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Hyogo: A veritable Utopia
THE BUDDHIST CHANNEL November 24, 2008


To Buddhist devotees around the world, the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism in Hyogo, Japan, is their Pure Land on Earth.

Hyogo, Japan -- NESTLED in a valley in Kato City, Hyogo, Japan, the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism, an architectural splendour, was introduced to the world at an inaugural ceremony on Nov 1.

<< The Golden Shrine in the Main Hall of the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism. – Pic courtesy of Dr Anil Sakya of Mahamakut Buddhist University, Bangkok

Touted as the largest Buddhist temple edifice in the world, the magnificent temple of traditional architecture was built after nearly half a century of endeavour.

State-of-the-art technology and traditional craftsmanship were enlisted in this massive project. Some 3.5 million workers – comprising architects, engineers and skilled craftsmen – from South Korea and China took seven years to complete the grand temple, built on a sprawling 148ha site.

The project was borne out of the vision of Dr Kyuse Enshinjoh, 82, founder priest of the Nenbutsushu Buddhist sect (one of 60 Buddhist sects) in Japan and president of the Buddhist Summit.

He dreamt of building a majestic temple, following his first pilgrimage to India to present over 800 rolls of sutras for dedication to the Buddhist temples there.

Enshinjoh was saddened by the dilapidated state of eight holy places in India, some overgrown with grass, others in a state of near ruin.

He was inspired to set up a temple which would serve as the spiritual centre for the 370 million Buddhists in the world.

Enshinjoh’s dream became a reality with the successful completion of the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism, built at a cost of 60 billion yen (RM2.28bil).

“Such a grand-scale Buddhist temple has never been built in the history of Japan since the erection of the main temple of Obakushu Buddhist sect in Kyoto 350 years ago,” said Shinku Miyagawa, high priest of the Nenbutsushu sect.

Over 300 foreign guests, including Buddhist leaders and devotees from 32 countries, and 12,000 members of Japan’s Nenbutsushu Buddhist sect were at the inaugural ceremony.

The Malaysian delegation of five was led by the Chief High Priest of Malaysia and chief monk of Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, K. Sri Dhammaratana. For six days, our delegation stayed at the four-star Okura Kobe hotel, a one-and-a-half hours’ drive from the temple.

<< March of monks during the inauguration of the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism in Japan. – Pic courtesy of Nenbutsushu Buddhist Sect of Japan

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat flew in from France after a working trip and attended the opening ceremony of the 5th Buddhist Summit (Nov 2 to 5) held at the International Buddhist Conference Hall in the temple grounds.

We joined dignitaries the likes of former king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk and his wife, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV (of Toro Kingdom, Uganda), Princess Ashi Dechan Wangchuk (Bhutan) and Natsagiin Bagabandi (former president of Mongolia) and his wife, to celebrate the occasion.

I felt humbled to be part of this historic moment. The 11-day trip to attend the inauguration of the temple, the Buddhist Summit and a study tour of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was sponsored by the Buddhist Summit. All guests from abroad were accorded royal treatment.

I had never felt like a VIP before. Imagine being transported everywhere in a convoy of luxury cars, walking on the red carpet, and arriving to cheers from a welcoming reception of Nenbutsushu members waving miniature flags of the participant countries. It was sheer euphoria.

Steeped in religious rituals, the inauguration ceremony began at 9am. The highlight was the 800m march of the monks from the temple’s main gate up a flight of 300 steps leading to the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism perched atop a slope.

Guests and dignitaries were driven in cars to the top where we waited inside the temple for the monks to arrive.

The Buddhist leaders, shielded by red, white and yellow umbrellas, were accompanied by Nenbutsushu monks as they made their red-carpet ascent.

After the monks reached the top and took their seats, the sect’s monks in mustard-coloured robes made their grand entrance and proceeded with the rituals, which included the sprinkling of holy water and chanting of Buddhist sutras in the one-and-a-half hour ceremony.

As we made our exit, we were touched by the sight of thousands of sect members sitting in the open, enduring the scorching mid-day sun to follow the inauguration rituals on a big screen.

In the afternoon, we attended the purifying ceremony of the proposed Nalanda Monastery on a 66ha site within the temple grounds. The ceremony was commemorated by the planting of trees by Buddhist leaders and dignitaries. The monastery is to be completed in four years’ time.

We also attended the inauguration ceremony of the sect’s Hiroshima Betsuin Temple (Hiroshima) and the Reliquary Hall of Kyushu Honzan Temple (Kyushu), and visited the Buddhist Summit headquarters at Kobe Betsuin Temple (Kobe) over the next few days.

As we rounded up our tour of the temples, images of the splendour of the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism kept flitting through my mind.

Even days after my return from Japan, I am still under the spell of this faraway paradise that offers a glimpse of Utopia.


Myanmar prepares for Buddhist summit despite boycott
BURMA NEWS Dec 08 2004


YANGON : Myanmar is preparing for the opening of a world Buddhist summit undaunted by a boycott called by its main sponsor because of an upheaval prompted by the sacking of the military regime's premier.

Myanmar state media said the three-day event would be an undoubted "landmark in the history of Buddhism" and is a rare potential showcase for a nation isolated by international sanctions because of its hardline policies and continued detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The regime has built a new convention hall and spruced up temples while ignoring international pressure to call off the summit following a top-level shake up in the leadership that strengthened the hand of the regime's military hard men.

Invitations have been sent to Buddhist leaders from 37 nations, including those in 17 countries who were told by the main sponsor that the fourth world summit had been called off, according to officials.

Japan's Nenbutsushu sect, which has held the summit every two years in a Buddhist nation, withdrew its sponsorship after the sacking of premier General Khin Nyunt, who was put under house arrest for corruption in October.

After announcing it would press on with the summit despite the sponsor's withdrawal, Myanmar's military leadership went on the attack at the weekend through state media to claim its right to stage the summit.

"The Nenbutsushu is only a third-class sect which, being rich, has been using its resources to organise Buddhist summits and hold international conferences for their own fame," the state-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper said in a commentary on Saturday.

"The absence of assistance from Nenbutsushu cannot harm the summit in any way," the newspaper said.

State media -- which had extensively covered meetings between junta leaders and Nenbutsushu leaders before the pull-out -- did not say how many people were now expected to turn up.

Some 2,500 delegates had been expected before the crisis, according to a source from Myanmar's religious affairs department, but the numbers were expected to be much lower.

Despite the controversy, the regime welcomed the attendance of Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who will make a keynote speech at the event, and his Laotian counterpart Bounhang Varachit.

Thaksin will also use the visit to make a rare courtesy call on Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the official name of the junta.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based rights group, called for a boycott of the conference because of the continued detention of an estimated 300 monks by the regime.

