Monday, December 23, 2013

Hawaii Five-0 recreates Honouliuli Internment Camp

I'm catching up on Hawaii Five-0 and just watched James Saito's masterful performance in Ho'onani Makuakane, where he plays a former internee of the Honouliuli Internment Camp. I was surprised to see that the show had decided to take on this topic for the 72nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor (which was also recreated in a brief scene). Until pretty recently the camps in Hawaii were all but forgotten. I'd learned as a child that the only camps were on the mainland (and my family is from Hawaii) and didn't hear about them until my cousin sent me this article a few years ago.

After watching the episode I was looking around for information about it and stumbled across this piece by actor/director Chris Tashima (born in Cambridge by the way) originally posted to his Facebook page, complaining about Saito's casting as the elderly David Toriyama. ??? Apparently, Tashima thinks that Saito, at age 58, is far too young to be playing an elderly man. I was thinking that Saito was looking far older than I remembered him being (accomplished with old age make up), but personally I was just glad they'd cast a Japanese American actor who looks like a local (even though he didn't sound like one - someone that old would likely speak heavy pidgin). While I agree that where possible it's far better for shows to cast disabled or senior actors for those roles, I don't think that casting able-bodied or non-senior actors is the same as yellowface casting. There's nothing that makes a white actor more qualified for an Asian role so it's just insulting, but depending on how a role is written, it might be too demanding for a disabled or senior actor.

Tashima dedicated his post to senior JA actors who he presumably thought could have taken on the role. Three of them seem not to be active in TV & film:
  • Jim Ishida, who according to IMDb hasn't worked since 2005
  • Rodney Kageyama, who according to IMDb hasn't worked since 2008
  • James Shigeta, who according to IMDb hasn't worked since 2009 (Update 2/3/16: Someone just sent me Shigeta's obituary from 2014. It seems he hadn't been working at the time this episode was filming due to a stroke. :( )
Two of them have already appeared on the show:
  • Sab Shimono has appeared several times as Chin Ho's Uncle Keako
  • George Takei has also appeared as one of Chin Ho's uncles (he was hilarious)
He also mentioned Hiroshi KashiwagiKen Takemoto, and Michael Yama who are still working and haven't been on the show. Who knows, maybe they were approached and had scheduling conflicts.

I recently watched the extras for Star Trek: Voyager and someone talked about Ray Walston's last appearance as Boothby right before his death at age 86. There was a long walk and talk scene that they were worried he wouldn't be able to do because at that point his memory wasn't what it used to be, but they said he'd nailed it after a few takes. Unusually for a guest role, David Toriyama was the main character of the episode. He had a lot of screen time and a lot of dialogue. They filmed at multiple locations (some of which were probably quite hot) and in the studio. There was voiceover for flashback scenes. Filming days are usually quite long. The role probably would have been a big challenge for someone older than Saito. Not impossible, but it could have been a consideration. Not all seniors are as spry and active as George Takei who still jets around the globe to Star Trek conventions, acts, writes books, makes videos, and has more Facebook friends than you and everyone you know combined. None of my senior relatives get on planes anymore. It might have been harder for the show to find someone closer in age to the character who would get on a plane to Hawaii to film for a week. If they had filmed in LA, maybe they would have had more options.

Given all these factors there was probably only a very small pool of Asian American actors to pick from - smaller still if they wanted to focus on only Japanese American actors. And of course a lot of great actors have already appeared on the show making the pool even smaller. I'd certainly be interested in hearing from Hawaii Five-0's casting people about how Saito ended up in the role rather than an older actor, but I prefer to think they got the best man for the job.

Check out the episode if you have a chance. They handled most of the history poignantly with only a few over-the-top scenes.

For more on Hawaii's camps, check out director Ryan Kawamoto's The Untold Story: Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawaii (trailer). The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i finally put it out on DVD. Unfortunately, the JCCH gift shop isn't online so it looks like orders have to be mailed or faxed in!

If you don't know about the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, you may find my introductory post helpful.

This post has been crossposted at Discover Nikkei, a multi-lingual Nikkei online community. 

From their website: "Discover Nikkei is a community website about Nikkei identity, history and experiences. The goal of this project is to provide an inviting space for the community to share, explore, and connect with each other through diverse Nikkei experiences, culture, and history." Discover Nikkei is coordinated by the Japanese American National Museum and supported by The Nippon Foundation.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

December 14

14th Annual Lantern Festival in JP. Lantern reads "eternal life."

[I didn't read the news all day on the 13th so while I was finishing up this post I was unaware that there had been yet another school shooting. When I found out hours later all I could think was, "Oh no, not again." The only fatality was the shooter (described by a classmate as "a little geeky but in a charming way,"), who took his own life at the age of 18. It seems he managed to injure just one student, so it could have been much worse, but that's not really much comfort. The actions of this one teenager will change people's lives forever. By today we'll be seeing the "Who was he?" articles and we'll play out the same drama we do after every school shooting, but by next month it will have fallen out of the news cycle and will be out of sight, out of mind until the next dramatic school shooting. I'm reminded of the Narcotics Anonymous quote: "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results." Update: The student who was shot died in the hospital eight days later. Also, I found this excellent piece in The Guardian about how Australia has seen a significant drop in their gun deaths since enacting strict and sane gun laws.]


