Archive for the 'Japan' Category

(I) Commit a Rudeness

Dear Entire Country of Japan,

I know you had that whole earthquake thing, with the shaking and the breaking and the aftershocks and the tsunami and the entire towns washed away and the 13000 dead and all. And also that thing where a quarter of your power is missing and there’s radioactive iodine visiting places it really shouldn’t, and your electricity is turned off a few hours every day and will continue to be so for the forseeable future. And I do realize this was a natural disaster of a size unseen in over a century.

And sure, through it all you are keeping your international space projects on schedule, to the point of continuing meetings the moment the shaking stopped, and moving work from Tokyo to Komaki where there’s power all the time, and promising to repair your test facilities in time for the planned tests with our hardware.

Yes yes, I know all that, but it turns out that people in our country are using contraception. This is unacceptable, and as a result we are unable to continue working on our portion of your space projects.




Fisherman’s wife waits
Praying for his safe return
The sea chooses her


I was thinking today about the evacuation of all but a skeleton crew from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and the workers I know elsewhere in Japan. The New York Times says

Nuclear reactor operators say that their profession is typified by the same kind of esprit de corps found among firefighters and elite military units. Lunchroom conversations at reactors frequently turn to what operators would do in a severe emergency.

The consensus is always that they would warn their families to flee before staying at their posts to the end, said Michael Friedlander, a former senior operator at three American power plants for a total of 13 years.

They go on to point out that Japanese workers are even more tied to their jobs, and brought up with much more of a sense of shared sacrifice than we are. Which is right where I was when I thought of my friends there.

By “there”, of course I mean in Tokyo and Niihama, far from Fukushima, but still of the same bent. I’m quite sure that any of the workers I know at Sumitomo Heavy Industries would go down with the plant if there were some emergency where others’ lives were threatened. And they never signed up for danger. It’s just what you do.

So yeah, I guarantee that everyone still at Fukushima-I is doing whatever is possible to maintain control of the situation, regardless of the danger. Watch for the stories that come out of this. There will be heroes.


Space Science is a Soft Science

So in honor of the return of Hayabusa, with (one hopes) a few little bits of Itokawa, how about a quiz.  Which one is cuter?

Emily Lakdawalla
Emily Lakdawalla
her crocheted Hayabusa?
her crocheted Hayabusa-kun?

— OR —

And why aren’t you reading the Planetary Society’s about blog entries about Hayabusa?

Seems to be the best place to learn about it.  I mean, here I am at the ISAS campus, and I’m still reading the blog to find out the latest.

Sadly, I’m leaving on Friday, which is when the sample capsule gets back to ISAS from Australia, where it landed.  So I get to miss most of the fun.

Some of my colleagues were locked out of their offices because there was an open house on Sunday so they went around closing all the office doors.  Which is rare enough that not everyone carries their keys around.  Apparently.

Anyway, congratulations to JAXA for Hayabusa making it back home after lots of terrible trouble.  I sure hope the capsule managed to capture some asteroid material.

My Morning in the Land of Styrofoam and Ice

The sky over Tsukiji was the color of Ridley Scott’s hair.  The boy was up early, tracing the satellite signals to a place not the meeting point.  GPS fail under a light rain.  Perhaps the taxi hadn’t left him at the designated corner, and now the metal roof that kept the sky off his head blocked the signal.  The other outsiders were on the far end of an invisible radio link, somewhere in the crushing crowd.  He was flying blind; despite its moniker, the phone had no eye.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

No.  It was.  Mitsui-san appeared out of the mist, beckoning the boy and his local cohort.  “The auction ends soon; we should hurry a little,” he called in a slight accent, ducking from the sidewalk into an industrial garage.  Trucks, hand and power, executed an impossible choreography of loading and driving off with their precious cargo, sprinting to the customers across the city with their goods losing value by the minute.
Continue reading ‘My Morning in the Land of Styrofoam and Ice’


I have only one burnin’ desire.  Let me cook next to your fire!

Who doesn’t love some yaki-niku?  Plates and plates of delicious meats, and sometimes vegetables too, maybe some shrimp and scallops, all brought to you in profusion by cute waitresses with their hair in pigtails, and left for you to cook yourself upon the bed of brightly glowing coals.  With maybe some kimchee on the side.

Oh and beer too.

I think this may be Korean in origin, but I’ve never been to Korea, so to me it’s Japanese.

There are four of these places (that we know of) between our hotel and ISAS.  Two of them are part of the Gyu-Kaku chain, of which I am especially fond.  Mainly due to their ice cream sprinkled with some kind of malted flour (oat, maybe?)

I’d like to see them get away with this in the US.  Seriously. But I know that would last until some kid or drunk frat boy grabs the screen, burns himself badly enough to land in the hospital, and sues the chain back to Japan.

But this isn’t about things I hate.  This is about love.  Love of food, in point of fact.  Something a good deal more dangerous.  It gets hard to say no, y’know?  But how can you hurt the feelings of something like this?  Look at those marbled beefs, that basil chicken, those pretty peppers, that not-so-fresh corn.  Okay, never mind about the corn.  But the rest…

Yeah.  Keep ’em coming!

Liver Lovers

It was in my mid-thirties that I started finding I had to finish a night of drinking with a glass of water unless I wanted a headache in the morning.  Then it was a couple glasses of water, eventually getting to the point where it’s pretty much a 1-for-1 proposition now.  Which is okay, I just have to remember. Still, I miss being young.

But that’s not what I’m on about here.  It’s what I noticed two weeks ago in Japan: I drank most every night (cause, y’know, Japan), and didn’t have to worry about it.  So why is that?  I think it’s because Japan is so heavily into heavy drinking, even among the middle-age set, that the country as a whole has adjusted its social and brewing fabric appropriately.  Every glass of Japanese beer comes with a built-in glass of water!