henna tattoos, for instance] = “tattation without representation.”

4: i like how they’re talking about vandy winning with high academic standards. ummmm….duke? Vanderbilt’s innovation was getting rid of the athletic department and putting the NCAA sports teams under the Student Life umbrella.

4: Candle stores are not exactly oriented towards guys. If you were to create a line of scented candles for men, what scent(s) would you make them? What does a flaming torch surrounded by pitchforks smell like?

5: WTF: 女児遺体遺棄容疑、20歳の大学生逮捕…熊本 :3日夜、熊本市高平のスーパーに買い物に来ていた同市清水東町、介護士清水誠一郎さん(39)の長女、心(3)ちゃんの行方がわからなくなり、母親が「娘がいなくなった」と110番した…

5: From the second half of the Magic game through the first quarter of the Spurs game, the Heat were outscored by 51.

5: A former NFL player asked his family to donate his brain to neuropathologists studying the effects of concussions, then shot himself in the heart.

5: “The weather’s nice today.”
“But tomorrow it’ll be cold again.”
“It’ll be warm soon.”
“And then it’ll get hot.”

8: after tonight’s impromptu wedding toast semi-fail, i just really wish i was a better/more eloquent speaker It’s tricky…I try to say something I really like about the person or group without complicating it with something awkward. The best way to prepare is to see the best in people all the time so you’ll have something in the back of your mind!

8: A modern take on the ryokan.

8: Last month’s U.S. budget deficit was bigger than the deficit for the entire year of 2007.

8: “Black Swan” was brilliant, the perfect movie about a specific situation, but it certainly didn’t make my Mardi Gras more relaxing. I felt like my brain was a water balloon, and the movie was squeezing it.

9: Another Ash Wednesday. This Lent I’ll try to be less anxious and more prayerful. My mind is too much like a pencil sharpener, revolving around the same problems over and over. I’ll be more in the moment, especially in Mass, and pray for friends whenever I break bread alone.

9: Subway has passed McDonald’s as the world’s largest restaurant chain in terms of units, my weekly contributions are helping to put them over the top! They have a lot of stores here, and the most interesting placement was inside the WTC’s convention center…it’s sleepy on preparation days but packed during events.

9: It’s that time of year again, and I’ve never heard this version before.

9: Oh, NPR… Oh, this American life!

10: I use a kind of reverse psychology to enjoy bad weather: “Every day that it’s cold is a day that it’s not hot.”

11: Magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan. I’m grateful the country is so well-prepared and all my friends there are safe.

13: did you see this article? the o’s are back baby! Thanks for this sunshine! We have at least three more weeks to be happy. I’m glad Buck’s the manager, and I’d love to see 80 wins.

13: “The King’s Speech” was inspiring, and it was good to remember what Great Britain is all about. The musical selection for the climax was sublime. Most similar Oscar winner: “A Man for All Seasons,” 1966.

14: According to the New York Times, “Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, ‘No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.'” China economically sanctions international critics and violates the human rights of domestic ones. I’m trying to interpret him charitably.

15: On commodity hoarding in western Japan, far from the earthquake: On 9/11, there were long lines at all the gas stations in Indiana.

18: Interesting! “Aid to the Church in Need has launched a new report which reveals that…75 percent of religious persecution is being carried out against Christians.” The number would be more credible if they had a full disclosure on their methodology (especially the sample design) or at least tell us how they calculated and arrived at the 75 percent conclusion. That’s a legitimate concern!

18: In response to “Fair Oaks teen – inventor of ‘Note to God’ iPhone app – in coma,” a friend said, “Looks like his app has some bugs.” That’s a mean-spirited comment. Prayer is about supporting each other, not making sure nothing bad ever happens to us.

18: severely disappointed with Atlanta’s Irish Pride today… It just hasn’t been the same since Scarlett O’Hara passed away.

18: this is me when i read the fear-mongering bullshit from western news sources. i dont know what to believe anymore. Newspapers are as selfish as anyone else. The bigger the story, the more people buy copies.

