Free Gasoline!

While the "whiners and complainers" in the USA grumble at $4 per gallon gasoline, here in Japan the price of regular is set to go up another ¥10 per liter to ¥170 or about $6.23 per gallon.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my Yamaha PAS hybrid-electric bicycle? At times such as these, when gas prices are hitting people in the wallet, the Yamaha slogan "Touching Your Heart" takes on a new, special meaning.

Some drivers sound like Veruca Salt in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" - "I want it NOW!"

Well, sit down and shut up, you whiners. Help is on the way if the following idea of Stephen Colbert can be implemented (call your representative and demand it).

Happy motoring, America!

(Tip of the hat to Isis at Floating Down Denial)


Peaceful Japan


View of Wagakuni-san from Sainen-ji, Inada, Kasama City, Ibaraki. The 12th Century monk Shinran Shonin lived here for 20 years and wrote that the mountain reminded him of Mt. Hiei back in Kyoto where he first studied Buddhism. Wagakuni means "our country" - the expression is reserved for Japanese referring to Japan. (click picture to enlarge)

Japan has been ranked as the 5th "most peaceful" country on the 2008 Global Peace Index for the second year in a row. Number one was Iceland. The USA ranked 97th, China 67th. Japan was the only G8* country to make the top ten.

Top Ten on the Global Peace Index

The GPI was founded by Steve Killelea, an Australian IT entrepreneur. The 140 countries examined the 2008 rankings were rated by a panel of experts based on 24 factors, such as a country's relations with its neighbors, percent of its budget that is spent on the military, internal or external wars, violent crime rate, respect for human rights, prison population, and so on. For a full description of the methodology visit the website: Global Peace Index.

Here are the bottom 10:

Of course, these rankings are just relative comparisons between countries. I think we can all agree that every country has a lot of room for improvement to make the world a peaceful place where people can focus on higher, more meaningful and beneficial pursuits than violence and war. While the GPI gives us a yardstick to see how we're doing, it's up to all of us to find ways to bring about a more peaceful world.

*The G8 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which together represent about 2/3 of the world's economy, most of the military spending and nuclear arsenals.


Magnificent Obsession

Many people know that Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (completed 1923), but few are aware of how much time he spent in Japan, how pivotal that hotel was in his career, the other buildings he designed here, or the lasting influence he had on the many Japanese architects who studied under him and worked with him. Unlike the bleak modernist buildings of concrete slabs (Japanese public schools leap to mind) and the monolithic towers of cities today, Wright's organic designs emphasize the unity between man and nature. His buildings are scaled to be comfortable places for people and are built of local materials, looking as if they grew out of their surroundings.

Yodoko Guest House near Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture - originally designed for Tazaemon Yamamura, a sake brewer.>

The Imperial Hotel was demolished in 1968, as the land under it had become too valuable for the three story structure. A part of it - the entrance and lobby building were spared however and reassembled at the Museum Meiji-mura, an open air architectural museum near Nagoya, in 1985. I visited there in 1987 and experienced the Imperial Hotel lobby first hand. I want to go back and see it again now that the surrounding vegetation has matured.

Wright first came to Japan in 1905. One of the places he stayed was the Fujiya Hotel in Hakone, where K and I stayed last August [as I recounted in the post, "Road Trip (Railroad that is)". ] I can recommend a book about his journey - Frank Lloyd Wright's Fifty Views of Japan, the 1905 Photo Album - which features his own photographs of his two month tour of Japan.

I recently found an excellent documentary on DVD - the first of its kind as it focuses solely on his work in Japan. "Magnificent Obsession - Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan".

It was written, produced, directed and edited by Karen Severns and Koichi Mori. The two decided to do this project after being involved in saving Wright's last surviving public building in Tokyo - Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan - or "House of Tomorrow" (a private school that was listed as an Important Cultural Property of Japan 1997, then rebuilt, and is still in use). Through that project, they learned a lot about Wright's Japanese work and the sorry state of the documentation of it. They also realized that many of the people involved were in their twilight years, and indeed some had already passed, so there was an urgency to interview the remaining people and get their input first hand.

They spent the next several years collecting pictures, documents, and plans, and interviewing nearly a hundred architects and historians to produce this lasting tribute and important documentary of Frank Lloyd Wright in Japan and the friendships he developed which lasted for several decades and transcended a world war.

The DVD is available in either English or Japanese.

For more information visit the website: Magnificent Obsession

Profiles: Karen Severns received an MFA in Film from Columbia University, and also has an MS in Journalism. She has worked in both New York and Tokyo as a filmmaker, film critic, journalist and author. She has produced two dozen short films, including 2001 Academy Award nominee One Day Crossing.

Koichi Mori studied engineering before working throughout Asia on building management and environmental conservation projects for a leading multinational. He holds an MBA in International Management from the Garvin School of International Management (Thunderbird).


Whole Lot Of Shakin'

Twenty percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 or greater occur in the Japan archipelago. Last night must have been "catch up" night. Either that or the Kanameishi stone at Kashima Jingu shrine, which holds down the giant catfish that is said to cause earthquakes, slipped out of position.

Normally, when we experience a quake here in Kashima City it is fairly mild and the house just shakes a bit for ten or fifteen seconds. On the JMA scale (Japan's linear quake scale that measures local effects) we experience a 1 or a 2 out of a possible 7.

Last night was different. Just after 1 am we were awakened by a growing rumbling and then shaking of the house. It felt like a JMA "2" or "3". OK. No big deal. Reassure Momo that all is well and go back to sleep. Nope. Another quake started up then another and another every few minutes - some 12 in all - over the next 45 minutes. And the last two were strongest of all, feeling like a "4" on the JMA scale. Pictures in frames fell over as did wine glasses in a cabinet as the house shook from side to side for what seemed like a long time (sorry, I didn't time it).

Map from Japan Meteorological Agency website: http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html

The initial quake was 6.3 on the Richter scale and the epicenter was located under the seabed about 50 miles offshore from Kashima. The last quake was a magnitude 6.7 emanating from the same location.

Happily, there was no tsunami generated and there have been no reports of damage.