Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mushi-Mushi Land

Back during the economic boom of the 1990s, a local man decided to set up a theme park revolving around the stag beetles and rhinoceros beetles so common in the area. On March 11, 2011 Fukushima prefecture and Miyagi prefecture experienced large tsunamis as a result of a 9.0 earthquake centered not too far off the coast of Japan. One of the things damaged was a nuclear power plant about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away from the park. Because of the contamination, the park was shut down.

For more information on the park and its history, read http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/9/13/fukushima-bringstroubletomushimushiland.html:

Recently, some colleagues and I went exploring. Here is what the park looks like now.

This first picture is from just outside the park, 1 kilometer (half a mile) away, to be exact. The character on the sign is the park’s official mascot. It is, you guessed it, a cartoonized version of a rhinoceros beetle.

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Inside the neglected park is run down. There is rust on the equipment. The weeds and grass have overtaken a good chunk of the area. It’s empty, and I was a little shocked at how run down a place can get so quickly.

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This next picture shows a bit of the former glory, what it used to look like. If you look at it the right way, you can make out the praying mantis structure of this playground set:

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Outside the park are big black plastic bags full of contaminated soil. The area is now officially safe, but even though no new radiation is coming, the contaminated items still needed to be removed. In this case, that means bags that sit by the highway until someone figures out what to do with them.

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Yet despite everything, the view from the top of the mountain is still amazing, a reminder of why a park was built there and the beauty of the area that the owner wanted to showcase. It reminds me of a scene in Evan Almighty when God pulls Evan aside and shows him the valley as he created it. In the same way, I look at this and see what it is this place was meant to be.

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Local Mascots

Japan loves cute things. Hello Kitty? Yeah, that’s Japanese. Cute cartoon characters, both imported and homegrown, are really popular over here. Japan loves cute, and their term for cute – kawaii – is high praise. But because kawaii is so popular, it is sometimes applied to multiple things.

One of the things it is applied to is depictions of devils. Here, for example, is a local icon. There are actually three of these located in the area. This one is in the train station. It’s title is “Oningyousama” which roughly translated means, “Mr. Doll.”

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Personally, I find the thing to be downright creepy, like a gargoyle or something.

Mascots are huge in Japan. Not just for sports teams. Cities and prefectures have their own mascots as well. A few decades ago a nearby town decided to build a tourist area around the stag beetles that are so common in this area. Not only did they build a park to see the beetles, but a hotel and a set of roller coasters as well. And, of course, they came up with a cute mascot: a giant stag beetle.

Last weekend I went and cheered at a local road race. To my utter surprise, the mascot was there, running the 3 kilometer race. How that person managed to go the whole way in such a gangly costume I’ll never know. But there it was, running along. Smiling, as always.

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Just Your Abnormal Friday

Today was a normal Friday. Or not. It depends upon how you look at it. All of the “normal” things happened: I went to work, helped teach some students, ate lunch, etc. But this day was still special because of the oddball things that happened. Here are three that stick out:

1. I ate an apple.

Japan has apples. Northern Japan is especially known for its apples. And the province I’m from, Fukushima, is known as one of the top apple areas in the country. Therefore, when I pulled out an apple as part of my lunch, you might think it wouldn’t have phased them. But it did. Here apples are only eaten once they have been peeled and neatly sliced. I opted for American style and bit into the red orb. Not only was this less prep work, not only did this mean I didn’t have my apple turning brown in my lunchbox, but it also meant I retained a lot of the nutrition is in the peel.

I knew my method of eating the apple would shock the students. What I didn’t anticipate was HOW shocked they would be. Instead of gaping and staring, they ignored me. They avoided looking at me. It was the same attitude people get when they are being shamed into social conformity. All because of an apple and the way I ate it.

2. We were given forewarning of a typhoon day on Tuesday. 

Typhoon Vongfong is heading straight for Japan. If its course continues on the current trajectory, it will reach here on Tuesday. An announcement was made to the students that if school was canceled on Tuesday, the Board of Education would make a decision by noon on Monday.

So why was this weird? We don’t get days off of school here for weather. At least, we didn’t in the past. Last winter my town had its first snow day in a decade. We get snow here, but people wrap chains around their tires and push through. Meanwhile, I am given to understand that typhoon days are equally rare, but we had one last October, and again this past Monday. Now we are facing another potential typhoon disruption.

I fully support the decision to have people stay home when the weather is dangerous. The remarkable thing is that these precautions are being taken. Either the weather is getting worse or the schools are getting more cautious.

3. My co-worker recommended that American women hang men’s underwear outside their house.

I was telling the Japanese teacher of English with whom I work that in the U.S. young adults are more likely to live with other single young adults than with their parents. He asked if these are mixed gender apartments and houses. Sometimes they are, I told him, but I’ve only lived with other females. I thought this would be applauded by the Japanese sense of propriety, but to my surprise he told me I should live with men. This is out of concern for my safety, to have a man to protect me and scare off creeps. Then he went on to tell me that some Japanese women who live alone will buy men’s underwear and other clothing and hang it out on their clothes line to make it look like a man lives there.

I think I’ll start by buying mace. But, you know, I guess if I feel threatened to I could start buying men’s underwear and tossing it in my wash…

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