18: “Blue Valentine” lived up to its name, and I feel wiser for having seen it.

18: Is there ever a movie in which the villain acknowledges being the villain? I like this question. We think we’re right even when we’re doing wrong.

18: Oh the dreaded teacher-transfer notification day. It’s really rough on the teachers who get moved. Sometimes they have to uproot their families within the span of two weeks. This also affects the moods of the teachers who are left behind, as their friends and colleagues basically disappear from their lives.

19: I like teacher evaluations because they give me a chance to think about someone’s good qualities and then explain them. It’s a good break from writing about the earthquake. I have an extra form left over for a teacher with the surname Chen…since I’ve had two each term, I’m pretty sure I’ll get to use this.

20: I’ve had trouble taking a day off ever since I went to India and saw how hard people were fighting to make a living there.

20: 朝から熊本に行きます。地震のせいでタイミングがちょっと悪くなっても愉快な一週間を送りたいと思います。金曜日の誕生日と小学校卒業式を楽しみにしています。この八カ月生徒がどれほど成長したかな。

23: 「帰宅した」というような気がする。 It’s good to be back. Everyone’s been so kind to me. The earthquake and nuclear accident, by the way, have not affected this area in the least.

25: 杰輝! Feliz cumpleanos !!!! 希望你有一個很快樂的生日, 而且一天比一天開心! :D 謝謝!當天我先很開心。。然後開心得很。。再相當開心。。再開行得不得了。。最後開心得要命!

25: I’m celebrating my 25th birthday by going to an elementary school graduation, having tea at my Pure Land Buddhist priest/elementary school teacher friend’s family temple, and having dinner with some of my junior high school grads, among other things. Many thanks to you (感謝你) for your love and support!

27: Bulls-Pacers first round? Please put us out of our misery as soon as you can!

28: Lessons learned from rolling out a hodgepodge set of video tools for a Christian retreat: Trust in technology, and all your stuff will break. Trust in the Lord, and you will be saved! But your stuff will still break. I have never heard of a blessed computer, server, or connection. If one exists there should be a certification! Six Alpha-Omega. You did the Lord’s work this weekend, my friend! I’m picturing you striking your laptop with a staff the way Moses struck the stone for water in today’s reading.

28: I’ve decided I need to get to know Father Mike, because he seems kinda awesome. I’m neglecting my “bad Catholic” status. ;) Bad Catholic? I think of you as a Future Catholic. ;)

28: 人之智高於鳥之智。 “The wisdom of man is greater than the wisdom of birds.” There are days I wonder about the accuracy of this statement. This little proverb brought to you by tonight’s homework. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” -Matthew 6:25-27

29: 范老師曰。今記者杰輝也。杰輝聼之時。晚上也。以故今晚寫多睡少。

30: ESPN Outside the Lines: Why You Should Care About Cricket

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ICLP電子報第44-45期:國家橄欖球聯盟*的集體談判/NFL Collective Bargaining; 在日本過春假/Spring Break in Japan

March 30, 2011

臺大國際華語研習所 電子報 第44期 ~ 44th ICLP Bulletin

國家橄欖球聯盟*的集體談判

English Translation: NFL Collective Bargaining

臺大國際華語研習所 電子報 第45期 ~ 45th ICLP Bulletin

在日本過春假 (includes pictures of my spring break!)

English Translation: Spring Break in Japan
Before I came to ICLP, I taught English for two years in Tensui-machi, a rural town in Kumamoto, Japan. Because it was such a great experience, I was very sorry to leave everyone, so I promised to come back to visit. Fortunately, ICLP’s spring break overlapped with Japan’s elementary school graduation day, so it was great timing for my visit. Little did I know there would be a massive earthquake in Japan on March 11. Because Kumamoto is in the center of Kyushu, Japan’s western island, my old town wasn’t affected, but many people, especially my grandmother, were afraid that if I visited I would get radiation poisoning. That risk aside, I still had to go, because telling small children “I’m not coming to visit you because the place you live is too dangerous” would have been even worse. All I could do was take my planned flight on March 20.