Myanmar's outlawed Young Monks' Association has supported the boycott amid concerns among the international community that the junta could use the event for political grandstanding.

"It's the mixture of politics and religion which disturbs us; any event organised by the Burmese will inevitably include propaganda," said a Yangon-based diplomat.

The junta has been trying to promote religious tourism to the "Land of Pagodas" to help its ailing economy, suffering under strict sanctions.

Myanmar, a majority Theravada Buddhist nation like its neighbours Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and nearby Sri Lanka, has an estimated 4,000,000 monks all operating under the supervision of the state.

Monks played an important role alongside students during 1988 riots against military rule that were bloodily suppressed.

The military has ruled Myanmar since a coup in 1962 despite Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy winning landslide elections in 1990.


Rumsfeld nemesis Shinseki to be named VA secretary
AP Associated Press December 7, 2008


President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary, turning to a former Army chief of staff once vilified by the Bush administration for questioning its Iraq war strategy.

Obama will announce the selection of Shinseki, the first Army four-star general of Japanese-American ancestry, at a news conference Sunday in Chicago. He will be the first Asian-American to hold the post of Veterans Affairs secretary, adding to the growing diversity of Obama's Cabinet.

"I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home," Obama said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" to be broadcast Sunday.

NBC released a transcript of the interview after The Associated Press reported that Shinseki was Obama's pick.

Shinseki's tenure as Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 was marked by constant tensions with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which boiled over in 2003 when Shinseki testified to Congress that it might take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to control Iraq after the invasion.

Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, belittled the estimate as "wildly off the mark" and the general was marginalized and later retired from the Army. But Shinseki's words proved prophetic after President George W. Bush in early 2007 announced a "surge" of additional troops to Iraq after miscalculating the numbers needed to stem sectarian violence.

Obama said he chose Shinseki for the VA post because he "was right" in predicting that the U.S. will need more troops in Iraq than Rumsfeld believed at the time.

"When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served — higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate — it breaks my heart," Obama told NBC.

Shinseki, 66, is slated to take the helm of the government's second largest agency, which was roundly criticized during the Bush administration for underestimating the amount of funding needed to treat thousands of injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thousands of veterans currently endure six-month waits for disability benefits, despite promises by current VA Secretary James Peake and his predecessor, Jim Nicholson, to reduce delays. The department also is scrambling to upgrade government technology systems before new legislation providing for millions of dollars in new GI benefits takes effect next August.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, praised Shinseki as a "great choice" who will make an excellent VA secretary.

"I have great respect for General Shinseki's judgment and abilities," Akaka said in a statement. "I am confident that he will use his wisdom and experience to ensure that our veterans receive the respect and care they have earned in defense of our nation. President-elect Obama is selecting a team that reflects our nation's greatest strength, its diversity, and I applaud him."

Veterans groups also cheered the decision.

"General Shinseki has a record of courage and honesty, and is a bold choice to lead the VA into the future," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "He is a man that has always put patriotism ahead of politics, and is held in high regard by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan."

Obama's choice of Shinseki, who grew up in Hawaii, is the latest indication that the president-elect is making good on his pledge to have a diverse Cabinet.

In Obama's eight Cabinet announcements so far, white men are the minority with two nominations — Timothy Geithner at Treasury and Robert Gates at Defense. Three are women — Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security, Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador and Hillary Rodham Clinton at State. Eric Holder at the Justice Department is African American, while Bill Richardson at Commerce is Latino.

Shinseki is a recipient of two Purple Hearts for life-threatening injuries in Vietnam.

Upon leaving his post in June 2003, Shinseki in his farewell speech sternly warned against arrogance in leadership.

"You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader," he said. "You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance."

Shinseki also left with the warning: "Beware a 12-division strategy for a 10-division army."


President-elect Obama seventh press conference. Transcript.
Lynn Sweat


PRESS CONFERENCE WITH PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA SUBJECT: CONTRIBUTIONS OF THOSE THAT HAVE SERVED OUR NATION: REMEMBERING THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR ON THIS DATE IN 1941.

HILTON-CHICAGO HOTEL, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS 2:00 P.M., EDT, SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2008

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: (In progress) -- the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America. Even as I speak, they are serving brilliantly and bravely in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. And we must show them, and their families, the same devotion that they have shown this country.

We don't have to do our troops or our veterans a favor. We have a sacred trust to repay a favor - the favor that they have done us. And that starts with recognizing that for many of today's troops and their families the war doesn't end when they come home.

Far too many are suffering from the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury. Far to few are receiving the screening and treatment they need. The servicemen and women who embody what's best about America should get the best care we have to offer, and that is what I will provide when I am president.

And in this struggling economy we also have to do more to ensure that, when our troops come home and leave the service, they can find jobs that pay well, provide good benefits, receive appropriate health care, and are able to support their families. We don't just need to better serve veterans of today's wars, we need to build a 21st century VA that will better serve all who've answered our nation's call.

That means cutting red tape and easing transition into civilian life. It means eliminating short-falls; fully funding VA health care; and providing the benefits our veterans have earned. That's the kind of VA that will serve our veterans as well as they have served us.

And there is no one more distinguished, more determined or more qualified to build this VA than the leader I'm announcing as our next secretary of Veterans Affairs, General Eric Shinseki. No one will ever doubt that this former Army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans. No one will ever question whether he will fight hard enough to make sure the have the support that they need. A graduate of West Point, General Shinseki served two combat tours in Vietnam where he lost part of his foot, and was awarded two Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars.

Throughout his nearly four decades in the United States Army, he won the respect and admiration of our men and women in uniform because they have always been his highest priority. He has always stood on principle, because he has always stood with our troops. And he will bring that same sense of duty and commitment to ensuring that we treat our veterans with the care and dignity that they deserve. A decorated soldier who has served at every level in the Army, General Shinseki understands the changing needs of our troops and their families, and he will be a VA secretary who finally modernizes our VA to meet the challenges of our time.

Nearly 70 years ago today, a date "that will live in infamy," our harbor was bombed in Hawaii and our troops went off to war. General Shinseki and I both grew up in Hawaii and we understand what that means. After that war was over - after we reclaimed a continent from a madman and beat back danger in the Pacific, those troops came home to a grateful nation, a nation that welcomed them with a GI Bill and a chance to live out in peace the dreams they had fought for, and so many died for, on the battlefield.

We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation, not just with words, but with deeds. And with the national security team I announced this week, and the extraordinary and courageous secretary of Veterans Affairs that I'm announcing today, I am confident that we will never hesitate to defend our security; that we will send our troops into battle only when we must; and that, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "We will truly care for all who shall have borne the battle."

