Misleading earthquake reports

When an earthquake in Japan is reported overseas, the problem is that they only report the magnitude of the epicenter (usually offshore). They don’t usually report the magnitude in the populated areas. This is actually more important than the epicenter’s magnitude (unless the epicenter is under a populated area). A magnitude 6+ quake was reported today. That’s very strong, but it was only magnitude 3 in Tokyo. If it were magnitude 6 in Tokyo, we might be in rubble. To find out the intensity of the affected prefectures, check this: http://www.jma.go.jp/en/quake/quake_singendo_index.html

Click on the time when the quake occurred, then you can see a map of the prefectures which were affected and their color-coded intensity. Magnitude 4 or lower is minor. Here’s the map of the one we got tonight at 9:06 pm: http://www.jma.go.jp/en/quake/3/20120314210927484-142105.html

A quadruple disaster

People refer to 3/11 as a triple disaster. But it really was a quadruple disaster. The fourth disaster was the sensationalist and negative press coverage by the overseas media. The mainstream media did severe damage to Japan’s economy by frightening away foreign residents/students and tourists alike. As if the entire country of Japan were in peril when in fact, only the Tohoku area was affected. Even faraway and safe Kyoto suffered a major decline in tourists. The economic impact was severe on local businesses. The Japanese government, tourist agency, and local tourist bureaus also did little or were helpless in getting official word out that the majority of Japan was still safe. It was disgusting to see the sensationalist media taking over the country.

And now for the 1st anniversary, I’m afraid of another mass media aftershock of more negative images of only the destruction, debris, dirt (contaminated), darkness, decline, and death. The normal side and recovering bright spots in Tohoku will be largely ignored. Imagine a film crew coming to your city to film your local garbage dump and presenting it to the world as the only thing in your city. That’s what they did a year ago in Japan.

ATM scam prevention poster

This is a poster near a bank’s ATM near Yokosuka. It has Yokozuna Hakuho saying, “Do not transfer money” or “Furikomanaide” in reference to the so-called “furikome sagi” (振り込め詐欺) or bank transfer fraud which has been rampant for years.

A mother or grandmother receives a call from someone disguised as a son or other close relative saying that he was involved in an accident, etc., and needs a large amount of money right away. He gives his bank account info and the mom would rush to the bank and transfer the money.

Incredible how gullible people can be. But social scientists have identified the human psychological factors which the fraudsters successfully play on victims to send money.

Leaking personal info

Time and again, we hear in the news that personal info has been leaked on a mass scale in Japan. It occurs in a number of ways. A policeman’s laptop is stolen from his patrol car. A school teacher or policeman’s laptop stuffed with private info about students or crime victims is taken home and a virus carries away the info. Quite a few police departments in Japan have leaked info from laptops. The Self-Defense Force, banks, credit card companies, etc., etc., have been guilty of leaking private personal info inadvertantly or purposely by an insider.

A file-sharing program called Winny has gained notoriety in Japan for its involvement in a number of these personal info leaks. The police in Japan are forced to use their own personal laptops because the force does not provide laptops. However, some government agencies are now beginning to provide official laptops to their staff. Winny of course will be one program that will be prohibited from being in the computer.

A few years ago, my credit card company called DC Card reported that the credit card info of their customers have been leaked. To be on the safe side, they changed the credit card numbers and issued new credit cards to all their customers. I did not suffer any ill effects, but it was worrisome to hear about it and inconvenient to change my credit card number registered at Amazon, etc.

Together with my new credit card from DC Card, was a mass-printed letter of apology and a gift certificate. Ah, that was nice of them I thought. Probably worth at least 5,000 yen or 10,000 yen that I could use at my local super market, I thought. But when I opened the gift certificate envelope, I was shocked. It was worth exactly 500 yen. Yes, a whopping five-zero-zero. Less than $5.

I and another friend who had DC Card felt like fools. I’m surprised that there was no class-action lawsuit taken against the company. They probably have a clause in the contract saying that they are not libel for such things. That we use their service at our own risk. I later quit DC Card and signed up for another credit card at a different company.

Earthquake scandals

Another scandal is surfacing regarding falsified building designs for earthquake resistance. This time it’s an architect in Sapporo, Hokkaido. This does not surprise me at all.

When I first heard of the Aneha scandal, another architect who did the same thing for hotels and condominiums, I knew it was just the tip of the iceberg.

To be sure, laws have been broken and unethical practices have come to light. As a result, some of the defective buildings are slated to be torn down and rebuilt. That’s fine, but the fact remains that most buildings in Japan are still vulnerable to catastrophic earthquakes.

Traditional Japanese homes, temples (except pagodas), and shrines made of wood are death traps during powerful quakes. But ironically, no one is clamoring for them to be torn down and rebuilt. In Jan. 1995, I visited Kobe 10 days after the deadly earthquake that killed over 5,000. (My photos here.)

There was a definite and obvious pattern to how and which buildings collapsed. The traditional Japanese houses made of wood and kawara tile roofs hardly stood a chance withstanding the quake. The 2nd floor collapsed onto the first floor. I was shocked to see such destruction since most of my relatives and friends in Japan live in such homes.