Kyushu hasn’t suffered any visible harm, but there has been plenty of invisible damage. For example, although the Kyushu Shinkansen Train just opened on March 12, there have been very few passengers up until now because of the earthquake, which is making JR rail executives very anxious. The common people are worried that the government is not being truthful with them about the nuclear accident in Fukushima and that the Bank of Japan’s emergency quantitative easing is creating long-term risk for the national treasury. Some residents of eastern Japan have fled the confusion there and returned to their childhood homes in Kyushu. Every event, be it an elementary school graduation or an adult English conversation salon, begins with everyone bowing their heads in prayer for the victims. Many people expressed thanks to me for the Taiwanese people’s generous donations to disaster relief efforts.

But when we Tensui people reunited, our worries disappeared. I’ll never forget the obvious looks of surprise and then happiness on my students’ faces when I saw them again. I spent at least 3 hours at 4 elementary schools and one junior high and visited many people. My mouth never stopped moving: I was always talking or eating. Seeing my students’ growth and encouraging my former coworkers reminded me of the joy of teaching. My friends first updated me on their lives and those of our mutual friends, then asked me questions like whether Chinese is more difficult than Japanese, what exactly the Republic of China and the International Chinese Language Program are, why I lost weight despite Chinese food being oilier than Japanese cuisine, and when I’m going to decide my future job and wife.

I showed everyone a Taiwanese newspaper, which they thought was really colorful: some third grade boys took special interest in the entertainment section, and I realized too late that this was because there were pictures of half-naked women inside. Embarrassed, I grabbed the paper and tried to keep it away from them, but they chased after me, saying, “Please please let me see it again!” which tired me out.

I didn’t totally leave the Taiwanese cultural zone that week. Some of my friends were born in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period. Others have gone there to travel, and they remembered that you can buy anything at the night market, that the Palace Museum has every possible kind of antique, that traffic is frightening, that they went home happy, and so on, and they also recognize celebrities like “Little Fatty” (Lin Yu Chun). Before the Xinhai Revolution [1911], Sun Yat Sen came to Kumamoto, including Tensui, so good friends of mine who are mikan orange farmers have some calligraphy written by the Father of the Country. I saw my foreigner friends, a couple of whom speak Chinese: when they caught me unconsciously saying things in Mandarin like hao, hao and yinwei, they burst out laughing.

The week passed in a flash. I did indeed return to Taipei last Sunday rather than staying in town and usurping my replacement. Because the trip made me so happy, helped my Japanese tremendously, and encouraged my friends and students, I’ll definitely go to my Japanese hometown again next year.

China Through the Looking Glass of Shanghai Pu Dong International Airport

March 29, 2011

International airport terminals are the most controlled environments in most countries, and I’m looking forward to comparing what I saw on my layover between Taipei and Fukuoka with the real McCoy on my visit this summer.

I’m not sure if it was supposed to be sunny or cloudy on the days I arrived: the smog made it seem like every day is as gray as the others. At least the air and water quality inside the airport were good. The landscape around the landing strip suggested the quick construction projects the country is known for.

The most depressing airports I’ve visited were layover stops in Malaysia. They were materially comfortable, as are all international terminals, but there was nothing original about them, just a lot of duty-free stores stocked by multinational corporations like Ferrero Rocher and Disney. This suggested domestic weakness. Shanghai’s international terminal was also on the boring side: the restaurants were no cheaper or better than their American airport brethren, and the souvenir shops were present must be capitalizing on the difference between Westerners’ and natives’ concept of a fair price. The most salient fact about international airports is that it takes money to get inside them. The most ubiquitous advertiser was London-based multinational bank HSBC (滙豐控股有限公司). I read one of its tag lines, 成功, as chenggong [Chinese pronunciation] on my way into Japan and seiko [Japanese] on my way out, by the way.

