Food safety

The following essay is what I wrote as a writing assignment of an English school AEON. The title this time is “Food Safety” and I described three notorious incidents in Japan.

Topic Food safety
Style Formal

We eat to live, not we live to eat. Food is, however, one of the most essential parts for our health. In the traditional thought of oriental medicine, foods occupy the crucial part of medication. In Japan, we believe that we can drink rather safe water and eat mostly safe foods. Despite the alleged fact that Japan is the safest country in the world for water and foods, it does not mean that Japan is 100% free from risks caused by poisonous water or foods. Let us look at three notorious examples happened in Japan from the late 1950’s to the present:

(1) Morinaga Milk arsenic poisoning incident (1955)
Dry milk corrupted by arsenic produced at the Morinaga’s Tokushima factory killed 130 infants and 12,044 suffered from arsenic intoxication for a long period. This is practically the first incident in Japan where the safety of food was strictly reviewed and the related consumer protests were highly activated. Because this incident happened during the country’s rapid growing period, the then government tried to protect Morinaga rather than to defend the victims and actually oppressed the related consumer activism. In 1969, 14 years after 1955, a professor at Osaka university found that the victims still suffered from aftereffects and it stirred up strong boycott campaign in all over Japan. Morinaga finally accepted its responsibility and closed its Tokushima factory in 1970.

(2) Kanemi oil symptoms (Yusho) incident (1968)
Because of edible oil contaminated by PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl), more than 14,000 people suffered from skin and visceral disorder. Some pregnant mothers gave birth to so called “black babies” and it stunned people all over the world. The oil was produced by Kanemi Warehouse company and PCB that was used as a heat medium in the production line leaked from wrongly allocated pipes and was mixed with edible oil. PCB changes to dioxins once heated and caused many health troubles for the victims. The production and import of PCB were prohibited in 1975, although it had been until then widely used as a good insulating material.

(3) Yukijirushi mass food poisoning incident (2000)
14,780 people who drank Yukijirushi’s low-fat milk described symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, or abdominal pains. Despite the fortunate fact that no one died, it was the biggest incident related to food safety in Japan. In this case, the reaction of Yukijirushi was quite bad and what the CEO said in an interview was harshly criticized. (He said that he has not slept at all by the incident). Although Yukijirushi was one of the biggest food related companies at that time, it lost its market share in a very short period and it was finally absorbed by another company.
The current relatively safer status for food was built upon such harsh experiences. Some weekly magazines now frequently report the risk of foods imported from China. We can be sure that China will also experience such incidents in the near future. (Please note that many visitors from China to Japan often buy Japanese dry milk including Morinaga’s claiming that they are much safer than Chinese companies’ products. It sounds very ironic.)


(The following essay is what I wrote as an assignment of writing English on October 6.)

Title: Computers Style: Casual

I have a CD of Japanese Tokusatsu (special-effects dramas) theme songs. There is a song among them named “Time Limit”, and some very interesting parallel phrases are included in it. Quote:

“Turn around, turn around the earth! Angels inhabit computers. Let’s charge! They give us energy of dream and hope with some items that can increase our happiness.

Stop, stop the earth! Devils inhabit computers. Let’s charge! They bring us to the stage where we hate each other with dark and ambitious energy.” (from the ending theme of Choujinki Metalder, broadcasted in 1987 – 1988)

Is a computer an angel or a devil? It is quite an interesting and still imminent question. Now, in 2018, we can rephrase it: Is AI an angel or a devil? Since the early years of the 1960s, there has been naïve belief that computers can do everything. Nearly 60 years later, there are many people who still believe that AI can do everything. I watched recently one such story in Voyage to the bottom of the sea, an old Sci-Fi TV drama broadcasted in the 1960s. In that story, the submarine Seaview was attacked by a huge coelenterata (simply said, just a giant jelly fish), and the skipper Crane asked her computer about necessary evasive actions he should take, and he closely followed the instructions given by the computer. The drama described the then near future, namely the 1970s. We know that even in the 1970s there was no computer that could give us such sophisticated knowledge for something. But who can laugh at Irwin Allen (the director of the drama)? If we remake the drama now, the computer would be replaced by AI, eventually. There is absolutely no difference at all.