I started writing this last year, but got so bogged down with the research that by the time it was mostly finished the screen seemed to swim every time I looked at it and I wasn't sure there was any point in posting it. However, it was a lot of work to write (there were many sleepless nights involved) and I feel strongly about the contents so I kept it and decided to finish cleaning it up and post it this year.

In lieu of a memorial service, the families of Sandy Hook victims have asked for the anniversary to be marked with acts of kindness, which I think is a really good way to handle it. Anniversaries of tragic events can be very difficult and for some they only serve to perpetuate grief. By doing something positive we can look forward, not back. Last year I spent part of the 14th marking the 20th anniversary of a shooting at my college by taking photographs on the beautiful Episcopal Divinity School campus. It was a way of remembering the victims, one of whom had an interest in photography, and finding beauty on a day of sadness.

So today, I urge you to do something kind for someone you love or for or stranger and do something creative to honor the memories of those who've died from senseless violence.


Friday, December 14, 2012, was a terrible day.
  • It was the 20th anniversary of a shooting at Bard College at Simon's Rock (then known as Simon's Rock College of Bard) where a young man with a semi-automatic rifle killed a teenager and an adult and left four people injured (3 teenagers and 1 adult). It was also...
  • the day that a young man in Newtown, Connecticut used a rifle and two handguns to take the lives of 20 children, 7 adults (including his mother), and himself and...
  • the day that a young man in Chenpeng Village, China used a kitchen knife to injure 23 children and one adult. 

On Saturday the 15th as I was getting ready to leave for the Tewassa Christmas concert, I received an email from one of our organizers that NHK (Japan's national public broadcasting network) had been planning to come up from New York City to cover our little concert, but had instead been diverted to cover the shooting in Connecticut. It struck me as odd until I realized that of course a tragedy this big means that the world's media descends (and apparently starts interviewing each other) and that it would probably make headlines in Japan because our lax gun laws are in such contrast to their strict gun laws. As an added note of interest, NHK reported that there were five Japanese students attending Sandy Hook Elementary, all of whom escaped physical harm.

Japan as a model?

In any conversation about gun control, at some point Japan is usually held up as a model of peace and sanity. Especially given the contrast between the number of lives lost in Connecticut and the fact that everyone in China survived, I was sure the comparison would be made again. (China has even stricter gun control than Japan.) Sure enough, the day of the shooting, Max Fisher at The Washington Post referenced an article he'd written for The Atlantic back in July titled, "A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths."

Sounds fantastic, right? However, the lack of guns doesn't mean a lack of violence. I immediately thought of the Osaka school massacre in 2001, in which a young man with a knife killed eight children and injured 13 children and two adults. And the Akihabara massacre in 2008 in which a young man used a truck and a knife to attack a crowd of people in Tokyo, killing seven and injuring 10. The oldest homegrown mass murder in Japan (we won't talk about WWII and what the US did) that I could find a reference to happened in 1938 when a young man in Tsuyama killed 30 people, and injured three using a "Browning shotgun, Japanese sword, and axe," then killed himself. It's true that Japan has far fewer incidents of mass public violence and that even when they happen, the death tolls tend to be lower than in the United States, but they're not violence-free.

Usually when Japan is held up as a model for gun control there's no discussion of culture - just citing of their great statistics and a recap of their laws. I was glad to see that Fisher's Atlantic piece discusses the role culture plays. He refers to Japan as "a generally peaceful country," which is a little ironic considering Japan's long and bloody history (samuraiJapanese war crimes). One thing he didn't tackle is how Japan's gun laws came to be in the first place. I have to assume that Japanese culture and ways of thinking played a role in their formation and in the populace's continued adherence to them.

In America we're all about the individual and individual rights. Modern American gun laws are what they are because of American culture and ways of thinking that date back to the days when this country was founded. Our right to bear arms is written into our Constitution in the Second Amendment, a right that many gun owners hold sacred. The results of our gun laws mean that: 
  • The US leads the world in gun ownership per capita. It's often cited that there is one gun for every United States citizen, although all of those guns are owned by just one third of the population. And that's just the legal guns.
  • We're in the top 12 for per capita firearm-related death. The only countries ahead of us are: Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, Swaziland, Guatemala, Columbia, South Africa, Brazil, Panama, Uruguay, and Mexico.
  • We also lead the world in school shootings.

Shock & knee-jerk reactions but no change

After every mass shooting in the US, some people stand up, wave red flags, and call for more gun control. In response, gun owners and the gun lobby say, "Hell no, you can't take our guns. We need them to protect ourselves!" Post-Newtown:

Relationship between citizens and police/government/military

One theory about why many Americans think we have to have guns is a mistrust of our government and the police. There's a belief that we can't allow the people in charge to be the only people with weapons. I gather that in America we have much more of a problem with mistrust of the police than they do in Japan. Police are particularly a problem for racial minorities who are often profiled. I remember one of my college professors telling a story in class about how she was pulled over by the LAPD for "driving while black." The "problem" was that she was an African American woman driving a very expensive car that clearly she'd stolen. Never mind that she's upper middle class and it was her damn car.