The English press is much freer than the Chinese press. Practically every English news website is available, and the print magazines have more incisive analysis. Why’s that? Well, only a small number of the citizens can get something out of reading English media. The benefits of these restrictions wouldn’t justify the cost in management and public relations. Chinese sites and social networks like Facebook are the real targets of the firewall.

The Chinese headline for the first day of Libyan operations referred to the American-English-French action as an invasion, noted in the sub-headline that 48 were killed in the air force bombing, and said Qaddafi was getting the citizens ready to resist it. The Japanese nuclear plant stories included one titled “our nuclear plants are safer than the ones in Fukushima.” The balance of the stories I saw were positive. Instead of muckraking, there were government reports and editorials. I couldn’t even find the crime briefs that fascinate so many Taiwanese and Western news readers.

The bilingual flight magazine boasted it was a winner of the Golden Great Wall Media Awards, a deliciously ironic name. The first feature was about the company executives visiting the honorary chairman to give him New Year’s greetings. This man, He Pengnian, “was appointed as office director of Shanghai municipal construction operating committee of the Communist Party of China; secretary of the Party committee of non-ferrous metal institute of Shanghai; deputy secretary-general and deputy director of Shanghai Municipal Economic Committee; deputy director of traffic office of the People’s government of Shanghai. He began to hold the post of chairman and general manager, chairman and secretary of the Party committee of this company since 1985. He is now in the post of honorary chairman of [Shanghai Airlines] while the honorary dean of Aviation transportation college of Shanghai University Of Engineering Science and the part-time professor of Shanghai Jiaotong University.”

The second article was a ceremony for the opening of a company “microblog.” In that second article, 70% of the English translation and at least half the Chinese original were occupied by the names and positions of the executives attending the ceremony. There were articles about nice places to visit and popular high-end goods, as always (the most eye-catching article was about chicken blood stones and carvings, so named for their color). The magazines and newspapers had plenty of profiles about CEOs, and during a break in the CCTV variety show, the host interviewed an executive for a successful company. So they are using positive advertising to burnish the images of leaders and entrepreneurs. The English translations had mistakes, so native Chinese must have written them.

The most impressive part of the bookstore was the photographic albums, which gave me my first look at the Beijing and Shanghai skylines and some of the national parks. Startling beauty and creativity were on display. The new CCTV Building is startling. How many articles about China’s development start by describing those new buildings, I wonder? What a great PR investment. There were also some fascinating photographs of Chinese family homes of both the rich and poor, so the less rosy part of the country was not completely whitewashed.

I study traditional Chinese characters in Taiwan, but China has simplified its writing system dramatically. Their current writing style, which is more phonetic and less clear in distinctions between words, is suitable for adults who can speak but cannot write but more difficult for students who are starting to learn the language. Since the purpose of the simplified system was to increase the literacy rate, presumably among adults, this makes sense, but I wonder if the government will change back after the base level of education in the country is stable. I hope so because I think the simplified system is aesthetically damaging.

The CCTV broadcast was of a play performed before a live studio audience of men and women in suits and dresses: powerful viewers, perhaps? Their applause helped propel the show, which was about a singing college student learning to be more filial and hardworking. Besides the break for the businessman interview, there was a report about a musical about the Chinese military. After the clips of singing soldiers, well-dressed audience members were asked about the quality of the show: everyone said it was a 成功 (success), and the 10 people’s voices were looped two times over to make a wave: “Chenggong! Chenggong! Chenggong! Chenggong!” There was also a public service rap by an animated pig about how to avoid H1N1, the new contagious disease from America. It was cute. The most memorable advice was “stay away from groups of strangers!” with the foreigners represented as rabbits in monk’s robes. Finally, there were advertisements for art exhibitions in the country and worldwide soccer highlights.

The artists whose works were featured in the paper and the arrival hall and on the television were in their 50s or above, suggesting they’d paid their dues. Impressionism seems to be fashionable now.

