“Nanakorobi yaoki”- when life knocks you down, get back up.

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The “Daruma” doll has been highly valued in Japan through the ages as lucky charms that fulfill people’s wishes. The beginnings of the Daruma are said to be an imitation of the founder of Zen, Bodhidharma, in a Zazen seated meditation position. Bodhidharma was born in India, he later became a priest; the 28th generation to take over from the teachings of Buddha, and then he traveled to China.

Despite the many difficulties he encountered there, the indomitable spirit of Bodhidharma persisted. This captured the hearts of the people, and during heavy floods a devotee carved a statue of Bodhidharma, which is currently enshrined at the temple of Shorinzan Darumaji. After the temple opened, to provide relief for farmers hit by famine, the high priest allowed the farmers, as a side job, to make papier mache Daruma (imitations of Bodhidharma) and sell them at festivals, where they quickly caused a sensation.

The passed on prayer used nowadays of “make a wish to a Daruma and if you endeavor it will be fulfilled”, is derived from silk farmers praying for “silkworms to make good cocoons” whilst filling one eye with ink, and when this prayer is fulfilled the remaining eye is filled in with ink.  In Japanese the term “get up” is used to refer to the opening up of old silkworn shells, you are praying to the Daruma who stands for the Japanese proverb of

These days, Daruma are made in varous regions of Japan but the vast majority of papier-mache Daruma are made in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, location of Shorinzan Darumaji Temple, as well as the surrounding area, and are known as “Takasaki Daruma”.

There are many theories as to why the Daruma are painted red, but it actually derives from the clothing of Bodhidharma. Red also appears to be the color that was used for charms in ancient times. In modern day, apart from red, many other colors of Daruma have appeared, such as white, yellow and green. Not only do they also vary in size, there is also a white version used for weddings, and there are also ones where you can write on the torso.

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Geek Heaven, Akihabara.

I certainly miss the technology and gadgets that I encountered each day in Japan, Especially now that I am manufacturing tablet devices for education.

With broadband connections ten times faster than the U.S. and 90 percent of the population owning mobile phones, it is not surprising that Japan has its own “Electronic Town.”
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Called Akihabara, it is the center of “otaku” or geek culture in Tokyo.

In this “geek heaven” it is possible to buy anything from spy cameras to underground computer games.

“Tokyo is the hot bed for new electronics in the whole world,” said Serkan Toto, Japanese correspondent for the Tech Crunch news blog. “Japan is a very advanced technology-wise, it’s a nation of early adopters.” Japan’s electric town is a covered market stockpiled with any and every kind of electrical component a dedicated geek could dream of.

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Radio Street is a must for the hackers and makers among Japan’s cadre of geeks who are seeking components to start or finish a DIY electrical project.

“You can come here and build to your heart’s content,” says technology consultant Steve Nagata, who is also known as the “King of Akihabara”.

For Mr. Nagata, Japan’s long-standing obsession with technology springs from a wish to understand what is behind lots of gadgets.

“It comes from a deep interest in things around them and wanting to find out how things work and know what each component does,” said Mr Nagata.

Akihabara hosts more than just component shops. Finished goods are on sale too. Those willing to rummage can find anything from old radio tubes to audio recorders, high-end surveillance equipment and the low end too, such as a tie with a built-in camera.

“This is a very big part of Akihabara, the surveillance equipment with every kind of camera from professional grade to little teeny cameras that you can stick into all sorts of different things,” said Mr. Nagata.

The equipment itself is legal but how you use it may definitely run afoul of certain restrictions”. “You really never do know when someone is watching you,” he added.

As might be expected Akihabara reflects the thriving underground, homemade software culture in Japan.

“This is a garage software industry for anyone from individuals to small clubs or a company that produce and sell unlicensed software,” said Mr. Nagata. “There are exact look-alikes to completely original software, this stuff is just as impressive as major console software.”

The products cost less than the titles from the major gaming brands but, said Mr. Nagata, making money is not the main aim for the folk behind the software.

“This is very much a labor of love, something that they do out of their affection towards a particular character or style of gaming,” said Mr. Nagata. “It’s their attempt to fill the world with something that they want to exist in it”

Japanese “Manga” Newspapers Report Current Events in Graphic Detail

This would be prefect for the USA papers as we have such dramatic headline news stories…Oil spills, Tornados, hostage situations.

Japan is newspaper-crazy. Its biggest daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, has 10 times the circulation of The New York Times. They have their own baseball team the Giants!