Multi-story apartment buildings and office buildings made of concrete also collapsed, usually on the ground floor or on a floor halfway up the building. The buildings which had a parking space on the ground floor supported by stilt-like columns collapsed on that floor. Such buildings are so common in Japan. Without ample supporting walls, those stilts ain’t strong enough in a strong earthquake. I would avoid living in such buildings. Not only that, damaged columns supporting the bullet train tracks revealed large pieces of wood mixed in the concrete. Somebody tried to reduce the amount of concrete in the pillars with the wood. It obviously weakened the strength of the pillar. Watered-down concrete is also another cost-reduction measure known to exist.

Since it’s near impossible and impractical to tear down and rebuild all of Japan’s vulnerable buildings, there should be a national program to reinforce homes and buildings to at least not collapse on the occupants. Since the Kobe quake, I’ve noticed highways and subway stations being reinforced. The same should be implemented for homes. Although the media attention focuses on the current architect design scandals, they are missing the bigger picture.

Memoirs of a Geisha, the movie

I can summarize my thoughts about this movie in three words: It’s not real.

I haven’t read the best-selling novel, so I don’t know how the movie compares with the novel which was probably better than the movie.

I was not too impressed by the movie. I didn’t mind the characters speaking in English. I know for a fact that even a kabuki play performed in English can be almost as impressive as in Japanese.

I also didn’t mind so much about the lead roles being played by non-Japanese actresses. Of course, I would’ve preferred Japanese actresses. Like Keiko Matsuzaka or Yoko Shimada as Mameha. And maybe Yukie Nakama or Hikaru Nishida as Sayuri. For Hatsumomo, Riona Hazuki (also speaks English) or Makiko Esumi could have done it.

The technical aspects of the movie were fine, like the photography, musical score (by John Williams no less), and background sets (even though much of the movie was not filmed in Japan).

What didn’t click with me was the story and how it progressed (or didn’t progress). First of all, the idea of a young girl falling in love at first sight with a man old enough to be her father and then deciding to become a geisha just to be able to meet him again and possibly marry him is really far-fetched, if not preposterous.

Sure, when I was small, I’ve fallen in love with women old enough to be my mother, like Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, and my summer school teacher. But me becoming a famous actor in order to meet her and marry her?? Wouldn’t she be married by the time I’m old enough to get married??

Even in a fictional story, there are limits to believability.

There were gaps in the storyline. I couldn’t figure out how Sayuri became the No. 1 geisha. We hardly saw her do anything. The movie didn’t show the many hours of song and dance practice the geisha has to go through. The scenes of the geisha dancing during practice were too short (they weren’t real geisha either). The movie did not bother to build up a plot showing her getting better and better at singing and dancing as a geisha. Just suddenly she’s No. 1. Even that seemingly spectacular solo dance she did was not geisha-like at all.

Another question that lingered in my head was, why didn’t they wear the geisha hairstyle?? Hatsumomo always had her hair down. The beautiful actress looked more like a catwalk fashion model instead of a 1930s geisha. And Sayuri, well, even those fake maiko (apprentice geisha) we often see in Kyoto look better than her. In Kyoto, ordinary women can go to these geisha makeover studios and get made up and dressed up as a maiko for an afternoon. Then they walk around Kyoto while many foreign tourists think they are for real.

There was one elderly woman character in the okiya, I think she was Auntie or Granny. Well, the makeup to make her look old didn’t work. It was obviously fake.

So the Chairman had fallen in love with Sayuri. How did that happen? We hardly saw them together. Another gap in the story, I thought. How come only Pumpkin had an English name while the other women had Japanese names? Why didn’t Sayuri try to search for her lost sister afterward?

The sumo wrestlers at ringside, they didn’t look Japanese (of course not, they were from California). It was fun seeing Mainoumi (Shuhei Nagao) in the ring. He was a very popular wrestler.

The only actress I liked was Suzuka Ohga who played Sayuri as a child. She was a cutie. Also Mako, who played the father. He’s always featured in movies like these. So what happened to Tamlyn Tomita? Or even Joan Chen? And James Shigeta?

Overall, I thought the movie was very manga-like. It was like anime or manga characters being brought to life, and they were all costume players. Too many things about the movie were just so phony or superficial. A forgettable flick, I thought.

JNTO Tourist Information Center in Kyoto CLOSED!!

I can’t believe it, but the Tourist Information Center in Kyoto (inside the building where you can go up to Kyoto Tower) has closed on Jan. 31, 2004.

Just when the Japanese government is promoting its Yokoso Japan! campaign to entice more foreigners to visit Japan, they do this!!

Kyoto is one of the most tourist-infested places in Japan, and that TIC in Kyoto was always busy and a great place to find out about festivals and places to photograph.

I am totally dumbfounded. Their excuse is that there is a tourist info counter in Kyoto Station. Yes, but they are for the Kyoto-area only, not the entire country of Japan like the JNTO TIC in Kyoto.