Now I'd like to turn it over to our next VA secretary, General Eric Shinseki.

GEN. SHINSEKI: Well, Mr. President-elect, thank you for the honor of being nominated to serve our nation in your Cabinet.

I can think of no higher responsibility than ensuring that men and women who have served our nation in uniform are treated with the care and respect that they have earned. As you've said, these brave Americans are a part of an unbroken line of heroes that stretches back to the American Revolution.

And yet, even as we stand here today there are veterans who are worried about keeping their health care or even their homes; paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service. Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, are confronting serious, severe wounds - some seen, some unseen, making it difficult for them to get on with their lives in this struggling economy. They deserve a smooth, error-free, no-fail, benefits-assured transition into our ranks as veterans, and that is our responsibility, not theirs.

A word to my fellow veterans: If confirmed, I will work each and every day to ensure that we are serving you as well as you have served us. We will pursue a 21st century VA that serves your needs. We will open doors - new doors of opportunity so you can find a good job, support your families when you return to civilian life. And if we will always - we will always honor the sacrifices of those who have worn the uniform, and their loved ones.

So, Mr. President-elect, thank you for entrusting me with this great responsibility, and I thank all of our veterans who have served in the Armed Forces of our nation.


Tamogami says views shared in Diet, SDF
Japan Times Dec. 2, 2008


Ousted Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami stuck to his revisionist historical views Monday, saying his justification of Japan's wartime acts is shared by many lawmakers and Self-Defense Forces personnel.

"I don't think my opinions are particularly militaristic or of a rightwing nature," Tamogami said during a news conference in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, adding many of his supporters are merely keeping their views to themselves.

Tamogami was sacked as ASDF chief Oct. 31 after winning an essay contest with an entry that defended the nation's wartime past and colonial rule.

He upheld his revisionist views during unsworn testimony before an Upper House committee last month, maintaining his opinion that Japan was not an "aggressor nation" during the 1930s and '40s.

"Freedom of speech in the SDF is being suppressed, but there are many who support" such views, Tamogami said.

The now-retired general criticized the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, on Monday, saying the DPJ is wrongfully blaming the government for allowing someone with views like his to head the ASDF.

"The DPJ is demanding that a person who speaks ill of Japan (by being apologetic about the war) should lead (the ASDF). That is absurd."

In explaining the backdrop of the essay, Tamogami said Japan cannot protect its allies without engaging in collective self-defense and must enact a special law to allow the SDF to contribute to international antiterrorism campaigns such as the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

"This all stems from an erroneous history education" that taught that Japan was an aggressor, he said, reiterating his view that the government must get back on track and again become capable of defending the nation.

While the essay accuses the United States of "trapping" Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor, Tamogami told the press briefing that he does not intend to criticize Washington for past acts.

"I don't have any antipathy toward America. I like America very much," he joked.

"I am being touted as a dangerous figure, but it only takes five minutes with me for anyone to understand that I am kind-hearted."

But asked how he would have acted when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Tamogami said he would have retaliated in kind had Japan had that capability.

The unapologetic ex-general did acknowledge he blundered, saying he never expected his essay to cause such a Diet or media stir.

"Some say I was a fool for misjudging that," he said. "I have to acknowledge that I am."


Essay judges defend Tamogami
Japan Times Dec. 9, 2008


Organizers and judges of a controversial essay contest backed the contentious entry by former Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami, saying Monday its contents "awoke the Japanese public."

Tamogami was sacked last month after his revisionist historical views came to light when his work took the contest's top prize. The general sought to justify Japan's wartime aggression under the competition's theme, "True Interpretation of Modern History."

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Toshio Motoya, head of hotel and condo developer Apa Group, the contest's organizer, said Tamogami's sacking "resulted in a huge frenzy and made the public aware of the essay and its contents. It turned into a historical event."

The entrepreneur said his motive for organizing the event was to have "proper historical views pave the way for Japan" to reinvent itself as a "true independent state."

Tamogami's essay echoes well-worn revisionist justifications for Japan's wartime aggression. For example, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor is described as the result of trickery by the U.S. and that Asian neighbors colonized by the Imperial Japanese Army benefited from the occupation.

The sacked general has said that such opinions are shared by many lawmakers and Self-Defense Forces personnel. Motoya said that entries by 98 other ASDF personnel expressed views similar to Tamogami's.

Motoya revealed that 13 essays selected from the 235 entries to the contest will be published as a book and go on sale Monday at selected bookstores and Apa Group's hotel chains.

The book, "The Shocking Truth About Modern History," will retail for ¥1,000 and include an English translation.

Responding to experts who have questioned the contents of Tamogami's essay as well as the sincerity of the judges for giving it the top prize, the parties concerned claimed all was aboveboard.

"We reached a unanimous agreement that Mr. Tamogami's work was the finest," the contest's top judge, Shoichi Watabe, an honorary professor at Sophia University, told reporters.


The authorities gain complete control of the stories
Japan Times May 11, 2008


Prior to the recent retrial of a man who was eventually sentenced to death by the Hiroshima High Court for killing a woman and her 1-year-old child in 1999, the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization complained about the coverage of the case. The BPO said that media outlets concentrated on the story of Hiroshi Motomura, the husband of the murdered woman, to the exclusion of the defendant's story, thus producing an unbalanced view of the case so far.

After the sentencing, an unnamed TV news director explained to the Asahi Shimbun that while he understood the BPO's stance, the job of commercial broadcasters is to "describe human drama that viewers can appreciate." The grieving husband, who wanted the defendant to pay for his crime with his life even though he was a minor at the time of the killings, understood this dynamic and controlled the story by actively cultivating the media. Testimony showing how the defendant grew up in a violent household that drove his mother to suicide was mostly absent from coverage of the case, and one can assume that it was overlooked for the sake of Motomura, whom reporters openly admired for his dogged pursuit of a death sentence.

Controlling the story takes on a different meaning in another homocide case involving a minor. Psychiatrist Morimitsu Sakihama is now on trial for violating the Confidentiality Law by leaking information about a 17-year-old boy who started a fire that killed his stepmother and two siblings in Nara in 2006. Sakihama had tested the boy on behalf of the Nara Family Court, and because trials involving minors are closed to the public, his findings were confidential.

However, Sakihama was concerned about the intense media coverage of the case. The boy was under pressure from his physician father to excel in school, and most stories contextualized the killings within the social phenomenon known as "exam hell." The boy was afraid his father would find out he lied about passing a test he actually failed, and believed his father would kill him as a result. He set the fire to kill his father before he found out, but the rest of the family perished instead.