For now just as in the USA, young people in Japan aren’t reading newspapers as often as their parents. But the Japanese seem to have a solution: Manga No Shimbun, (Manga Newspaper), an online outfit that covers the week’s events in comic book form.

Here is a translated version…
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These aren’t the funnies or political cartoons—they’re actual news articles about everything from foreign policy to pop culture to murder trials. The site employs more than 100 manga artists to cover breaking stories, updating 10 or 15 times a day. Graphic style varies—some pieces are in color, others black-and-white; some are realistic, some exaggeratedly kawaii (cute).

Manga News is also available via an iPhone app and will come to Android and other mobile platforms later this year. There’s even talk of international versions.

Good idea, especially if Astro Boy gets elected to parliament or Speed Racer runs for President! But given the reduced literacy in our schools here in the USA we may have to create text books like this

50 years ago today Japan launched the bullet train

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Fifty years ago this week, Japan conducted the first full-length test run of the Shinkansen, or what became known in English as the bullet train. A 12-car train ran from Tokyo to Osaka and back at an average speed of just over 80 miles per hour and a peak speed of 135 m.p.h. (217 kilometers per hour).

In an earlier test run, the train had hit a peak speed of 150 m.p.h., but the president of Japan’s national railroad said it would be held to 130 m.p.h. in regular service for at least the first six months.

But today, the Shinkansen run at a top speed of 199, and the Japanese have developed an even faster train, using a different technology called magnetic levitation, that can go as fast as 360 m.p.h.

When will the USA catch up?

Tsunami Ghost Ship

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After a rusty “ghost ship” was spotted last week by off the coast of Haida Gwaii, Canadian authorities have now officially confirmed that debris from the March 2011 Japanese tsunami is approaching Canadian waters.

“It’s been drifting across the Pacific for a year, so it’s pretty beat up,” said marine search co-ordinator Jeff Olsson of Victoria’s Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

Air crews swooped down to survey the decks and signal any potential occupants — but received no replies. Canadian authorities used the vessel’s hull numbers to track down its Japanese owner, who confirmed nobody was aboard. “We know nobody’s in danger,” Mr. Olsson said.

The vessel, a squid-fishing boat, was moored at the Japanese port city of Hachinohe when the tsunami hit. Spotted by a routine coastal air patrol, the 45-metre ship was found drifting right-side-up about 260 kilometres from Cape Saint James on the southern tip of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands), off the coast of British Columbia.

The 100th anniversary of the planting of the DC cherry trees.

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Boosted by an unusually warm winter, Washington’s famous cherry trees are looking fit and healthy this year and are blooming well ahead of schedule.

It’s almost as if they know they need to produce a special show of their pink and white blooms for 2012, which marks the 100th anniversary of the planting of the trees as a gift from Japan.

But as an expected million-plus visitors come through Washington for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival they may not be aware of a facility about five miles from the Tidal Basinthat has helped ensure the genetic legacy of the original trees while also breeding new varieties that the public can enjoy.

These trees reside at the U.S. National Arboretum, dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of ornamental plants. The 446-acre botanical research center houses more than 1,600 cherry trees that represent 400 genetically distinct varieties.

“When people think of flowering cherries, they think of the Tidal Basin,” says Margaret Pooler, a research geneticist at the arboretum. “But there’s so many more species that people haven’t seen yet.”

In celebration of the centennial of the plantings, the arboretum is introducing a new flowering cultivar this month called “Helen Taft.” Named after the first lady who played a pivotal role in getting the trees to the Tidal Basin, the seed parent of “Helen Taft” comes from a cutting of the tree that was planted by first lady Taft and the Japanese ambassador’s wife, Viscountess Chinda, in 1912.

“I think it’s important to recognize Helen Taft’s role because most people have no idea who she is,” Pooler says. “No one even thinks that it took some serious effort on both sides of the ocean to get these plants here.”

In addition to developing new varieties of flowering cherries, the arboretum has helped preserve the genetic heritage of the 1912 shipment of trees from Japan.

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Mayor Ozaki and Mrs. Ozaki of Tokyo are pictured about 1912. Mayor Ozaki was instrumental in organizing the gift of 3,000 flowering cherry trees to the city of Washington in 1912.

In the late 1970, the deteriorating health of the original trees was noted by a former arboretum employee, Roland Jefferson, while collecting data at Potomac Park. The dying trees were being replaced by nursery stock, and Jefferson was afraid the original gift would be lost.