It seems there is racial profiling in Japan, but it likely isn't a common experience for Japanese citizens, the way it is for many American citizens. Japanese people seem to generally trust the police, probably in part due to their emphasis on community policing with kōban (small neighborhood police stations). Policemen are expected to help you with directions and to serve as a lost and found in addition to being first responders. I'm a little unclear on how most Japanese people feel about the government, especially in the aftermath of Fukushima. Anecdotally I've been hearing there's a lot of distrust around what the government (and TEPCO) are saying and doing, but I doubt anyone in Japan would think of taking up arms to protect themselves from government mismanagement of crises. Japan's Self-Defense Forces may have been the only government group to come out of the 3.11 disaster with a raised profile and more positive public feeling. They were widely praised for their incredible efforts in the aftermath of the triple disaster.

Mental health

The other thing people like to call for is better mental healthcare. The state of our access to mental healthcare is definitely poor, but would improving it stop the violence? After reading an article about an allegedly bipolar woman who pushed someone to their death in the NYC subway, I wondered if there was any link between mental illness and violence or if it's just something the media likes to report because it makes a great headline: "Crazy person attacks innocent bystander!" Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are frequently mentioned in news reports about the perpetrators of violent crime. It turns out that studies have shown that having one of these mental illnesses doesn't make you more violent. The real culprit is often substance abuse. [See Bipolar disorder does not increase risk of violent crime & Schizophrenia does not increase risk of violent crime.] 

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that people who commit violence might not benefit from better access to mental healthcare. A study published a few months ago suggests that several notorious mass shooters were suffering from intense paranoia. (Read about it here if you don't have free access to the paper - Elsevier wants $19.95 for it.)

Mental healthcare in Japan has lagged behind that of other developed nations. While the US started moving away from institutionalized mental health care decades ago, it has remained the primary treatment for the mentally ill in Japan. They are only beginning to take those steps to move to outpatient treatment. There is still significant stigma surrounding mental illness that results in people failing to seek treatment, which likely contributes to Japan's high suicide rate.  


A significant portion of firearms-related deaths are suicides. A lot of people don't see taking your own life as violence, but it's violence turned inward. My friend's father (a much beloved physician) did this a few years ago. He was a longtime collector of guns. His suicide was a spur of the moment reaction to a crisis. I wish he hadn't had guns at his disposal. I'm sure if his patients knew the truth about how he died, they would too. It's possible he would have figured out a way to kill himself anyway (though unlikely), but the fact that he had a gun meant he had only a 15% chance of survival.(2/1/17: This used to state "less than a 1% chance of survival" - I seem to have misread something when I wrote that.) When people use other methods for a suicide attempt, sometimes they survive. (See Harvard School of Public Health: Means Matter Basics.) Last year I read that the few people who survive bridge jumps wish they hadn't jumped.

Suicide is an epidemic problem in Japan. David Kopel, author of the article, "Japanese Gun Control," argues that the flip side to tough gun control laws is a high suicide rate. He cites Japanese and Swiss statistics and Japanese researchers.
Of the many reasons suggested by researchers for the high Japanese suicide rate, one of the most startling is weapons control. Japanese scholars Mamon Iga and Kichinosuke Tatai argue that one reason Japan has a suicide problem is that people have little sympathy for suicide victims. Iga and Tatai suggest that the lack of sympathy (and hence the lack of social will to deal with a high suicide rate) is based the Japanese' feelings of insecurity and consequent lack of empathy. They trace the lack of empathy to a 'dread of power'. That dread is caused in part by the awareness that a person cannot count on others for help against violence or against authority. In addition, say Iga and Tatai, the dread of power stems from the people being forbidden to possess swords or firearms for self-defense.[122]
Stated another way, firearms prohibition is part of a culture that subordinates the individual to society. When the individual finds himself not fitting into social expectations, self-destruction may often seem appropriate, since in a conflict between the individual and society, society is, by definition, always right. It is interesting to note that the overall violent death rates (counting both murders and suicides) in many of the developed countries are approximately the same. America has a high murder rate, but a relatively low suicide rate. Japan and Switzerland have very low murder rates, but suicide rates twice the American level. Seymour Martin Lipset notes the high suicide rates in Japan and western European countries and speculates that 'psychopaths there turn it on themselves'.[123]

It's an interesting theory to consider, but Kopel's paper was written 20 years ago. More recent statistics show that Switzerland now has a slightly lower suicide rate than the US while Japan's suicide rate is twice that of Switzerland's.

The only area in which we're ahead of Japan on violence is that our suicide rate is statistically much lower, although it's still too high. Teen suicide in the US has been in the spotlight for the past few years due to a rash of LGBT suicides that the media decided to focus on, even though it wasn't a new phenomenon. Since kids pretty much live on social networking sites there's often a very sad digital trail of the abuse that led them to the point where they took their lives. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline @ 800-273-8255.

If you need help in Japanese, please contact JB Line @ 781-296-1800. 
Threats of suicide should always be taken seriously, even if you believe the other person is merely seeking attention. Most likely you are not a professional and not in a position to assess their state of mind. If you believe that someone is in imminent danger, 911 can and should be called. I only learned this last year. You don't have to bear the burden alone. Seek professional help even if you are asked not to.