It may be true that AI programs will go beyond human beings in the near future. Some scientists expect that in 2045 and call it “singularity”. A clear and famous example is Google’s Alpha Go, AI Go program. The latest version of Alpha Go has made itself stronger and stronger by repeating battles inside it for more than 100 million times. Now the program is alleged to have reached the level that even its programmers could not expect in advance.
Since this essay is “casual”, I won’t discuss this problem further. But honestly to say, I have no answer for the above-mentioned question whether a computer/ AI is an angel or a devil. But I feel like that the year of singularity will come earlier than expected. Thus, the song “Time Limit” may sound like a prophecy, very realistic.         

Bullying in Japan

(Again, the following essay is what I wrote as an assignment of AEON.)

Topic Bullying in schools
Style Formal

Bullying in Japan is a serious, insidious, wide-spread, and long-lasting problem, not to mention bullying in schools. In the Edo era, there was a custom called “Mura hachibu” in most villages in Japan. It was a form of Japanese ostracizing, and if a resident of a village violated the laws of the village or disturbed the peace, all other residents terminated the communication with him/her in addition to the ban of the usage of common water and fuel. This system was often abused by some leaders of villages as a means of eliminating unfavorable person for them. There was no option other than to leave the village for the person who was declared “Mura hachibu”. Although this custom was judged to be illegal by the supreme court in 1909, we still hear similar cases even now.

If we describe some characteristics of bullying in Japan, the followings can be exemplified:
(1) It is usually done in a closed, small community (including a class in a school).
(2) There is/are a bully or bullies and a/some victim(s) and the others who are just neutral bystanders and are reluctant to stop bullying.
(3) It is mostly conducted in an insidious way, in stealth, without being seen e.g. by a teacher.
(4) It can start without any specific reasons and it usually lasts long.

From above mentioned characteristics of bullying, most cases are difficult to detect from the outside, and many teachers in schools are not aware of them. As for the others aside from bullies and victims, it is quite difficult for them to stop bullying because they fear that they would also be the targets of bullying if they try to stop them.
One of the harshest cases of bullying happened among groups of children who evacuated from the metropolitan areas in Japan during World War II. For example, a Japanese novelist Nobuhiko Kobayashi evacuated from downtown Tokyo to the Hanno city in Saitama. All children who evacuated there experienced serious lack of food and bullying among children was quite harsh. Kobayashi was forced to stand in a urinary pot with bare feet during the night. (He later wrote two novels based on the experiences at that time). There were a plethora of similar stories at that time.
In Japan, people are often implicitly forced “to read the air”, namely to sense the atmosphere in a group and to follow others. If we try to stop bullying in the future, it is vital to strengthen the independence of every single person so that anybody can have a courage to stop bullying.

Nobuhiko Kobayashi, Fuyu no Shinwa (A Myth in Winter)

Nobuhiko Kobayashi, Tokyo Shonen (A Boy in Tokyo)

Online dating

先日の”arranged marriage”に続いて、英会話教室AEONの英作文課題として、”Online dating”について書きました。両方が関連あるトピックです。今回教師による修正箇所は6箇所でした。下記は修正済みのものです。