I didn’t need a visa to lay over in Shanghai on my way from Taiwan or to make the return. I had to pick up my bag and check it in again when I arrived in Shanghai from Taiwan, but my luggage went straight through when I arrived there from Japan. About 2 million Taiwanese work on the continent now, and they need to do a little extra paperwork to cross the PRC border each time. Foreigners looking for a Chinese tourist visa have to apply to a Taiwanese travel agency and pay over $200 (more than double the normal price) or pick up the visa in Hong Kong instead. In Chinese airport parlance, visitors from Formosa are “Taiwanese residents,” not “Taiwanese citizens,” and flights to Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are not called “international flights.”

China East had markedly lower ticket prices than competitors, but it makes up the difference by restricting luggage weight: 10 kg on your person and 20 kg checked in, and any overrun WILL be charged by kilogram and by mile. If you take two flights, you have to pay both times. In Taiwan, the staff was pretty accommodating with me and charged me less than the scale said I deserved, but in Shanghai there was no question I would pay the full rate: I paid $100 across two flights and left a suitcase (with a broken handle) at the Shanghai check-in counter to avoid paying $100 more in charges. I carried some luggage onto the flight rather than checking it in for the same reason: no matter that the baggage weighed the same no matter where it was on the plane, rules are rules. It’s possible that in China, you get less leeway. You could say “there’s less margin for leniency” or “there’s too many people for us to make exceptions.”

Each customs official had an instant rating device posted next to his window, but I’m not sure how my vote was calculated. The staff’s Mandarin was easily understandable, but they talked amongst themselves in Shanghainese. Service, safety, and cleanliness were commendable overall; I kept to myself and didn’t have any problems, luggage frustration aside. With that, I end my report.

I Went Home Again

March 28, 2011

Eight months ago, I left Japan. I had a wonderful two years there, and we were all sad to say goodbye, but I felt like I’d already done everything I could there. Everyone made me promise to come back, though, and last week, I did. My plane slammed through clouds of nuclear radiation and crash-landed in an apocalyptic urban landscape; I emerged in a protective suit and ferried across 25-foot waves and – actually, besides minor gasoline rationing, everything in western Japan was the same as always on a physical level at least. It even looked nicer because the trans-Kyushu bullet train line just happened to open the day after the earthquake, but sadly, that disaster made everyone cancel their travel plans, so the new Tamana Station felt like a haunted house when I arrived: there were no sounds except piped-in birdsong and the recording announcing the next departure and arrival. People were also anxious about the stability of the Treasury, which has been bicycle-pumping money into the market. We said silent prayers for the victims of the disasters at every event I attended.

I did worry about everything else related to the trip before leaving. Would my students be so much bigger that I’d feel like they’d left me behind? Would I be able to see everyone in this workaholic society despite not planning everything in advance? Was my Japanese (or my psyche) up for thirteen hours of talking per day? Could I avoid car accidents, calling students the wrong names, and getting poked in the butt by small children?

I had nothing to worry about. My successor, Joe Fowler, hosted me in the third room all week; my friend Valerie lent me her second cellular phone; my old host family lent me their big ol’ company van, and everyone gave me some of their time. I did say hao instead of hai! the whole week, and I suffered the dreaded kancho, but every day in my old home was so relaxing that by the end I couldn’t remember what I was taking a vacation from. It was one of the fastest weeks of my life. I only spent a few hours in front of the computer. Only today did I open my gmailbox and collapse under a load of birthday notes.

My jaw is tired because all I did was talk and eat. One friend said, “Yoshiko heard from her mother that you’d forgotten Japanese, but you’re speaking just fine…what happened?” I replied, “Well, she saw me on Tuesday, and today is Saturday.” Everyone said, “You lost weight! [This is the “you got a haircut!” of Japanese small talk.] The food there is so oily, though! How is this possible?” I replied, “No home invitations and no enkais (work parties).”