The blame game

We also love to point fingers and say "not it!" The following things/people have been blamed for mass shootings:
  1. People. As in that old chestnut, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." (Never mind that if people didn't have guns, it would be more work for them to kill people.)
  2. Mental illness. We fear the mentally ill or even the idea of the mentally ill. The press often reports shooters as being mentally ill even if it's just speculation or rumor. After Newtown, many people seemed to be confusing Asperger's Syndrome with mental illness (never mind that it hasn't been proven the shooter even had an Asperger's diagnosis and even if he did, it's not a mental illness, it's a developmental disorder that does not make someone more likely to be violent).
  3. Parents. Not moral enough, not loving enough, not involved enough, should have known something was wrong with their child and gotten them help... the list of accusations goes on and on. Sometimes, love and attention aren't enough. Sometimes the parents aren't to blame. Very rarely do parents bear some of the responsibility.
  4. Violent video games. In another Washington Post piece, Max Fisher compares the US with other countries where video games are popular. Guess what? No link. 
  5. Hollywood. The NRA had the nerve to lay the blame at Hollywood's feet. Never mind that the NRA loves having guns in movies. Free advertising. Director Michael Moore points out that, "Kids in Japan watch the same violent movies." Hollywood alone isn't making anyone more violent.
  6. Gays. A favorite scapegoat for crazy right-wing pastors everywhere, LGBT people are also blamed for natural disasters, 9/11, Benghazi, and other mass shootings
  7. Atheists. God bless Newt Gingrich & Mike Huckabee. Terrifyingly, they are both former elected officials.
  8. God. 6 & 7 actually would not be on the list were it not for God, since what they're usually saying is that this is God's punishment on the good cisgender heterosexual Christians of America for allowing our country's values to be trampled by the godless queers. Conveniently, the student who shot up my college said God told him to do it (though he's since come to believe it wasn't God after all). (I find it interesting that when a shooter says God told them to do it, we think that's crazy, but when religious people say it's God's punishment, some people think it's a valid explanation.)
  9. Evil/Satan. By blaming the devil it's out of our hands.
  10. Jon Stewart. Seriously? Sadly, yes

Possible causes

So, who/what's actually responsible? Earlier this year I ran across something completely out of left field: "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead," by Kevin Drum that blames America's violent crime problem on leaded gasoline. After being called out by someone at MIT's Knight Science Journalism Program for seeming to suggest that leaded gasoline is the root cause of the "rise and fall of violent crime" in America, Drum posted a follow up. He also clarified why he didn't talk much about lead paint in a separate follow up.

It's hard to imagine that lead poisoning could be to blame for mass shootings, but it's interesting to ponder the role it might play in inner-city violence. Growing up I was taught that you always have a choice between right and wrong and that if you're a morally strong person, you choose the right path. If you happen to choose the wrong path it's because you're weak, perhaps due to stubborn free will or perhaps due to Satan whispering in your ear. I was taught that everyone is on an equal playing field (because everyone can come to love Jesus and therefore be saved by him), but what if that's not true? What if environmental factors such as lead put some at a disadvantage in figuring out which path to take? What if you have parents or older siblings who bring weapons into your life? What if you're bullied to the point of breaking?

Michael Moore wrote the most excellent piece I've seen thus far about what he thinks causes violence in America. He thinks it boils down to:
  1. Poverty
  2. Fear/Racism
  3. The "Me" Society
Using these criteria, let's examine Japan's comparative lack of mass violence:

1. Poverty

I was surprised to learn that the poverty rate in Japan is much higher than I'd thought. I remember my parents telling me back in the day that there were no homeless people in Japan. While this may have been the case in the 1970s (this paper says that homelessness first became noticeable in the 1980s), Japan's homeless population has been growing over the past three decades. Something Moore doesn't address is the degree of inequality we have in the US. Japan's wealth distribution is considered pretty equal.

2. Fear/Racism

Japan is a pretty homogenous society, but there is racism against people from other countries (usually non-whites, from what I've heard), hāfus (multi-ethnic Japanese), and ethnic minorities (Ainu, Okinawans). There's even discrimination against nikkeijin (people of Japanese descent from other countries) who return to the motherland. A few years ago the UN reported that they think racism in Japan is a big problem, mainly because the government doesn't acknowledge it and does nothing to combat it.

Although I haven't lived in Japan as an adult, my sense is that while racism in Japan may be a serious problem, it doesn't fuel violent conflict in the same way that it does in the US, although I have no statistics to back that up. Here in the US racial profiling has become so commonplace that it's now the law in Arizona.

3. The "Me" Society

Michael Moore on the US: "I think it's the every-man-for-himself ethos of this country that has put us in this mess and I believe it's been our undoing. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! You're not my problem! This is mine!"

Japanese society is much less individualistic than American society. In Japan, it's all about the collective. A lot of Japanese etiquette is based on being considerate towards others and God forbid you should fall out of line. I still remember my parents telling me about the Japanese proverb, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." This is a society where people from Fukushima who've left their homes are facing discrimination because people elsewhere in Japan are upset that they've abandoned Fukushima (good Japanese people should stay there and face the danger and the future together) and also because some people believe they're bringing their contaminated belongings and selves to other parts of Japan.


As I was writing this, I remembered something I was reading about during the Toyota recalls that started in 2009. It's the Japanese philosophy of kaizen, which translates as "improvement". One thing we're not particularly good at in America is introspection. We tend to do a whole lot of finger-pointing and passing the buck instead of asking what we've done to contribute to a problem and how we as individuals can make it better.