Coverage of the case implied that the boy nursed a grudge against his stepmother. Sakihama believed that wasn't the case. He diagnosed the boy as suffering from a form of Asperger's Syndrome, a developmental disability: Once the boy had made his mind up about something he couldn't change it, and having decided he would kill his father he went ahead and set the fire, even though his father was out that night.

Sakihama allowed a sympathetic reporter named Atsuko Kusanagi to read his report and transcripts of oral testimony. However, Kusanagi and her publisher, Kodansha, photographed the documents without Sakihama's knowledge and later released a book about the case with direct quotes from the documents, but no mention of Sakihama's ideas about Asperger's. Four months later, Sakihama was arrested.

Last month, the TV Asahi news show "Sunday Project" aired a report on the case in which both Kusanagi and Sakihama were interviewed. Kusanagi, who used to work at a facility for juvenile offenders, admitted her error and said she wished she could trade places with the psychiatrist. Kodansha has owned up to journalistic malfeasance after a third-party committee came to that conclusion early in April. Both Sakihama and Kusanagi said they simply wanted to tell the boy's side of the story, but it was only the psychiatrist who was arrested.

Sakihama was held for 19 days even though he never denied leaking the information. His lawyer believes Sakihama was held to intimidate the media, since two weeks after his arrest the office of Motomi Toichi, the psychiatrist who introduced Sakihama to Kusanagi, was also raided by police. Though Toichi was not charged, the well-publicized raid had an adverse effect on his practice. "My patients won't talk to me anymore," he told TV Asahi. A frequently quoted pundit on juvenile crime, Toichi probably won't be talking to the media anymore, either.

Kodansha was not raided. This tactic of targeting sources rather than the media follows a trend exemplified recently by the case of Hiromichi Ugaya, a journalist who was sued by music-industry organ Oricon for saying in a magazine article that Oricon's methodology for compiling pop charts is secretive and suspicious. Ugaya didn't write the article in question, he was simply quoted in it, but last month a judge found in Oricon's favor. Press freedom advocates have suggested that Oricon is sending a message to anyone who might be inclined to talk publicly about the same things Ugaya talked about. The prosecutors in the Sakihama case seem to be using a similar strategy, but for broader purposes.

In order to bring a case against someone who breaks the Confidentiality Law — which, by the way, hasn't been prosecuted in 45 years — an offended party must press charges. In this case, the offended parties are the boy, his father, and a proxy lawyer. The prosecutor told TV Asahi that the father and son wanted to "protect their privacy." Sakihama's lawyer, however, is more interested in the proxy, Koji Dohi, who it turns out was Japan's Public Prosecutor General from 1996 to '98.

Why, TV Asahi asked, is Dohi involved? He wouldn't talk to "Sunday Project" and neither would the father, who reportedly has owned up to his responsibility in the tragedy. Sakihama's lawyer thinks that the charge was the prosecutor's idea and that his client is being tried not for the sake of the father and son, but rather for the sake of "national policy." Fight with the news media over press freedom issues and you always lose in the arena of public opinion, so it's easier to preemptively scare off a reporter's most valuable tool, the informed source. In the end, the authorities control all stories.


Crime victims get their day, say in court
Japan Times June 19, 2007


The Diet is expected to pass a controversial bill this week to revise the Criminal Procedure Law to enable people victimized by crime to participate in trial proceedings.

Despite concern by the legal world that courtrooms could become venues for revenge, the bill is expected to sail through with support from not only the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito but also the Democratic Party of Japan.

Here are questions and answers about the revision:

What would the new legislation allow crime victims to do in court?

The revision would enable crime victims and or relatives of victims to directly participate in the trial system.

Instead of sitting with the rest of the gallery, they would be permitted to sit by prosecutors. They would to a certain extent be able to question defendants, state their opinions and feelings regarding the crimes, question witnesses and recommend punishment, a task currently undertaken by prosecutors.

According to a legal expert, the victims would mainly participate in district court-level trials. The revision does not specify what level of courts will allow victims to participate.

What kinds of trials can the victimized participate in under the revision?

The victimized would be able to participate in trials involving heinous crimes, including murder, rape and kidnapping, as well as fatal professional negligence, including traffic accidents.

In cases where the direct victim of a crime is deceased or incapacitated, the next of kin, also considered victimized parties, would be able to participate.

What prompted the law to be changed?

The Tokyo-based National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families, a strong advocate of letting the victimized participate in trials since its establishment in 2000, says the "criminal justice system should exist not only for the public but also for the victims themselves."

The organization says on its Web site that court participation will help the victimized learn the truth about a crime, protect their dignity and honor, and let them have a say in meting out punishment.

The government decided to change the law in response to the group's demand.

Do victims have other laws to promote their interests?

For a long time, victims have been left out of the loop.

In 2000, the crime victim protection law became the nation's first such legislation. With it, victims and their families finally got the opportunity to express their opinions and feelings in court and to access trial records. They were also given priority gallery seats. Before then, they have to line up with other people to get gallery seat tickets.

The Criminal Procedure Law was also revised the same year to include similar changes.

In 2004, a fundamental law was enacted establishing measures to promote the interests of the victimized, including a financial compensation system providing medical and welfare support, and creating a system to "expand the opportunity for crime victims to participate in criminal (trial) proceedings."

However, victimologists say Japan is still 20 years behind Western countries regarding promotion of the rights and interests of crime victims.

If the revision is aimed at protecting the rights of victims, why do some oppose it?

People agree crime victims have long been overlooked and Japan needs to do whatever it can to build and expand a system to promote their interests.

However, legal experts fear the new approach will subvert the criminal justice system and turn courtrooms into venues for vengeance by allowing the victimized to skew the process. They also expressed concern over the daunting effect it could have on defending the accused.

Do all victims support the revision?

Some victims oppose it, in part because participating in criminal trials could reinvite the trauma of the crime by facing the accused in court. Opponents propose that instead of direct participation in trials proceedings, the victimized should be able to indirectly question defendants and state their opinions regarding punishment through the prosecutors.

Do other countries have similar systems?

According to NAVS, similar systems in which victims can participate in trial proceedings are found in several European countries, including Germany and France.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations, however, issued a statement in May pointing out that there is a fundamental difference. In Germany and France, the courts and judges collect evidence of crimes and take the initiative in trial procedures.

But in Japan, that job is mainly for prosecutors and defense lawyers, and judges observe the proceedings and rule as a third party. If victims participate in trial proceedings, this may add greater weight to the prosecution.

The federation also noted that victimized parties are not allowed to participate directly in criminal trials in the United States and Britain, although they may be allowed to issue statements
.


