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Thursday, April 24, 2014

MUFA Day#17: Aomori

Caught the bullet train to Aomori and made a few final purchases to consume, as my next, and last, leg back to Tokyo in two days will be on Gran Class, and both the food and drinks are included:


This was Sendai's best sake and the teriyakmochi wrapped in seaweed was really tasty.  Lot's of snow capped mountains:


I noticed that toilet paper was amply provided on the train:


In some parts of the world, especially the USA, these would tend to disappear.

A point of information about the Shinkansen.  Special stations were built to accommodate these bullet trains, and they are mostly called shin, or new, as in Shin-Aomori.  Chances are, your train station hotel is not located here.  You will need to catch another train into the city, like Aomori.  Sometimes your Japan Rail Pass works, and sometimes not.  However, purchase a SUICA card to get on subways.


JR worked to Aomori.  JR would not get me from Shin-Osaka to the St. Regis in Osaka.  Tokyo and Kyoto don't have shin stations.

The JAL City Hotel where I'm staying is a ten minute walk from the station and is located nearby Aomori Port:


Aomori means either blue or green forest.  Among the notable bits of info:
  • Settlers in this area date back to 5500 BC.  
  • The colonization of Hokkaido began here in 1872 to ferry people to Hakodate on Hokkaido.  
  • On June 28, 1945, 88% of the city was destroyed by American bombers.  
  • Interestingly enough, Aomori's greatest snowfall that year of 82 inches is higher than Sapporo's 1939 record of 65 inches.  
  • Aomori is the only prefectural capital without a national university.  The best of this region is located in Hirosaki.
  • Baseball pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is from Aomori
  • The population is close to 300,000.
Aomori is particularly noted for its apples, I took this photo:


These Fuji Apples above cost $1.50 each.  However, it is the higher quality luxury version, which could cost as much as $25 each in China, that is prized.  Here is a $10 version to the right.  Aomori provides 90% of all apple exports from Japan.  The Fuji Apple was developed at the Tohoku Research Station (TRS), and is a cross between two American apples:  the Red Delicious and old Virginia Ralis Genet.  It's named for the town of Fujisaki, where TRS is located, not Mount Fuji.  With refrigeration, Fuji Apples can be kept for a full year.

I then went on to acquire my dinner to eat in my room:


I'm having beer, sake, apple cider, a cold noodle (soba--buckwheat) and hot noodle (beef soup).  All this cost $11, but I chose not to drink the sake.  I'll save that for my upcoming hanami.  Too early in Aomori for the Sakura, so tomorrow I'm off to Hirosaki where it is blooming.

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THE ENIGMA THAT IS PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE

Shinzo Abe,  59, is President of the Liberal Democratic Party and the 63rd Prime Minister of modern (#1 was Hirobumi Ito from 1885-88) Japan.  Abe was also the 57nd, and started the string of six PMs who got booted out of office in less than two years.  He is popular enough that he will still be PM at the end of this year, marking that elusive two-year period.  Here is how long PMs have lasted since the end of World War II:


His mother is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, Prime Minister #37, who helped found the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 1950.  For the record, the LDP  is the equivalent of the Republican Party in the USA.  They are both conservative, pro-military and favor nuclear and fossil fuels over renewable energy.

After graduating from Seiki Elementary, High and University (in political science), Abe spent some time at the University of Southern California.  He was first elected into the Lower House in 1993.  He is an unabashed patriot and was the first sitting Prime Minister to visit Yasukuni Shrine (where 14 Class A World War II criminals are buried, with around 2.5 other casualties) since 2006, royally ticking off China and South Korea, and even the U.S.  He takes a hard line against North Korea and has been known to say comforting words to Taiwanese leaders supporting continued independence from China, while indicating that the Nanjing Massacre, more popularly referred in China as the Rape of Nanjing (the death toll of innocents could have been as high as 300,000), was a mere incident.  During his first PM term, he was quoted to say that Korean "comfort women" were not coerced into becoming sexual slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army.