Topic: Online dating
Style: Formal

(Please refer to my previous essay about “arranged marriage”, since two topics are quite closely linked each other.)
As we have seen in my previous essay about “arranged marriage”, there has been a quite drastic shift in the form of marriage from traditional arranged marriage to love marriage in just 70 years. The problem that we should carefully watch is whether people in Japan could smoothly adjust to this rapid change. From my personal experiences, there are many not pure “boy/girl-meets-girl/boy” type love-marriages in the high dominance of love marriage as 87.7% in years from 2010 to 2014. It is difficult to know exactly how much is the pure type, because most married couples might be reluctant to tell the truth of their first encounter if it was not a genuine type of love affair.
As collateral evidences, some statistics by IBJ, an organization of collected dating services in Japan, are introduced here. The number of the service companies under IBJ is 1,771, and collectively they have more than 59,000 customers. IBJ estimates the number of potential customers (namely the unmarried) as 6 million and the market size as 200 billion JPY ($1.8 billion). The service they offer is practically an Omiai itself. The difference between old and new Omiai is just who takes care of combining unmarried couple: the relatives or some acquaintances (in the past) or a service company (now).
In Japan, we call marriage related activities “Konkatsu”, being derived from the word “Shukatsu” (activities trying to get a job). It means that it is quite difficult for many young people to find a good counterpart and they need some special activities. In the past, Gokon, a matchmaking party, was popular as an example of such activities. It seems, however, online dating services operated by the companies under IBJ have replaced Gokon. There were some negative images for such services in Japan, since there was a service called Terekura (telephone club) that was often abused for prostitution by amateurs in the late 1980’s. It can be observed, however, that popularization of smartphones and SNS services might have improved the negative image of online dating services at a rapid pace.

Arranged marriage (in Japan)

AEON(英会話教室)の英作文課題で書いた”Arranged Marriage”(お見合い結婚)についてのエッセイは以下です。(教師の指摘による文法ミス10箇所修正済み)

Topic: Arranged marriage
Style: Formal

Arranged marriage may sound feudalistic, strange, and old-fashioned to most Westerners. In Japan, however, arranged marriage has been playing a significant role in pairing a man and a woman until quite recently. As you can see in Graph 1 (below), the portion of arranged marriage was around 70% before the end of World War II, and it had been more than 50% until 1960.
In traditional Japanese society, a marriage was to establish a close relation more between two families than just between a man and a woman. There was no concept of free men and women, and everybody was considered to belong to a family. One of the biggest purposes for traditional Japanese was to let their family continue forever. (You can see the most typical case in the Japanese Emperor family, which is alleged to have continued for more than 2600 years).
The most typical arranged marriage is called Omiai, meaning literally to meet a counterpart for the first time arranged by some relatives or acquaintances. (You can watch examples in some movies of Yasujirō Ozu such as Bakushu (1951), Banshun (1949), or Sanma no aji (1962)). Please note that they were not always “forced marriage”, but the partners to be kept rights whether to accept or decline the proposed marriage. (For the sake of fairness, there were many so called “political marriages” as well and the partners to be did not have any option but to accept the marriage in these cases). Interestingly, most love-marriages were condemned as Yagō, meaning wild pairing, or more literally “intercourses in the field”.
For most systems in our society, there are almost always pros and cons. Let me play devil’s advocate in describing the pros of arranged marriage in Japan:
(1) People trying to arrange a marriage are considered to take full responsibility for the result of the marriage. It means they were very careful in selecting a possible pair. As a result, they chose well-balanced couples in most cases.
(2) Since this system assumes a close relation of two families from the start, there are few troubles after the marriage compared to love-marriage.
(3) Based on the above (1) and (2), divorce rate is much lower than that of love marriage. (As you can see Graph 2, the divorce rate in 2016 is more than 30% while the portion of love-marriage reaches almost 90%).
(4) Young men and women at certain ages are forced to marry someone in this system. This kept the average marriage age at almost the same level. (Delayed marriage is quite a big problem in Japan now, because it lowers the birth rate and accordingly the total population in Japan has started to decline).
As a conclusion, arranged marriage can be said to be an example of “hidden wisdom” in a traditional system.

Graph 1: Changes of Japanese marital style from 1930 through 2014

Graph 2: Changes of Japanese demographics (birth, death, marriage and divorce)