I was planning to just present all the facts and leave it at that but after spending more than a month researching and writing this post from December 2012 to January 2013 I felt that wasn't enough. I would love to have better gun control and mental healthcare, but even with those things I think we would still have a problem with violence. I've been seeing reports for several years that knife crime is on the rise in the UK and Japan, which shows that even with strict gun control, people will find ways to be violent. The big question no one seems able to answer is, "Why is American society so violent?" Professor Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez of Bard College at Simon's Rock, contemplates this in a piece for Common Dreams.
The U.S. is the largest arms manufacturer and exporter in the world.  We have by far the largest military.  We are also by far the most heavily armed civilian population in the world, with some 300 million guns circulating among our population of about 300 million people. Americans, we need to acknowledge that collectively, as a nation, we have been responsible for hundreds, and probably thousands of deaths of children worldwide through the weapons we sell abroad.
There is not a conflict in the world today that has not been fueled by American weaponry.
Last week at JREX/Tewassa's screening of Hideki Ito's X Years Later they showed an extremely unnerving animated short by Isao Hashimoto titled "1945-1998" which showed nearly all of the nuclear detonations worldwide during that time period (according to this YouTube user, the animation is missing a few). The final US count: 1,032 (317 more than the next highest count - Russia at 715). We talk a good game about peace but as a nation, we've inflicted violence on so many other countries.

Year in and year out we have mass shooting after mass shooting. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. Plus the ones you've never heard of (many are domestic violence) and the ones you forget the details of after it falls out of the news cycle. And then there are the shootings that didn't qualify as mass shootings like the one at my college (4 or more people need to be killed to qualify). Read op-eds after any shooting and they pretty much all say the same things and could have been written after any one. The same conservative crackpots come out blaming gays and Jon Stewart and meanwhile the gun manufacturers are raking it in. A month after Newtown, Bloomberg released a graph showing that in three years, firearms deaths will surpass traffic accident deaths.

I used to believe a lot of the propaganda and misinformation about the causes of mass shootings. I've spent a lot of time reading about them in an attempt to understand the student who shot up my college. I was glued to my computer for weeks after Columbine reading anything and everything I could. [I only recently learned that most of what the media reported after Columbine was hogwash. I recommend Dave Cullen's book Columbine. Probably the most thoroughly research thing ever written about that shooting and the people involved.]

Last month I came across this fascinating article by author Colin Woodward based on his book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North American suggesting that each region can trace its' attitudes about violence and personal protection back to colonial times. The article didn't propose any solutions, but it's interesting to see the degree to which deeply-rooted violence may still affect legislation today. So often Japan looks to the US for solutions to problems. I think in this case, we should be looking to Japan. Modern Japan shows that it's possible to let go of a violent history, but doing so does mean the supposed sacrifice of individual rights. Personally, I don't see it as much of a sacrifice if not having the right to own a gun would mean that more people would live. But instead, we sacrifice the lives and bodies and psyches of thousands. More Americans die from firearms-related violence in the US every year than have died in the war in Afghanistan. Who needs terrorists? We're killing ourselves.

People in other countries with stricter gun control and fewer firearms deaths think we're completely daft. I agree. The average American doesn't need military-style assault weapons. I'm not even sure we need handguns or hunting rifles unless we're actually hunting our dinner or live in areas where we need protection from wild animals or need the ability to put down sick livestock. For the average American who gathers their food at McDonald's or Whole Foods, when is a gun useful in every day life? People say it's so we can protect ourselves but when do you actually get to use a gun to protect yourself? How often are we the victims of home invasions? How often do we have to pull a gun on a would-be rapist (who is likely our friend or partner)? It turns out that owning the gun only gives you the illusion of protection. In reality, it increases the odds that you'll be shot by more than 5.

It's far more likely that owning a gun means your kid will shoot their friend or sibling in the face or you or someone in your home will commit suicide, than it is that you'll be able to successfully protect yourself from a threat. The accidental deaths get me the most, especially when there are children involved. Those deaths are totally preventable. In Japan you have to lock your guns up. Period. The police even come by to make sure they're locked up properly. There's no excuse for people dying from accidental shootings. Yet would you believe the NRA opposes legally mandating safe storage of guns? Because here in the good ol' US of A we're all about individual rights, and we care more about parents' rights to not be legally required to store their gun(s) safely than we care about the rights of children to live.

I have no idea what it will take for change, but clearly the problem lies within our attitudes as individuals and as a society - not only about firearms but also about the sanctity of life, about freedom, about how we feel about our neighbors and our government. While the gun companies lobby and the politicians argue, 30 lives are lost to firearms violence every day. More than 5 times that number are injured every day. As a society we've failed everyone - victims and perpetrators alike. I would imagine that most people who commit violence are very angry and/or in a lot of pain (emotional or physical). Emotions like that don't develop in a vacuum. Many people who commit violence aren't getting the help they need (the student who shot up my college believes that if he'd been prevented or delayed from purchasing his gun, the shooting never would have happened). We've also failed ourselves since violence affects exponentially more people in the aftermath. Even when individuals and communities find ways to move forward, it can be difficult to truly move on. It creates ripples in communities and the effects can reverberate for decades afterwards and affect even those of us who weren't actually present for the violence. We all bear responsibility for violence, even if it's only because we look the other way or bury our heads in the sand or declare ourselves "not it."