“They’re great beauty and I was concerned about their condition,” says Jefferson, an 88-year-old retired botanist. “I thought they should be saved for future generations to enjoy.”

As a preservation effort, the arboretum obtained cuttings of the surviving trees from the Tidal Basin and cultivated clones. They have since planted 450 of these clones at the Tidal Basin in cooperation with the National Park Service.

“The National Arboretum has been a strong supporter of our effort to sustain the grove,” Robert Defeo, chief horticulturist at the National Park Service, said.

In 1980, the arboretum was approached by Japanese officials who said they had lost the parent stock of cherry trees that they had given to the United States. The arboretum responded by providing them 3,000 cuttings of the original trees.
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“We also added original clones to our collection at the arboretum, so we have them preserved here long term,” Pooler says. “Even when the originals die, we have the exact clones here.”

According to the National Park Service, approximately 100 trees from the original gift of over 3,000 still survive, exceeding the average life span of 50 to 75 years in the USA.

“It’s significant that these have been here for 100 years,” Pooler says. “They’re a constant reminder of a friendship gift combined with a beautiful bloom.”

What did Bill Murray say at the end of “Lost in Translation”?

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I just watched “Lost in Translation” again last night probably for the 25th time.

It’s rare that you find a movie that sticks with you long after you’ve seen it for the first time. “Lost in Translation” was like that for me, for some reason. Maybe it stems from a time in my life where I was living and working in Tokyo and spent many days and nights at the very Park Hyatt this was filmed. Usually meeting with Western colleagues to de-cipher and untangle the day’s events and interchanges with my Japanese colleagues.

It had great appeal to me, despite the nature of being very much on my own there. I could relate to Murray’s character and the Japanese scenarios were almost too realistic making me cringe at points.

Perhaps that’s why “Lost in Translation” had the impact it did. Bill Murray, who plays Bob Harris, is in a strange country and cannot sleep, and he meets Charlotte, played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson, who is also in the same situation, but almost totally alone as her new husband has other things to do.

They connect with each other out of their need to be with something familiar. Being in Japan with no English spoken, these two naturally relate and spend a lot of time together over the next few days, trying to hold onto this amazing thing they’ve found amidst their loneliness.

The movie did a superb job of bringing the audience into the emotions going on inside these two. You actually can almost feel what they are going through and how they long to just “be “ with each other.

And that brings us to the end of the movie. Bob has to leave, the filming is done on his TV commercial, and it’s time to go home and that means leaving Charlotte behind. But that’s the end really, they had no future, they were both married and their time was up. You felt their pain in ending the short relationship, but what other choice was there?

So Bob gets into his limo and is taken away, while Charlotte heads out onto the streets, back to wandering aimlessly like she did before, alone and out of place in this strange country.

But Bob stops, goes back and finds her walking in Shinjuku near the Hyatt…I know that exact street

They look at each other for a moment, and then they just hold each other. He whispers something to her, which makes her cry, makes her smile. They kiss, and she continues walking down the sidewalk, tears flowing, but a new look of happiness on her face. Bob gets into the limo and is gone.

I loved the movie, and I loved the final song in it so much that I now own the “Jesus and Mary Chain” album Psychocandy that it came from.

So the big mystery for all that saw it was this: What did he say to her?

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Some wise words of comfort from an older man that allowed her to move on? That he’d see her again? That he loved her?

Well, we now know. Someone took the scene and digitally enhanced the sentence that Bill Murray whispers to Charlotte and posted the video on YouTube. Sorry the link is no longer on YouTube.

It was hard to hear, but I think they got it right.

Now, not everyone wants to know. The way it ended was perfect in my opinion, leaving it up to us to decide what he said to her. It was fitting and obviously kept people thinking about it afterwards.

So if you don’t want to know, don’t watch the video or read on after this point. But if you do, check it out below.

Here is the final line from him again, if you didn’t watch it or want to see it again:

Bob: “I have to be leaving…but I wont let that come between us, okay?”

Charlotte: “Okay.” *gasp*

This exchange seems totally fitting to me. But the real meaning behind it will always remain a mystery. Did that mean he was coming back to her? Or was he just leaving her with hope. That in having this hope, she wouldn’t be completely miserable and lonely. Her gasp at the end was like a breath of relief escaping her, so the words he said were the right ones.

I don’t know what it means. I don’t think we ever will. They are both married, so the real guy inside me wants to think that they just return to their lives, but another part of me hopes they end up together.

What do you think? Does it make a difference knowing what he said? Am I the only one who really enjoyed this film?