Without a doubt, PM Abe is popular today for showing some backbone.  Yes, irritating the Chinese and Koreans is actually politically redeeming in Japan.  Further, the Nikkei has boomed since he took office in December of 2012, nearly doubling to 16,000 at one point until a recent decline:

However, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average flirts with another all time high in the 16,000s, note that Japan's Nikkei was once nearly 39,000 at the end of 1989.  And the ratio is even worse, for the real worth of 39,000 today would be 73,000.  Thus, the Japanese economy is, truly, not in great shape, and must still face the financial horror of Fukushima.  

Yet, Abe wants to significantly increase the military budget.  And, yes, he has continued his efforts to restore nuclear power, import more coal and turn his back on the aura of global warming.  Add on the fact that his regime increased the sales tax by 60%, from 5% to 8%, and is committed to 10% next year.  Incredibly, Abe's popularity increased 3% to 59%.  I'm perplexed.  For the past five years now, Rasmussen reports President Barack Obama popularity as below 50%.  And we have the strongest economy, are the only supreme power and will be largely leaving the Middle East wars.  Can someone explain to me what's happening???

Today, President Barack Obama met with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at the Imperial Palace:



Following, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama held a joint press conference:


Remember, this is the first American President to visit Japan in almost two decades.  Japan heard what it wanted regarding USA support for Japan's position on Senkaku Islands, but still discussed was a peaceful resolution with China as appropriate.  North Korea was mentioned as continuing to be abnormal and nothing much was stated about the Trans Pacific Partnership Pact.  No big surprise that Abe did not take my simple solution for his country.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MUFA Day#16: President Obama at Jiro's, Ah Choo....and on to Aomori



Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pours sake for President Barack Obama last night at Jiro's.  Yes, that's Ambassador Carolyn Kennedy in this photo.  Read about my exploits at Jiro's exactly two years ago.  I paid $350 for 18 sushis and a large bottle of beer, and I was out of there in about half an hour.  Some of you have seen the movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  Jiro Ono, at 88, is the world's oldest Michelin 3-Star chef.

I'm now on My Ultimate Fantasy Adventure Day#16 and will bullet train to Aomori for a couple of days  Today I will report on a problem plaguing Japan that was perpetrated with good intentions.  The cherry blossoms have largely peaked in those cities I have visited.  Aomori might be different.  Anyway, the Sakura and other Spring flowers cause you to sneeze.  However, and this is a surprise to most, at least 70% of the problem is man-made and comes from trees.  After World War II, the Japanese government intensified plantings of sugi, or Cryptomeria japonica, which is to the left, and another, hinoki, Japanese Cypress, to the right, to cover the war torn landscape and provide building material.    Bad idea.


At one time in their history, hay fever was rare in Japan.  However, in the 60's two things happened.  The timber industry was largely abandoned because of cost and these trees began to mature, sending off just the wrong kind of pollen (which has an effective radius of contagion of 200 miles), exacerbating respiratory allergies.  Up to a third of Japanese suffer from March through June, with the worst month being April, from kafun-sho, or pollen illness.  Here are 15 ways to survive this vexation.

You will see masks on the street, air purifiers at home and businesses, and a whole assortment of other remedies, including a battery-powered Kafun-Blocker, which sells for $40.


The worst part to the above is that it is too expensive to cut-down those trees, so suffering will continue through the Spring.  The "good" part is that airborne sugi pollution may peak around the year 2050 and will be definitely eliminated in a century or two.  And you thought Japan was only in trouble with Prime Minister Abe, their largest annual trade deficit on record and the Fukushima nuclear debacle.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

MUFA Day#15: Sendai

I had a small Tokyo Westin breakfast:


Then caught the bullet train to Sendai, a ride of an hour and a half.  It's a leisurely ten minute walk to the Westin Sendai:


You can barely see the WESTIN at the top of the building.  I immediately noticed two things.  A hospital is across the street and there is a clinic next to the hotel.  Useful in case my arm worsens or I have another accident.  Perhaps I'll go visit the Emergency Room to see if everyone is wearing a mask.