Victim participation in trials risky, experts say
Japan Times March 30, 2007


A bill that would allow people victimized by crime to participate in court proceedings could be detrimental to the criminal trial system and needs further debate, a group of lawyers, scholars and Diet members said Thursday.

Earlier this month, the government approved a bill to revise the criminal procedure law to enable those victimized by crimes to make statements in court and question defendants and witnesses.

The Diet is set to begin deliberations on the bill during the current ordinary session.

"The court is (a place) to acknowledge facts based on appropriate evidence," said Yoshio Takano, vice president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. "The criminal court should not be a place ruled by emotion; that is the premise of a criminal court."

Lawyer-turned-lawmaker Tomomi Inada of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party member also said the bill needs further deliberation.

"I am all for heading in the direction of expanding the rights of crime victims," Inada said. "But I believe that there needs to be careful discussion over whether the victim should be able to directly ask the defendant a question."

If enacted, the legislation would enable the victimized to sit with prosecutors, press defendants for facts and ask judges to hand down penalties other than those requested by prosecutors.

"What will the judges do when the prosecutors demand a life sentence while the victims demand the death sentence?" asked Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party. "I believe the bill will distort the criminal court system and it could lead to misjudgments and be used as a means of revenge."

The bill states that the new system should be limited to heinous crimes including murder, injury resulting in death and negligent homicide, including traffic accidents.

The bill was introduced in response to calls from the victimized that their voices be heard in court. However, a member of a victims' group also at the meeting objected to the bill. Tadaari Katayama, who lost his 3-year-old son in a traffic accident in 1997, said the bill "should be scrapped" and started from scratch because it lacks the consensus of the general public.

Toshiki Odanaka, a professor emeritus of law at Tohoku University, pointed out that increasing the number of people on the prosecutors' side will create an imbalance in the courtroom. "The weight will shift heavily toward the prosecutors' side, and it will become difficult to say that it is a fair system," he said.


Victims' participation in criminal trials may begin Dec. 1
Japan Times Aug. 21, 2008


The Justice Ministry plans to start letting people victimized by crime participate in trial proceedings on Dec. 1, ministry sources said Wednesday.

The measure, part of efforts to support people victimized by serious crimes, including direct victims and the next of kin of the deceased, marks a significant departure for a criminal justice system that has never allowed such participation in legal proceedings.

Crimes under consideration for participation are murder, rape, kidnapping and professional negligence resulting in death.

For technical reasons, however, the first courtroom faceoff between perpetrators and the victimized won't happen this year, the sources said.

The ministry is trying to finalize the starting date with other ministries, agencies and the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling bloc, the sources said.

Once they reach an agreement, the participation system will be presented to the Cabinet, where an ordinance for announcing the date to put it into effect will be decided on, they said.

The system will applied to indictments handed down on Dec. 1 or later, making it unlikely anyone victimized will appear in court this year.

The measure will allow such participants, if court-authorized, to question defendants and witnesses. They will also be allowed to state their opinions about penalties if so solicited by prosecutors, up to the limits of the statutes under which the defendants stand accused.

The victimized will also be able to commission lawyers as proxies. Even if they cannot afford a lawyer, they will be assigned one at taxpayer expense through a public agency.

A system that will debut at the same time will also allow the victimized to demand compensation from a defendant, just like in a lawsuit.

If the defendant is found guilty, the same judge who hands down that verdict will be able to decide the amount through proceedings based on the evidence presented in the criminal trial.

Calls for allowing the victimized to participate in criminal trials grew after Aum Shinrikyo carried out its sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,500. It was the doomsday cult's second nerve gas mass murder within the span of a year.

Participation of the victimized was included in the code of criminal procedure when the law was revised in June 2007. It was then decided the measure would be put into effect by late December.


DEATH PENALTY-JAPAN: Deposing Survivors May Hit Abolition Campaign
IPS News June 11 2007


A proposal under discussion in the Japanese Diet (parliament) to allow survivors of murder victims to address the courts is being watched with growing dread by death penalty opponents in this country.

''The new proposal is clearly aimed at appeasing victims rather than fostering legal justice. I fear such a move, if passed, will turn the spotlight on the emotional aspect of a murder trial and work against the accused through harsher sentencing," Kei Itoh, a human rights lawyer, told IPS.

Itoh is currently fighting to overturn the death sentence handed down to Masaru Okunishi, an 81-year-old man who continues to claim innocence 37 years after his conviction for murder in five cases. Okunishi was originally found guilty of killing his wife, her lover and three others by serving them poisoned wine.

There have been five previous appeals, including one which overturned his sentence because of lack of evidence. But today Okunishi is back again on death row. Itoh is seeking a complete re-trial.

The main driving force behind the proposal to give crime victims the right to address the courts is lawyer Isao Okamura, 77, himself a crime victim. His wife was murdered in October 1999. Okamura today heads the Tokyo-based National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families, an organisation representing more than 3,000 families which argues that crime victims are getting a raw deal in Japan.

Okamura was stirred into action when the man found guilty of murdering his wife was given a life sentence rather than being sent to the gallows in 2001. "The ruling was unacceptable to me -- both as a husband and a lawyer," he said in a recent newspaper interview.

Bereaved victims often remain bitter and resentful for years and desperately want a chance to speak out in court, Tsuneo Matsumura, spokesman for the association and a former prosecutor, told IPS.

"They cannot bear a system where they are forced to watch silently as the trial is conducted between prosecutors, defendants and the accused. We welcome the new proposal because crime victims will finally be allowed to speak out the truth publicly," he said. A judge would have powerful additional testimony based on their personal ties, something a prosecutor could never provide.

He refuted claims by opponents that if the proposal became a law it would work against a fair trial. The crime victims would only be allowed to testify after receiving permission from prosecutors who would ensure objectivity, he said.

But legal experts point out that the new proposal would mark out Japan in legal practice among most other countries. Japan is already one of the few countries in the industrialised world which continues to implement the death penalty. Last Christmas Day it executed four men, ending a 15-month pause in hanging while a Buddhist justice minister had refused to sign death warrants because of his conscience.

Shouzo Inou, an anti-capital punishment activist, is adamantly against permitting crime victims standing up in trials.

Inou is the only activist permitted to visit Okunishi, now frail after surgery for stomach cancer. Okunishi still remains eager to clear his name before he dies. Many ordinary citizens are sympathetic and send letters of encouragement.

"Okunishi has suffered tremendously and so have his family members," Inou said, highlighting the often ignored suffering of the innocent family members of the accused in highly publicised capital trials. Okunishi's siblings and parents found it so difficult to endure the notoriety of their family connection in the poor farming community of Nabari, west of Tokyo, that they moved to a place where they could live in anonymity.