Speaking of which, that was elementary school graduation day. Since all the ceremonies were at the same time, I could only attend one (and it was emotional), but I spent a half-day at all 5 of my schools (including the junior high) over the course of three days. I didn’t tire of the shock and then joy on kids’ faces when I materialized before them. Everyone was so welcoming. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? I’m lucky enough to say we were just as fond of each other at the time. Some classes had really grown up. One class made me lovely impromptu thank-you cards with photos and hand-drawn pictures that I’ve showed to my friends here. A five-year old made a tricolor threaded bracelet. Not that it was as triumphant a return as Julius Caesar’s to Rome: I walked into one second-grade class not realizing my fly was unzipped. And some of the junior high kids were more cheeky and sarcastic than friendly, but that comes with their age group.

My best conversation pieces were Taiwanese and PRC newspapers I picked up in the airport on the way. Japanese can half-read them because all the countries use Chinese characters, but Japanese have simplified the them a little and the PRC a lot, so there are clear differences. It was nice to not have to start out by explaining where Taiwan was and how it’s not the same as Thailand.

Plus Taiwanese papers are way more colorful than Japanese ones…and in more ways than one: when the third graders found color pictures of an actor and actress in bed together on one page, they MARKED OUT, and I had to crunch the whole thing up and stuff it in my pocket, then hold my pocket shut because so many boys were prying for another glimpse of that holy grail.

It was good to see my fellow Tamana ALTs before most of them change jobs themselves this July and to meet the new guys I’d only encountered on Facebook. They said it felt like I’d never left. What we had at the time was good, and our values haven’t changed. I spent my birthday dinner at a J-diner called Joyfull with 20 of my junior high school grads; it was gratifying that so many showed up on 24 hours’ notice. One of my 16-year olds invited me to swim with him, exercise I really needed, then encouraged me and taught me technique between the lane lines. I wouldn’t say I was loyal or supportive at that age, but some kids just “get it,” and I don’t hesitate to call them friends rather than students.

Many of my friends are teachers, some much older than I am, and this trip reminded me what a wonderful calling it is to help people grow up. If you don’t have a dream of your own, you can do worse than becoming a teacher and helping other people find theirs. One of the best parts of my job is that I spent time in about 50 different homeroom classes. It was much more revealing than theoretical textbooks, and I wish Japanese trainees had the same opportunity themselves. I even got to teach my colleagues some things on this run.

The good things about Tensui and Tamana were as good as ever. Not that I want to usurp Joe; he’s doing very well and is getting as much out of the job as I did. In the words of the Japanese, he doesn’t have my “tension” (a la jumping around and singing and saying HELLO in a BIG VOICE) but he is 落ち着いている or “natural and relaxed.” I think I spent the right amount of time in the job and on this trip. After catching up on how everyone was doing (and even updating people on later days with gossip I’d heard on previous days: it’s like Rural News Feed) and then discussing languages, education, the earthquake, and Taiwan, it was just about time for me to get up and go to the next home. I didn’t feel like the time between now and last July had slipped away from me; I’ve done almost everything I could with it.

I’ll definitely come back to Kumamoto. Besides bringing my Japanese back to life, and it’s such a beautiful language that even repetitive sentences like airline flight safety features are interesting because of how they’re said, this trip sparked my emotional engine. I was back to spending time with kids and the elderly [the ladies at the church made 20 different dishes for our Tuesday reunion lunch, by the way…I have over a hundred pictures of food alone]. I was back home and back to speaking with people I already knew rather than introducing myself again. I’m laughing loudly again and even speaking Chinese a little more naturally.

But from the moment I post this I’ll be back to making my Chinese better rather than just dropping a few phrases to widespread applause and back to living this life rather than explaining what it’s like. I’d love to end this with a philosophical flourish, but my time’s up.

News From Tuesday Made Irrelevant Friday: A Famous Hotel in Sendai Which Once Hosted the Emperor Suddenly Closes

March 20, 2011

Man-made disasters take years. Natural disasters take hours. All this, which I translated a couple days ago, and the tsunami likely destroyed the building anyway.

I’m spending the week visiting my old friends and students in western Japan. I’m not sure what kind of writing schedule I’ll have there.

A Famous Hotel in Sendai Which Once Hosted the Emperor Suddenly Closes
Yomiuri Shimbun: 天皇陛下もご宿泊…仙台の名門ホテル突然閉館へ
Staff Report, March 8, 2011

Sendai Plaza Hotel President Aogi
Hotel President Aogi announces the closing of the hotel at a press conference.