Cobblestones at the Episcopal Divinity School - December 14, 2012

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
  -Ralph Waldo Emerson 
"Will there never be any more Newtowns? No. Sadly, there will always be Newtowns because of the creatures that we are. Some small proportion of us do this. But can we make it harder for them to do it? Yeah. And should we try? Yeah. We should try. Good God, look around. Look what we’re letting happen and look how we’re reacting to it. It’s like we’re crazy. We’re crazy as society, crazy. If we let this happen. Because we don’t have to."
  - Greg Gibson, father of Galen Gibson, who died at Simon's Rock on December 14, 1992 at the age of 18 [Source; Video]




Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lecture: Tadashi Tokieda talks about toys @ MIT

On Monday night one of my friends asked me at the last minute if I wanted to attend a talk at MIT on Tuesday given by Japan-born Dr. Tadashi Tokieda (who styles his name T^2 on his homepage), director of studies in the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge, who's in Boston doing a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.

Contrary to stereotype I wasn't a math whiz at all. I only did well in geometry and struggled through all of my other math classes. To this day I can't do simple arithmetic in my head and trying to do calculations when I do crafts takes far, far longer than it should (and often produces incorrect results). I haven't voluntarily gone to a math lecture since my undergrad days, but after watching a few minutes of a couple of lectures T^2 has given in the past and noticing the audience was laughing a lot, I decided to go.

I hesitate to call T^2 Japanese - he seems to be one of those rare people who's a citizen of the world - born in Japan, educated in France and the United States, currently based in the UK and lectures around the world. He's a modern Renaissance man - trained in the classics but switched to mathematics at some point and these days he says he's been dabbling in physics. He speaks more than a half dozen languages (his talk was in English but there were notations on his slides in Japanese and he threw in some Ancient Greek at the end). He draws incredibly cute hedgehogs and ducks thinking about math, plays with toys, and publishes in three languages.

I wish I'd had math and science teachers like T^2. He urged people in the back to come closer because they wouldn't be able to see his demonstrations from the back. He said he knew we were in the 21st century but that despite the fact that he had slides, the important part of his lecture was the demonstrations, "Think 18th century," he said to much laughter. He delivered his lecture in his socked feet and made extensive use of Japanese onomatopoeia, which for some reason I found hilarious. His slides incorporated cute drawings among the mathematical equations. A few minutes in I was thinking that he was surprisingly physically expressive for someone Japanese and would probably make a good comedian. When technical difficulties arose with the projectors, he proceeded to fill the time by telling a long joke about a rabbi and two people having a quarrel in his synagogue (from which I learned a new Yiddish word - schlemiel). Later in the lecture he stood on a table to do a demonstration with a slinky.

Dr. Tokieda demonstrates with a slinky

The equations were over my head, but it didn't matter. His demonstrations were fascinating. Lectures can be so dry, but he kept the audience interested and laughing. In conclusion he said that we tend to think of science as existing only inside classrooms, labs, and other serious places but that science doesn't stop happening when researchers go home for the holidays. Nature is always producing science - it's happening all around us, all the time. He urged people to consider the science in "toys" (by which he means any simple object that you can play with).

The talk was not recorded but you can watch a similar talk that he gave at the Radcliffe Institute a few months ago. I'm very disappointed to have missed his exhibit at Harvard. There's also a lecture he gave to the Swiss Mathematical Society in 2011 on Science from a Sheet of paper and an interview with New Scientist at the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition in 2007. If you ever have the chance to see him speak in person, you should go, even if you're not a math-science person.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Coming soon: Junji Fine Japanese Cuisine in Marblehead

Update 3/31/14: It seems that Junji's finally opened earlier this month!

I just found out that the owners of Sushi Island (which closed back in August) are hoping to open their new restaurant, Junji Fine Japanese Cuisine, in January 2014. They're already on Facebook. The restaurant will be located at 114 Pleasant Street, Marblehead, MA 01945. I'm not sure I've ever been to Marblehead before, but this will certainly be a good reason to make the trek!

Update 1/18/14: Just saw a post on a Japanese message board that they're hoping to open in February.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Film: X Years Later (Hoshasen wo abita X nen go)

Next week Tewassa & JREX will be screening X Years Later (〜放射線を浴びた〜X年後). We'll be showing the film with English subtitles although I apologize that the only trailer I could find doesn't have subtitles. You can read about it in English at the Hawaiian International Film Festival site where it was screened earlier this year and in this The Japan Times piece: Director sheds light on Bikini Atoll. The film will be followed by a moderated panel discussion. Director Hideaki Ito will also be attending.

Date & Time: Friday, December 6, 2013
6:00PM - Doors open
6:30PM - Film starts
8:00 - 9:00PM - Panel discussion (Update 12/1/13: I just noticed that JREX says the panel discussion will be only in Japanese.)

Tickets: $5 and must be purchased online with PayPal. See instructions below if you can't read Japanese. 