Opponents of the death penalty are calling now for a widespread public debate on the capital punishment system before the proposal is adopted into the legal system.

"We have to educate the public on the pitfalls of supporting the death penalty in Japan. The highly questionable practice of relying on confessions made in police custody suggests that there may be innocent victims out there (on death row)," Hiroyuki Ito, professor of political science at Ritsumeikan University, said, stressing this was one issue he would like addressed more openly.

In March, the Japanese media reported the concerns over one capital case voiced by Norimichi Kumamoto, a retired judge. Kumamoto and two colleagues presided over the trial of Iwao Hakamada, a professional boxer who was sentenced to death for murder in November 1980. Kumamoto told newspapers that he thought the evidence at the trial was insufficient for a conviction.

"Generally speaking, ordinary people tend to find it difficult to accept the notion that suspects are innocent until proven guilty," said Ito, addressing concerns that the proposal might undermine this basic legal principle. "It is important that lawyers keep this point in mind when defending suspects," he stressed.

Opponents of the scheme also believe it could harden attitudes still further against abolishing the death penalty in Japan. In the last government poll on capital punishment in February 2005, 80 percent of Japanese expressed support for the death penalty. Recent highly publicised murders have made it even more difficult for the government to go against the majority of public opinion and ban capital punishment, even if it wanted to, Ito said.

One such case was the killing of a married woman and her young daughter by an 18-year-old man some eight years ago. The woman's husband, Hiroshi Motomura, is currently campaigning for the courts to set aside its life imprisonment sentence for the convicted killer, now 26, and send him to the gallows. The Hiroshima High Court has decided to review the sentence.

The proposal to allow crime victims the right to address the courts has still not been formulated into a draft law. It will take two years at least for it to become law, according to Itoh.


The Fossil-of-the-day Award
Japan, Russia, New Zealand, Australia... and Canada
United Nations climate change negotiations 12th Dec. 2008


This group of umbrella countries--and Canada in particular--wins its Fossil for insisting that they haven't been obstructing progress. Their best evidence? The fact that they reaffirmed the decisions on targets made in Bali. Guess what progress isn't? Begrudgingly saying the same thing you did last year, and refusing to go any further.


Why Bangladesh floods are so bad
BBC News 27 July, 2004


There seems to be no end in sight to the misery of around 30 million Bangladeshis affected by flooding.

With 40% of the capital, Dhaka, underwater and warnings from aid agencies about water-borne diseases once the water finally recedes, questions have been asked as to why the floods this year have been so damaging.

Part of the answer is due to the fact that Bangladesh receives enormous amounts of water from four major rivers.

The Padma - more widely known as the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Jamuna and the Meghna.

Himalayan snows

All are filled up from melting snow in the Himalayas.

While the monsoon season always brings flooding in Bangladesh, devastation on the current scale is less frequent.

Recently it has been happening on a 10-year cycle. The last major floods were in 1998 and 1988.

But this year the floods have arrived three years early.

Deforestation may be partly to blame, causing soil erosion which reduces the ability of the land to absorb water.

Irrigation for farming is a factor, because this causes river channels to silt up, reducing their capacity to hold flood waters.

According to some experts, irrigation interferes with river drainage into the sea.

Climate experts also believe global warming is partly to blame, by increasing monsoon rainfall and speeding up the melting of Himalayan snows.

'Quicker rehabilitation'

But Barbu Alam, a researcher at the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, says that the country's poverty also hampers its ability to cope with floods.

He argues that its weak economy, and low levels of technology and infrastructure combine to make matters worse.

"The damage [in places like Bangladesh will] be higher due to the climate change," he told the BBC.

Barbu Alam believes that with more money, Bangladesh could install early-warning systems that alert people to flooding four or five days in advance, instead of the current four or five hours.

During floods lives could be saved

by providing clean water more quickly, along with food, shelter and health care.

And after the deluge, more funds would mean quicker rehabilitation for those affected.

But more strategic planning ahead of time and better information sharing with Bangladesh's neighbours is also required, he says, so that the country does not continue to be caught unawares.


Japanese kill 26 at Tel Aviv airport
BBC On This Day 29 May


Three Japanese gunmen have opened fire on crowds at Lod International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, killing 26 people and injuring dozens more. The three men arrived on an Air France flight from Paris and once their luggage had come through to the baggage hall, they drew out automatic guns and hand grenades and fired randomly at anybody in sight.

One of the men ran out onto the tarmac, shot passengers disembarking an El Al flight and then killed himself with his own hand grenade.

A second man was shot by security guards and a third was arrested.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said they had recruited the gunmen from the Japanese Red Army and said they "came from thousands of miles away to join the Palestinian people in their struggle".

In a statement, they said the raid was an act of revenge for killing two Arab hijackers who attempted to take a plane at Lod airport on 8 May.

Among the victims were 11 Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land from Puerto Rico.

Eminent scientist dead

A leading Israeli scientist Professor Aharon Katzir, aged 62, was also killed. He was professor of chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science and former president of the Israel Academy of Sciences.

All incoming airliners were diverted to Cyprus until authorities had taken control of the situation.

Israel's defence minister, Moshe Dayan and Transport Minister, Shimon Peres, arrived at the airport soon after the attack to witness a scene of carnage, with dead and dying people all across the terminal.

Israeli officials are expected to call on all international airports to improve their security measures.

In Context

The two gunmen who died were later named as Kyoto university student Takeshi Okudaira, codenamed Giro, and Yasuyuki Yasuda, also a student. All three had been trained in Baalbeck, Lebanon, and had planned to commit suicide after their "mission" was completed. The surviving gunman, Kozo Okamoto, was tried in June 1972 and given a life sentence, in spite of his pleas to be allowed to shoot himself.

He spent 13 years in jail in Israel before being released in a prisoner exchange with the Palestinians. He was given asylum in Lebanon where he is regarded as a hero and converted to Islam.

Lod, or Lydda, airport has since been renamed Ben Gurion Airport and has some of the strictest airport security in the world.


Obituary: Jun Ui
Japan Times Nov. 12, 2006


Environmental scholar Jun Ui, known for his series of public lectures on pollution and his involvement in a number of antipollution movements, died early Saturday at a Tokyo hospital, his family said. He was 74.

Ui was known as an "activist scholar" for such efforts as forming a network of environment conservationists in Okinawa and giving advice in a civil lawsuit in a Niigata mercury poisoning case.

Ui joined the faculty of engineering at the University of Tokyo as an assistant in 1965 and was involved in investigations into the Minamata mercury poisoning and pollution cases in Europe as a researcher for the World Health Organization.