Sendai Plaza Hotel
123-year old Hotel Sendai Plaza will close on the 25th. (Sendai City, Aoba-ku, Motomachi)

One of Sendai’s core hotels, Hotel Sendai Plaza in Aoba-ku, Motomachi, announced on the 7th that it will close its doors on the 25th.

The official explanation is that trouble with the landlord has left the hotel without operating capital, but the changing face of the hotel business in Sendai is in the background. Since the 123 year-old inn has about 400 standing reservations, the announcement that it will close just half a month from now makes for a most unusual curtain fall.

At the press conference, Company President Masatoshi Aogi (64) said that the entire staff of about 200, which includes part time workers, will be laid off. There are about 400 reservations for the reception hall, some made as much as two years in advance. He has been explaining circumstances to customers, but those who have already send invitation cards are reportedly enraged.

President Aogi said that in March 2007, the hotel sold its land and building to the insurance giant Tokyo Marine Holdings, Inc.’s Special Purpose Company (SPC) and signed a rental agreement. The hotel and Tokyo Marine Holdings had agreed to replace the aged building, but after suffering from the financial crisis, Tokyo Marine Holdings scrapped the plan in November 2008. Since the hotel had already closed its reception hall and other facilities in preparation for the rebuilding, it lost 240 million yen in potential revenue on the year.

After that, the hotel stopped paying its rent on account of these losses, but the SPC resisted attempts to terminate the contract. At the beginning of this month, the SPC froze the hotel’s bank account, forcing it out of business.

In recent years, the replacement of old hotels with new ones has accelerated in Sendai. In the five years since 2004, the number of hotels in the city has risen 17% to 89. In 2010, the foreign franchise Westin Hotels opened an affiliate in the city, and the rush of new entries is advancing. Two years ago, the increase in supply drove the long-established Sendai Excel Hotel Tokyu out of business. The Plaza has been in the red since 2009. Its annual revenue had fallen from a peak of 3.3 billion yen in 1993 to just 1.5 billion yen last year.

President Aogi said, “I sincerely apologize to our customers. The contract we signed with Tokyo Marine Holdings was a failure.” Tokyo Marine Holdings said it has not yet decided what to do with the land and building.

The Sendai Plaza Hotel opened in 1888 (Meiji 21) as the Michi-no-oku Hotel. The Imperial Family and many other great names have stayed there. There are 16 stories, two basement levels, and 177 rooms. The reception hall can hold 2000 people.

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NE Japan Earthquake Day 8: Support for Changing Nuclear Energy Policy Grows Within the Two Major Political Parties

March 18, 2011

NE Japan Earthquake Day 8: Support for Changing Nuclear Energy Policy Grows Within the Two Major Political Parties
Yomiuri Shimbun: 原子力政策の見直し論、民主・自民両党で強まる

In response to the Tokyo Power Fukushima I Reactor Accident, support is building in the Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party of Japan for revision of the country’s nuclear energy policy.

Unease about nuclear power is rising among the populace, but reliably replacing it would be a headache of its own.

DPJ Party President Tanigaki said at a press conference on the 17th that “it’s becoming difficult to promote nuclear energy. We need to quickly understand what happened in the accident and come up with a fresh response to it.” At a press conference on the 18th, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said, “this isn’t the time to advance a definitive policy, but [Mr. Tanigaki’s] announcement was extremely appropriate.”

The Fukushima accident has had a big influence on areas of the country which depend on nuclear energy. In Shizuoka, the Chubu Electric Power Company is facing increased resistance to its plans to utilize the mixed oxide Uran Plutonium in the Hamaoka Nuclear Reactor in Omaezaki City. The DPJ said, “at a time when we are worried about controlling the leaking of radiation, it’s difficult to say we should advance nuclear energy.”