X Years Later

(website in Japanese)
Directed by Hideaki Ito
2012 | 83 mins | Documentary 
In the aftermath of WW2 the Bikini Atoll was used by the United States as a testing ground for Nuclear and Thermonuclear technology until 1957. In 1954 the largest test - the detonation of a Hydrogen bomb in Operation Castle Bravo - resulted in a significant amount of fallout that impacted inhabited areas. Among the exposed in the incident was the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru with a crew of 23, who at the time was outside of the "danger zone" declared by the US Government. While history has documented the plight of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, the reality is many other boats also outside the "danger zone" were similarly exposed. Now 59 years later, a documentary crew in Japan revisits the incident and interviews surviving fishermen, including some from other Japanese boats in the area, to bring to light an ordeal whose full impact has been kept in the dark by both the US and Japan governments. (via HIFF)


  • Hiro Saito, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Harvard U.S.-Japan Relations Program postdoctoral fellow
  • Takuya Tsujiuchi, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor at Waseda University, Research Fellow at Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma (HPRT)
  • Tetsuro Araki, M.D., Research Fellow, Department of Radiology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School

Purchasing Instructions

JREX's event page for the screening is only in Japanese. (Update 11/30/13: Oops. It seems that since I drafted this, someone updated the event page with English.)

Step 1: Fill out the form on this page.

Step 2: Click "Online Payment" to the right of the form. The only option is a $5.00 USD option.  Click "Add to cart" which will take you to PayPal where you can adjust the number of tickets and then check out.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nihongo Toshokan - The Library at the Japanese Language School of Greater Boston

Last Saturday I set foot in a Japanese Saturday school for the first time in 25 years. The Japanese Language School of Greater Boston has been at Medford High School since 1975. A while ago I'd read on their website that the library is open to the public but not being able to read Japanese anymore, I didn't see any reason to go. Recently I got to wondering if they might have origami books so a friend and I decided to check it out. I found a shelf of books that appeared to be the home & cooking section - it had mostly cookbooks and one beading book, but I didn't find any origami books and I was too shy to ask anyone.

The library was much larger than we were expecting. There were thousands of books. It fills a former lecture hall that my friend tells me is the sort of room usually used for detention for Medford HS students. At 10:30am the library was packed full of parent volunteer librarians and parents who were reading and checking books out. Students were in class. I didn't get too many pictures since I didn't want to take photos of anyone without permission. The one above gives you the best sense of scale - there are more books to the right and the left and behind me. In addition to textbooks and children's books, they had an extensive selection of adult fiction. There's also plenty of manga and even some books in English (these seemed to be mostly books about Japan). They also have magazines and CDs.

There are several carts of books in the front of the room that are for sale. They receive a lot of donations (we saw many boxes full of books) and they sell the ones they don't want to add to their collection. They also hold an annual book fair in late October.

It was very surreal to be at a Saturday school again, but at least I didn't break out in hives. Japanese school was unfortunately not a good experience for me and after dropping out after 6th grade, I never thought I'd voluntarily set foot in a Saturday school ever again. Still, there was something nostalgic about being there. 

The library is only open during the Japanese school year from 8:45am to 11:30am so check their calendar before going. You'll need to enter the school through the main entrance at the front of the building. There will be a map in English & Japanese in the center of lobby. The library is located in the rear of the school.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

H Mart Update: 2014

Update 5/6/14: H Mart Cambridge is finally open! & H Mart Japanese groceries

Future home of H Mart Central Square

Folks hoping to eat ramen (and other Japanese food) in Central Square next month will have to wait a little longer. Although news outlets reported during the summer that they would open in November or December, a source told me that H Mart tenants received email a few weeks ago saying they would be allowed to move into their stalls in January. However, as you can see from these photos I took today, they're nowhere near ready to open. H Mart has been plagued with delays, so I'll be very surprised if they hit that date (I think they were first hoping to open in the fall of 2012). I suppose it's possible they could complete construction by next month or January but then they still have to pass their inspections which can be a lengthy process. The entire facility - the grocery store and the food concessions - have to pass before they can open. I'm thinking spring 2014...

Grocery store area

Food concession area

See also: Ittoku Update / Sapporo Ramen coming to Central Square @ H Mart

Monday, November 11, 2013

First Look: Ittoku!

Ittoku!, which I believe is Boston's first traditional izakaya, quietly opened last Wednesday for a soft opening. They were open until Saturday then closed yesterday to prepare for their grand opening tonight. From here on they should be open daily. Ittoku is a joint venture between Kentaro Suzuki (known to all by his nickname Chiki-san), a former sushi chef at Ebi Sushi, Carlos Garcia, owner of Café Mami and Ittyo, and Manabu Ito and Taiji Mineo, co-owners of Sapporo Ramen.

I made it there today for the first time to take some pictures and eat! I just wanted to get some details up since people have been asking me for a long time when Ittoku would open. I'll write about the food in more detail after I have a chance to go a few times. Check out more photos in the Ittoku! gallery. There are currently some not great photos of the menu (it was difficult to photograph because of the glare), but I should have jpegs in a few days. Update 11/14/13: Menu is here.

For now they'll be open seven days a week from 5pm to 11pm (that's when the kitchen closes). The bar may stay open until midnight some days (possibly only weekends). They're still trying to decide. They hope to open for lunch next year.

There is a large main dining area which includes the sushi bar where there are only 4 seats. Another area has a 4-seat yakitori bar and some additional tables. The bar is in a separate room and seats 6 at the counter and a few more at tables. There are 2 TVs in the bar. The restaurant's official capacity is 98 but Chiki-san said they currently have just over 80 seats. I also saw a couple of high chairs.