Based on these experiences, he opened his classroom at the university to the public in 1970 for a series of lectures on the "principles of pollution."

About 20,000 people are estimated to have attended the lectures through 1985 in which he talked about the importance of the viewpoints of ordinary people rather than those of the authorities and corporations, in addressing pollution issues.

His lecture notes were used as guidelines by organizers of antipollution movements and had a considerable impact on various other citizens' movements.


High court upholds 20-year term for Shigenobu
Japan Times Dec. 21, 2007


The Tokyo High Court on Thursday upheld a 20-year prison term for one of the most notorious members of the Japanese Red Army, saying she played an indispensable role in plotting and aiding the 1974 seizure of the French Embassy in The Hague.

But presiding Judge Fumio Yasuhiro dismissed prosecutors' claims that Fusako Shigenobu, 62, was one of the leading members of the guerrilla group at the time, noting the organization of the group had not been firmly established as of 1974.

Appealing a 2006 Tokyo District Court ruling, prosecutors had demanded that Shigenobu, also accused of passport forgery, be given a life term as one of the group's top leaders at the time of the attack.

Shigenobu had maintained she was innocent and said the embassy attack was in fact orchestrated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Her attorney, Kyoko Otani, said she would appeal the case to the Supreme Court at the end of the month.

Shigenobu was found guilty of conspiring with three other Red Army members to storm the embassy and take the French ambassador and 10 other employees hostage, shooting and seriously wounding two police officers. They then demanded that a fellow Red Army member be released from a French prison.

Shigenobu was not among the three who actually seized the embassy. The focal point of her trial was whether she conspired with fellow members in plotting the attack.

In dismissing her appeal, the judge said there is no room for extenuation, noting Shigenobu has shown little sense of remorse.

Shigenobu was a key member of the Japanese Red Army, which horrified the world with terrorist attacks in Israel, the Netherlands, Malaysia and elsewhere in the 1970s. She was arrested in Osaka in 2000. The Japanese Red Army disbanded in April 2001.

Shigenobu, once widely known among Japanese as a combative extremist beauty, smiled and pumped her right fist into the air many times before and after the verdict.

"I will keep fighting," she told the gallery.


Shoes thrown at Bush on Iraq trip
President Bush ducks as the shoes are thrown


BBC News 15 December 2008

A surprise visit by US President George Bush to Iraq has been overshadowed by an incident in which two shoes were thrown at him during a news conference.

An Iraqi journalist was wrestled to the floor by security guards after he called Mr Bush "a dog" and threw his footwear, just missing the president.

The US president has now continued to Afghanistan to inspect troops there.

He arrived before dawn at Bagram air force base, and is due to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai.

Earlier in Baghdad, Mr Bush and Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki signed the new security agreement between their countries.

The pact calls for US troops to leave Iraq in 2011 - eight years after the 2003 invasion that has in part defined the Bush presidency.

Speaking just over five weeks before he hands over power to Barack Obama, Mr Bush also said the war in Iraq was not over and more work remained to be done.

His previously unannounced visit came a day after Defence Secretary Robert Gates told US troops the Iraq mission was in its "endgame".

'Size 10'

In the middle of the news conference with Mr Maliki, Iraqi television journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi stood up and shouted "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," before hurling a shoe at Mr Bush which narrowly missed him.

Showing the soles of shoes to someone is a sign of contempt in Arab culture.

With his second shoe, which the president also managed to dodge, Mr Zaidi said: "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq."

Mr Zaidi, a correspondent for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV, was then wrestled to the ground by security personnel and hauled away.

"If you want the facts, it's a size 10 shoe that he threw," Mr Bush joked afterwards.

Al-Baghdadiya's bureau chief told the Associated Press that he had no idea what prompted Mr Zaidi to attack President Bush, although reports say he was once kidnapped by a militia and beaten up.

"I am trying to reach Muntadar since the incident, but in vain," said Fityan Mohammed. "His phone is switched off."

Correspondents said the attack was symbolic. Iraqis threw shoes and used them to beat Saddam Hussein's statue after his overthrow.

'American security'

Mr Bush's first stop upon arriving in Baghdad was the Iraqi presidential palace in the heavily-fortified Green Zone, where he held talks with President Jalal Talabani.

"The work hasn't been easy but it's been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace," Mr Bush said during his talks with Mr Talabani.

The Iraqi president called Mr Bush "a great friend for the Iraqi people, who helped us liberate our country".

The BBC's Humphrey Hawksley, in Baghdad, says the key issue at present is exactly how American troops will withdraw within the next three years and what sort of Iraq they will leave behind.

The US media has just published details of a US government report saying that post invasion reconstruction of Iraq was crippled by bureaucratic turf wars and an ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society.

The report is circulating among US officials in draft form, says the New York Times.

It reveals details of a reconstruction effort that cost more than $100bn (£67bn) and only succeeded in restoring what was destroyed in the invasion and the widespread looting that followed it, the newspaper said.

Troop promises

Mr Bush's visit, unannounced in advance and conducted under tight security, follows the approval last month of a security pact between Washington and Baghdad that calls for US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011.

US troops are first to withdraw from Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, by June next year.

Defence Secretary Gates said on Saturday that "the process of the drawdown" had begun.

"We are, I believe, in terms of the American commitment, in the endgame here in Iraq," he told US troops at an airbase near Baghdad.

Mr Gates has been picked to stay on as defence secretary by President-elect Barack Obama.

President Bush leaves the White House in less than six weeks. He said in a recent interview with ABC News that the biggest regret of his presidency was the false intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Finding these was one of the key justifications for the invasion. None were ever found.

Mr Obama has promised to bring home US combat troops from Iraq in a little over a year from when he takes office in January.

More than 4,200 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and security personnel have been killed since the invasion in 2003.

There are currently about 149,000 US soldiers in Iraq, down from last year's peak of 170,000 after extra troops were poured in to deal with a worsening security situation.

As Mr Bush arrived in Baghdad, Gen David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, which includes Iraq, said attacks in the country had dropped from 180 a day in June 2007 to 10 a day now.

In a sign of modest security gains in Iraq, Mr Bush was welcomed with a formal arrival ceremony - a flourish that was not part of his previous three visits.

He arrived in the country on Air Force One, which landed at Baghdad International Airport in the afternoon, after a secretive Saturday night departure from Washington on an 11-hour flight.


The earth breathed fire.
THE FREE LIBRARY


On a stormystormy night in December 1943, Masao Mimatsu felt a jolt. His house shook. An earthquake! He looked through the swirling snow to Mount Usu, less than two miles away. Mount Usu was a volcanovolcano, but it had been quiet for 33 years. Was it going to erupt again?