My room was not ready so I went next door for a steak meal.  Strange.  I ordered the most expensive portion, and if someone told me this was the latest version of artificial steak made from bacteria, I would have said:  not bad, it is rubbery, but chewable, and almost has the taste of beef.  


The red wine was really cold, but drinkable.

I then took a short walk and took photos of street flowers:


There was also a Hawaiian Kitchen:


I finally got my room and can say that the Westin Sendai is the best hotel I'll see on this trip, and I think I'm only paying $45/night.  Hmmm...radiation?  The wall to the outside of my 32nd story room is a giant picture window:


The staff is unusually helpful and friendly, even for Japan, the room is large with a panoramic view and the amenities are tops.  The Executive Club is classy:


I got here just in time for the sunset, and had a Kir Royale with mixed nuts.  While the food assortment is limited, and there is no scotch, the room is beautiful and view incredible.  That was my dinner tonight.


What is Sendai today was inhabited 20,000 years ago, and became a city from around 1600.  The population is slightly smaller than Hawaii, at 1.1 million.  Just mentioning I'm from Hawaii in this city and people go into ecstatic wonderment.  

Sendai means a thousand Buddhist temples.  The city was leveled in World War II by bombing.  The coastal portion of the city, including the airport and port, was seriously damaged by that Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.  Sendai is about 50 miles from the leaking Fukushima nuclear reactors:


The city is best known for its Tanabata Festival in the summer, for which I came several years ago.  They also sponsor a Yosokoi Festival, as influenced by Kochi on Shikoku.  It's known for cow tongue (I'll skip that), robatayaki (rock barbecue) and miso ramen.  ARGHHH!!!  I just realized what my lunch was:  COW TONGUE!!!

I had breakfast at Symphony (and in a week or so I'll be on the Crystal Symphony on my way back to Honolulu):


There were three kinds of soups.  That salmon-colored item in the blue rectangular dish at the top is salmon.  On this trip every Japanese breakfast served salmon.  I wondered why and went to Google.  No answer.  My guess is that salted (refrigeration is a recent luxury) fish is a staple of breakfasts here, and salmon prevails at hotels because the color adds an aesthetic quality.  The salmon, or any fish, is not as salty today because it doesn't have to be anymore, and sodium is bad for the health.  My seat overlooked the Sendai Station:


I caught the Loople for $6/day, a bus service that takes you all around Sendai.  There are 15 stops, taking 75 minutes for the full loop, and at this time of year comes by every half an hour.  I could go on forever about my day, so let me only show from Tohoku University:


Same thing from different views.  Tohoku University has five campuses in Sendai, the third oldest Imperial University and is within the top 50 of best world universities.

One of the advantages of the Westin Sendai is that it is close to those enclosed shopping malls:


It gets very cold in this city, although today was sunny and 70 F.  After much internal debating, as I've had too much Japanese food, I decided to go international and got a bottle of Grand Kirin (6% alcohol) and a Spanish Tempranillo to accompany a Subway salami and potato chips to enjoy in my room:


All the above cost about $10 from shops in my building, for the hotel floors start on the 27th floor.  My final drink for the day was a Kir Royale in the Executive Club:


This was my cheapest day, for, including the $45/night room, I spent all of $65 today.  Tomorrow, on to Aomori, the home of those giant Japanese apples.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

MALAYSIAN AIR 370 MIGHT NEVER BE FOUND!

It is now 45 days since Malaysian Air 370 disappeared.  There is a growing fear that this craft might never be found.  For the record, those black boxes from the flight now the focus of attention are colored orange, and there are two of these.

