Haiku reflections on Japan

The madness around the Olympics

Destroying culture

is one thing but ruining young

lives is another


I happened to catch a lovely  Studio Ghibli film (scripted/directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Goro Miyazaki respectively, with Keiko Niwa a co-writer) the other day – From up on Poppy Hill.   I don’t usually talk about anime on this blog but Studio Ghibli is allowed.   Like most of these animations, it has a social message.  In this case, it was about destruction of old buildings to make way for new developments.  Set in Yokohama, 1963 a building used by students’ extracurricular activities, including the school newspaper, is about to be knocked down to make way for developments for the Olympics the following year so the students, including Umi and Shun, the two who fall in love but have a complicated history to deal with, try to prevent it.

Many places are guilty of this but  displacing people, temporarily or permanently, is much worse.   Beijing destroyed much of its old quarters for the 2008 games and presumably other cities have done the same (including Tokyo) but Barcelona is said to have sent all its homeless off down to Madrid in 1992 (bet Madrid loved that) and South Korea did a lot worse in 1988 – if a report that has re-emerged lately is anything go by – when the ruling party decided homeless people were more of a stain than they liked so homeless women, men and children (the children were mostly orphans) were sent to institutions run by prominent companies where they were used as slave labour day and night and subjected to unimaginable abuse.  This actually started as early as the mid-1970s but was allowed continue until well after 1988.

South Korea have already been given the Winter Olympics for 2018  (and it’s not like they’d lose it for something that happened in the past) and it’s a mostly different place than it was back then, politically and socially, which is why the present government is trying to pretend it never happened (and I’m sure President Park wants to disassociate herself from her father’s involvement also) but the truth will come out someday.

It’s definitely interesting what governments do to their own cultural entities (but worse their own people) to attract these games, but it’s not generally as tragic as that.  I like watching the Summer Olympic Games but it’s shocking to see the lengths some countries, even not so well-off ones, will go to to clinch the hosting rights and what they get away with even once they have obtained the hosting ‘honours’ of an event that celebrates sport and sportsmanship but is not always remembered for either of those.  Also, in this 2016, other events in Brazil are going to eclipse the Olympics in Rio I’m sure, the deadly Zika virus being the most significant one (who cares about sports when newborn babies suffer like that. if they even survive in the womb?) and the current political situation being another.  They’re barely ready for it as it is.











Haiku reflections on Japan

Kyushu earthquake 14/04

News has come today of another earthquake in Japan.  This time it hit southern Japan (Kyushu) at around 6 on the seismic scale.    At least two people (at the time of writing) are reported to have been killed and many more injured.  I hope the number does not rise.  Apparently the aftershocks can be just as deadly as the earthquake itself so I sincerely hope people are being careful and that rescue attempts are not hampered by these aftershocks.


Postscript: that 6.5 earthquake was followed up by a 7.3 scale earthquake, also in Kyusuhu, as well as landslides and another earthquake measuring 7.5 has since happened in Ecuador.   I hope rescue efforts are successful.








Haiku reflections on Japan, International or other matters

Another genius gone

The world loses one

more great artist, this time

a bold architect


The great Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid has passed away at 65.  Being a fan of architecture, and seeing the Japanese link through her fallen-through plans for the Olympic stadium in Tokyo, I thought I’d mention her here.    I read an article once about her personal style choices which were as expensive and sculptured as her projects.   She certainly seemed like an interesting woman and has to be a great role model for women in the world of architecture, whatever country they may originally be from.

I haven’t seen too many of her buildings to be honest.  Japanese authorities eventually scrapped her Olympic Stadium project which made waves for its sleek cover that resembled a bicycle helmet. Well that’s the kindest comparison and I think it’s nicer to think of a bicycle helmet given the sports connection!! The other one is a very female-specific comparison. Look it up and you’ll see for yourself.  It did look a bit ridiculous whatever it was compared to.  In any case, the whole project was scrapped after copyright problems between the architect and project commissioners and then much debate among other architects and general derision from the public.  I think Japan, Olympics or not, should be spending money on vital things** and or renovate places they already have available.  Tokyo is not exactly swimming in free space!!  The swimming comparison is a reference to another comparison made by a famous Japanese architect.

Construction projects in other countries have been subject to even more serious controversy, non-compensated evictions of residents, flattening of old neighbourhoods and slave labour (possibly including children).  Her company, Zaha Hadid Architects, has also been removed from other projects, in the UK at least, for one reason or another.  Maybe financial or aesthetic or maybe she was too strong a personality for the people commissioning the projects.    I only mention the negative points to show that all geniuses have their detractors but of course people who protested against the above controversies were absolutely right to protest especially where human rights are concerned and perhaps the extent of power an architect holds over a project is not so well-defined.


** Hint hint: Apart from obviously vital things they could maybe extend the brand new and recently opened Tokyo to Hokkaido shinkansen line (Tokyo, via Aomori, to Hakodate) further up to Sapporo well before 2030 the year they do plan to have it extended by.  It would spur people on to visit Hokkaido more, sparing the trouble of getting to the airport for domestic flights, and I’d personally appreciate it.  Seeing a photo of the grand opening in Tokyo of this new line, I thought the shinkansen looked appropriately sea-life like, almost what you’d see in a cartoon.