Masao was a postmaster in the village of Sobetsu in northern Japan. He had lived his whole life at the foot of Mount Usu. As a boy, he had often climbed the mountain. In the summer of 1910. when he was 23 years old, Mount Usu had erupted. It had blasted smoke, ash, and rocks into the sky. Seeing that eruption, Masao developed an interest in volcanoes, which became a lifelong hobby.

In 1943, Japan was fighting in World War II, a terrible conflict that caused suffering for people all over the world. Masao knew that the people living near Mount Usu were enduring great hardships due to the war. An eruption would make it even harder to survive.

Earthquakes continued through New Year's Day. There were no scientists to monitor the volcano. They were all busy with the war. Masao was also busy, making sure the mail was delivered, but he found time to observe the volcano every day. He kept a diary of all earthquake activity. On January 1, 1944, he wrote, "Two earthquakes strong enough to knock things off of shelves."

Masao Climbs a Volcano

Masao climbed Mount Usu to check for volcanic activity. The volcano remained quiet, but a mile to the east there were ominous signs. In the farming village of Fukaba, huge cracks appeared across roads. Water pipes broke. Railroad tracks were twisted by the shifting earth. The most troubling change was the ground itself. It was slowly rising, like the surface of an inflating balloon.

All winter the earthquakes continued. In spring, the farmers of Fukaba returned to their fields, despite the rumbling in the earth below. On the morning of June 23, 1944, a farmer spotted white smoke coming out of the ground. Suddenly he heard an enormous explosion. He raced back to the village as the earth erupted, blasting ash and large rocks into the sky. By midday, the green fields and forests were covered with almost a foot of volcanic ash for a mile in all directions.

Masao rushed to the site. The explosions had created a crater crater, circular, bowl-shaped depression on the earth's surface. (For a discussion of lunar craters, see moon.) Simple craters are bowl-shaped with a raised outer rim. Complex craters have a raised central peak surrounded by a trough and a fractured rim. 150 feet across and 100 feet deep. A new volcano had been born. "The crater was in the same place that I sat and ate my lunch yesterday," he wrote.

During the next four months, earthquakes and eruptions continued to rock the land. "Ash clinging to the plants caused the crops to die," Masao reported. "The local farmers are in despair."

The Villagers Flee

The people of Fukaba fled their homes. Soon, their houses were pounded to fragments by rocks blasted like cannonballs out of the new volcano. Masao wrote that the volcano "looked like a monster breathing out fire." But the danger did not stop him. As the volcano pushed skyward, he climbed up its jagged slopes to make observations, and he kept a careful record of its growth.

Molten rock, called lava, started forcing its way out of the crater. This lava hardened into a black dome, shrouded in white smoke. For the next eight months the lava dome continued to push upward until the volcano stood 1,300 feet high.

As the volcano grew, the war continued, causing great hardship for the people. Finally, on August 15, 1945, after years of war, the emperor of Japan made a radio address to his people: Japan had surrendered. The war was over. Six weeks later, Masao recorded that the new volcano was quiet at last. He noted that "signs of joy could be seen on the faces of the totally exhausted people."

Masao named the volcano Showa Shinzan. Showa honors the emperor of Japan at that time. Shinzan means "new mountain" in Japanese.

Masao Saves the Mountain

Many people wanted to dig mines into the volcano to get sulfur and other minerals that had come to the surface during the eruptions.

To save the mountain, Masao sold some of his own property and used the money to buy Showa Shinzan from the Fukaba farmers. He protected Showa Shinzan for the rest of his life. Today it is protected by the government of Japan.

Masao was a postmaster, not a scientist. But his careful notes, photographs, and sketches were an important contribution to the understanding of volcanoes. In 1958, his report on Showa Shinzan was presented at an international conference on volcanoes, and he was recognized for his contribution.

Showa Shinzan has not erupted for more than fifty years. You can visit it. It is a rusty-red, rocky mountain standing where farmers once grew wheat. The volcano is quiet, but steam and smoke still escape from its jagged sides. At its base is a statue of postmaster Masao Mimatsu looking up at the volcano whose birth he recorded.


Secular Party Wins Landslide Vote in Bangladesh
New York Times December 30, 2008


NEW DELHI — After two years of army-backed emergency rule, democracy returned to Bangladesh as the secular Awami League party scored an apparent landslide victory in election results announced on Tuesday.

Voting on Monday had proceeded in a largely peaceful atmosphere, and in many locations it was even quite festive.

According to the Associated Press, the election official Humayun Kabir said the Awami League, in alliance with a smaller party called Jatiya, won a more than two-thirds majority in Parliament after votes in most districts had been counted. "This has been a very free and fair election," Mr. Kabir told reporters at his office in Dhaka. The league’s leader, Sheikh Hasina, urged her supporters to remain calm and off the streets, fearing that any victory rallies would result in clashes with rivals.

Ms. Hasina, a former prime minister, has promised to quash Islamist extremist groups in the largely Muslim country.

She has been a target of the extremists’ ire already, having been wounded by a grenade at a 2004 rally in an attack linked to Islamist radicals that killed 23 people.

If the apparently high turnout — election officials said it could exceed 70 percent — was an endorsement of elected civilian rule, it was also a challenge to the nation’s political leaders to conduct themselves better than they had in recent years.

“I know politics in this country is dirty,” said Monira Khanam, 22, a medical student who voted in the capital, Dhaka. “Now that the country is returning to democracy after two years, I expect politicians will behave better. It is out of this expectation that I’ve come out to vote.”

These national elections had to be postponed for nearly two years because of repeated, violent clashes between rival parties. The army-backed government, in taking over in January 2007, banned political activity altogether, took 11 million fake names off the voter rolls, and arrested scores of politicians and businessmen on corruption charges.

According to human rights groups, it also arrested people arbitrarily and, on some occasions, tortured them.

Most of all, in its bid to clean up politics, the caretaker government sought to drive the two women who head the country’s two principal parties out of politics forever: Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Ms. Hasina. But the leaders refused to go into exile and even after they were jailed on corruption charges, they fought to be let out and campaign for office.

The government relented, releasing both women this year on bail as their cases wound through the courts.

It is unclear whether the loser will accept the election verdict or resort to street violence as in the past. Also unknown is whether the army will fully give up power and go back into the barracks.

“It appears that Sheikh Hasina is heading for a landslide victory in a free and fair election observed by hundreds of foreign and thousands of local observers at a time when Bangladesh faces some unprecedented economic, political and security challenges,” said Farooq Sobhan, a former foreign secretary, who had supported the caretaker regime’s crackdown on politics two years ago.

“There are high expectations, both inside and outside the country, almost on the scale of the Obama victory,” he said.



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