Nearly a month ago I posted on:


At that time, the weight of information was 99% certainty that the plane crashed in the South Indian Ocean, a thousand miles or so west of Australia.  Apparently, searchers focused on:

After reviewing radar track data from neighboring countries, officials have concluded that the passenger jet curved north of Indonesia before turning south toward the southern Indian Ocean.

This was the beginning of the period when satellite data, primarily from FranceJapan and Thailand detected debris in various suspected locations.  Then a plane, plus a ship, from China, saw and picked up flotsam that, it turned out, had no link to the flight.  Thus, disappointment #1 was a lot of junk at sea but no connection to MAS 370.

Disappointment #2 began two weeks ago when a Chinese ship thought it detected two pings from a black box.   A couple of days later, the HMS Echo from the United Kingdom said it heard four pings.  This was followed by one last ping received by the Ocean Shield, an Australian navy vessel carrying some U.S. listening equipment.  The Chinese and Australian sounds are now being discredited.  What terrible timing, as the batteries of the black boxes were just just about running out of juice when these hopeful pings were heard.

Disappointment #3 is, thus far, the inability of Bluefin-21, an autonomous underwater vehicle, to find anything.  Again we are faced with the end limits, as the search area could be close to 15,000 feet deep, which is at the limit of this probe.  Anyway, the undersea search has just begun, and there remains considerable space to cover.

Disappointment #4 is that the oil slick found near the pings turned out not to be aircraft oil or hydraulic fluid.  Thus, not one bit of direct evidence.

Today, there are 11 planes and 12 ships searching the South Indian Ocean surface across 52,000 square miles.  After eight searches, the Bluefin-21 has covered, probably, less than a hundred square miles.  You think this effort could take, maybe, years?  And they're already thinking of giving up in a few days.

Perhaps the time has come to involve those Remus (Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS) 6000 autonomous underwater vehicles.  They were developed by the Naval Oceanographic Office, the Office of Naval research and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and found Air France 447 in 2009.  It was, they said, like looking for a needle in a haystack, AND THEY PRETTY MUCH KNEW EXACTLY WHERE THE PLANE CRASHED IN THE ATLANTIC!  The latest Remus AUVs have a depth measuring potential of 6000 meters, thus this designation, or 19,685 feet.  The Bluefin-21 of Phoenix International, contracted to the United States Navy, only has a depth capability of 15,404 feet.

At some point, no doubt, authorities will need to come to grips about whether the data suggesting the Indian Ocean might be flawed, and the plane could be virtually anywhere else, land or sea.  Certainly, that 99% potential of finding MAS 370 has today dropped to perhaps 90%, and continues to fall as zero hard evidence has been confirmed from that location.  Mind you, a racehorse at 1:10 is almost a sure winner, so even at these lower odds, the chances remain good that success should still be reasonably close at hand.

However, the total absence of any concrete linkage brings back the full range of conspiracy theories.  Click on Wikipedia to read this summary.  I had my list, but some of those options were too far beyond the pale to deserve any more mention.  Not trying to rub it in to CNN, but about that "black hole" theory:

Stanford University physics professor Peter Michelson (right), added that if the plane had been swallowed up by a black hole, "a lot of other things would be missing as well," like "probably the Earth." So we can safely put that theory to rest.

The authorities will now, again, take a closer look at discounted input, such as the flaming plane  seen crashing from an oil rig in the South China Seas.  The matter of no mobile phone calls would argue for something dramatic and instantaneous happening, where the flight made this first quick left turn while in the Gulf of Thailand could well be where the plane went down:



Malaysian Air 370 might well become the greatest air mystery ever.

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Of some concern is Tropical Cyclone Jack, currently at 90 MPH, projected to bring big waves to the search area:


While the air search has been suspended, apparently the ships will continue their efforts.  Interesting that the only region forming hurricane-like storms over the past month around the globe has been in this general portion of the South Indian Ocean.

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