Update 11/12/13: Chiki-san has informed me that they have valet parking for $1! If you want to self-park, read on.

When I first told a friend about Ittoku's location, he told me that the parking situation there was terrible. I was really concerned about parking but I went over there twice today and didn't have any trouble, although the first time was at lunchtime and the second time was around 4:30pm. One of my friends arrived around 5:30pm and also report no trouble parking on Warren St.

Ittoku is located at 1414 Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton near the intersection of Comm Ave. and Warren/Kelton St. (the street has different names on either side of Comm Ave.).  There's actually a surprising amount of free parking near the intersection. Some of it is 2 hours Monday through Friday from 8am to 6pm which means it's unlimited in the evening and on weekends. Some of the free parking has no restrictions.

  • Your best bet for parking is likely to be on Warren St. if you're heading towards Comm Ave. (the other side is resident only). After you pass the Brighton Marine Health Center you'll want to look for parking between there and the corner. 
  • There are a few spaces on Kelton St. heading away from Comm Ave.
  • There are a few spaces on the Comm Ave. access road between the corner of the intersection and the restaurant. 
  • There is free unrestricted parking on the other side of Comm Ave. from Ittoku on the access road, but when I drove by in the afternoon it was full. I failed to notice what it was like in the evening. You have to drive down to Allston St. to enter. 
  • There are also a few spaces on Comm Ave. in front of Subwa/Cozmo Market/Harry's Bar & Grill but you have to drive up to Summit Ave. to enter. 

If you fail to find parking in any of these spots, keep driving. There is some unrestricted free parking in front Brookline Liquor Mart just before Scottfield Rd. Metered parking begins at the Joshua Tree after you pass Redford St. and continues past the intersection of Comm Ave. and Harvard Ave., although at that point you'll be walking pretty far. Meters are in effect from Monday through Saturday 8am - 6pm. Please note that on Sundays and holidays, resident parking is not enforced & meters are free.

The closest T stop is Warren Street Station on the Green B Line.

Bacon & Enoki - $3.50

I had previously written that Sho Inoue, former yakitori chef at Yakitori Zai, had accepted a job at Ittoku. Unfortunately, Inoue-san's plans changed and he returned to Japan, so there's another Japanese chef (and a Latino chef) manning the grills. My bacon & enoki was delicious and I also got to try a friend's order of chicken meatballs (tasty teriyaki sauce) and another friend's order of chicken gizzards (apparently I'm not a fan). They have a traditional Japanese grill which they seem to be using mainly for the meats and a back up gas grill on which I saw veggies and yaki onigiri.

Gyukotsu Ramen minus scallions & garlic - $8

I forgot to mention that Ittoku's single ramen offering, Gyukotsu Ramen, is exclusive to their menu (it's not served at Sapporo) and they are serving it this week. I wanted to try the ramen tonight but I got distracted by the Kaisen Don. I saw some other customers get ramen and they looked like smaller portions, which makes sense, given that this is an izakaya. I just wanted to mention it since some people may be expecting Pikaichi or Sapporo-sized bowls.

Kaisen Don - $12

My Meal
I ordered the Kaisen Don (a medium size chirashi ) which was very good - the scallops were outstanding (Update 11/12/13: Chiki-san told me today that scallops will not usually be part of the Kaisen Don. More on this in a later post), one skewer of Bacon & Enoki which was fatty and delicious, and a couple of pieces of tamagoyaki on the house, which is one of my favorite foods. The tamagoyaki is probably the best I've had in Boston. In addition to the yakitori mentioned above, I also got a piece of Anago Oshizushi (delicious) and some Kinoko Butter Itame (mushrooms fried in butter) which was awesome and very, very buttery. Usually this sort of dish is best eaten with beer or sake. My friends seemed happy with their food and we were already discussing what we want to try next time!

Opening Pains
Like any new restaurant, Ittoku still has some stuff to sort out. Their menu is extensive but I heard that some items aren't available yet. They have several dessert options but this week only ice cream is available. My friends and I are eagerly awaiting the Waffles à la mode - Belgian waffles, flan (Japanese purin), and ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce.

They forgot to order low sodium soy sauce so that won't be in until next week. I also suggested gluten-free soy sauce so hopefully they'll have that as well.

The servers did a great job of keeping green tea and water topped off, but when it came time to pay, we had trouble getting their attention to get our bills and then to have them picked up again. They seem fully staffed, but at times the servers seemed confused about where they should be and what they should be doing or who should be doing what. I'm sure that will all get ironed out in the next month as they learn to work together as a team.

By the time I left at 7pm, the restaurant was almost full, although the bar had only a few patrons. Chances are you'll need reservations on weekends and most certainly for large parties, which they can easily accommodate in the main dining room.

I have a long list of stuff I want to try so I can't wait to go back!

I just noticed that Yelp has their name wrong (probably due to their Facebook page name) - they are doing business as Ittoku and style the business name as ITTOKU! Google Maps inexplicably places them in Weston, though I reported it, so hopefully that will get fixed soon. Here is the right info.

1414 Commonwealth Avenue (the bar is at 1418 Comm Ave. - Update 12/10/13: Last time I went they were using 1418 as the main entrance, probably to keep the cold air out of the main dining room.)
Brighton/Boston, MA 02135
Tel: (617) 396-8420