The Democratic Party of Japan’s 2003 manifest labeled nuclear power “a transitional energy solution” and called for its replacement with solar and wind energy. But after further discussion, the party decided sources like solar power were not enough to meet energy demands, and the 2009 manifest instead called for “a firm grasp of the use of nuclear energy.”

In June 2010, the Kan Government’s “New Growth Strategy” called exporting nuclear energy a “national strategic project” and advanced negotiations with foreign countries. In October, Vietnam announced it would accept an order. The Vietnamese government has announced it will not change its policy in response to the Fukushima disaster, and Japan is still in negotiations with Turkey. The government is stressing that “the new model plants are much safer than the Fukushima reactors.”

Yet the accident inside a country with such a stellar reputation has strengthened opposition to nuclear energy, and there is also the possibility of an about-face in Japan.

There has not been a unified response from the Liberal Democratic Party to Mr. Tanigaki’s jab at nuclear power; Government Oversight Committee Chair Ishibashigeru said, “first, we need to cool the reactors and get a handle on the radiation leak, and then we can discuss the energy policy.” The New Komeito Party [an LDP ally] said, “We have not heard of an about-face from the LDP.”

NE Japan Earthquake Day 7: System Crashes Render Mizuho Bank ATMs Out of Order Three Consecutive Days; Miyagi to Discuss Temporarily Moving Refugees Out of the Prefecture

March 17, 2011

System Crashes Put Mizuho Bank ATMs Out of Commission Three Consecutive Days
Yomiuri Shimbun: みずほ銀行ATMが停止、再びシステム障害

At a press conference on the 17th, Mizuho Bank President Satoru Nishibori apologized on behalf of the company for system crashes that have put its automatic teller machines out of commission three consecutive days, saying, “We apologize. We should be holding firm in the midst of this national crisis, but instead we have failed.”

A dramatic rush of withdrawal orders in the days since the earthquake has overwhelmed the system’s processing capacity. The company is aiming to use the three-day weekend to perfectly restore its network.

ATMs which had come online this afternoon crashed again at 5:40 PM, and it’s possible that teller window and machine transfers will not be available on the 18th.

The “Concentrated Registry Exchange” system which handles spot monetary transfers has been processing more data than it was designed for. This traffic jam of data disrupted some window transfers on the 15th, and on the 16th ATMs temporarily shut down. ATMs also broke down across the country on the morning of the 17th.

It’s possible that in order to put 440,000 disrupted transfers worth 5.7 billion yen first in line, some staff will be pulled from teller windows.

The company says it is “investigating” the overload at the heart the problem. Some are saying this is the reason certain donations to earthquake relief funds haven’t gone through.

If the giant bank with 25 million accounts doesn’t quickly restore its system, the struggling Japanese economy will suffer another blow. Meiji University Professor Yoshiharu Oritani, an expert on the financial system, says that “if accounts cannot be settled, the bank will lose trust, which could set off a chain reaction of instability in the long term.”

Miyagi to Discuss Temporarily Moving Refugees Out of the Prefecture
Yomiuri Shimbun: 宮城県、被災者の県外一時移住を検討へ

On the 17th, Miyagi began discussing temporarily moving earthquake refugees outside the prefecture.

The prefecture does not have the means to provide emergency housing for all its victims, but a “Greater Kansai Alliance” of Kyoto, Osaka, and five surrounding prefectures in Western Japan has requested to shelter victims inside their public housing, and an option Miyagi has now put on the table.

2000 public homes in Osaka, 600 in Hyogo [which includes Kobe], 200 in Kyoto, and 120 in Wakayama were among the shelters offered by the Greater Kansai Alliance on the 16th. Hyogo can also hold 1500 people inside nursing homes.

At a meeting at the disaster response headquarters today, Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai said that “we cannot hold all the refugees in our housing here, so we must consider moving them farther away.” The prefecture has asked the Tokyo Prefab Construction Association to build 10,000 prefab homes inside the prefecture, and it is discussing borrowing private apartments and hotels, but because it will take months for the prefab homes to be completed, the prefecture is struggling to house its 220,000+ refugees.

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