My thoughts on the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan

We’ve all seen photos and videos of the 8.9 earthquake and tsunamis that have devastated Japan. My heart goes out to them. I hope as few people as possible died, and they recover as quickly as possible from this tragedy.

What bothers me more than the event itself is the unfeeling coverage of the event, exemplified by this video from CNN, which I can’t even embed here, because of their crass commercialism during a disaster.

There were people clearly dying under their very eyes, their cars engulfed by the tsunami wave, yet the two reporters covering it were blabbering on about how difficult it is to escape the wave, and what its speed might have been. This, more than anything, exemplifies what I hate about today’s news coverage, and why I seldom watch news on TV.

It’s that, and the endless pundit parade that goes on for days after something like this. All the old bags start foaming at the mouth thinking about appearance fees, dust off their suits, powder their rotten faces, and instruct their agents to start booking them anywhere they can go. Once on camera, they’ll spout off about anything, trying to look caring, slowly killing the viewers’ brain cells, one by one, with tripe and nonsense about what might happen or could happen. Meanwhile, the news stations will re-run the same clips, over and over, hour after hour, milking every second of coverage until it’s bone dry. It’s disgusting.

Want to read something worthwhile about the Japanese during this time of crisis? Don’t bother with the TV. Read this article by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, then imagine them at work, rebuilding their communities. It’ll be a far better image than what you’ll find on TV.

For example, you can see their “gaman” at work in this video. Even during the earthquake’s aftershocks are threatening to topple store shelves somewhere in Japan, they’re busy propping them up and have already started to clean up the store.

I’d like to wish them a heartfelt “ganbatte kudasai”!

Events, Places

Tea ceremony at the Morikami Museum

We attended a formal tea ceremony, a sado, at the Morikami Museum’s Seishi-an Tea House, in Delray Beach (Florida, USA). A Japanese tea ceremony involves the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha (powdered green tea) to an honored guest, and is governed by four words: harmony (wa), reverence (kei), purity (sei), and tranquility (jaku). This particular sado, or chanoyu, that we attended, lasted about 30 minutes. I had to edit the video down to just under 10 minutes so I could put it on YouTube.

This video was recorded in HD (720p) with the Olympus PEN E-P2 and the Micro Four Thirds 14-42mm compact lens, which I am currently testing for an upcoming review.

Watch it on | YouTube

More info on Morikami Museum and their tea ceremony is available at, and detailed information about the Japanese tea ceremony is available at


1978 ad for Hagoromo Foods, spoofing Star Wars

1978 ad for Hagoromo Foods, spoofing Star Wars. Goofy, silly, weird and fun. Looks to be an ad for what they call “sea chicken“, which I’m guessing is tuna.


Music with veggie instruments

YouTube user heita3 from Japan has been making wind instruments from vegetables and eggs, and he’s been posting videos of himself playing those instruments online. So far, he made 50 videos, most of which are quite popular, having garnered well over 10 million total views.

In addition to playing the instruments, he shows people how to make them. Here are just a few videos that show the results of his interesting hobby.

(Carrot pan-flute, “Moon on the Ruined Castle”)

(Carrot ocarina, “The Legend of Zelda”)

(Apple ocarina, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”)

(How to make egg ocarinas)

(Butterbur oboe, “Lightly Row”)

(Radish slide whistle, “Grandfather’s clock”)

(The piece-de-resistance, Carrot ocarina trio, “Lightly Row”)


Helping the giant salamander breed

In their effort to control flooding, the Japanese have dammed up their rivers. But that move shut out giant salamanders from their natural breeding places and have made it impossible for them to get upstream. Scientists in Japan have worked out a way to allow their legendary giant salamander to get around dams, through elaborate staircases and small waterfalls that preserve the salamander’s natural surroundings. Now they hope the species will thrive in the wild once more.


Humor and societal norms

If I’d taken some sociology classes in college, I might have gotten this point sooner: humor is driven, by and large, by societal norms. Furthermore, it is usually in contrast (marked or absurd) to those same norms. Allow me to illustrate.

Japan: most of us know that public conduct there has been driven by very strict rules, for as long as history holds. For the most part, it still is. Everyone’s supposed to be proper and dignified. The very regimented lifestyle, and lack of personal space, I might add, leads to the desire to escape it all, to do something completely different. Hence, Japanese humor and comedy focuses on the absurd, on the unlikely, on the odd, the weird, etc. If I’d gotten this sooner, I wouldn’t have asked why Japanese ads are so embarrassing a while back. Now I understand, and I can begin to enjoy it.

Take a video like this for example, a “study” of the best way to escape farts. Only the Japanese could have dreamed this up.

Or how about this follow-up to the Human Tetris video I posted before?

England: No need to explain much here. In the land of the stiff upper lip, public behavior was excruciatingly dry and complex, at least for a particular class — so much so, that most English humor focuses entirely on it, and the contrast between said behavior and that of the lower classes. A search for Benny Hill, Mr. Bean or Harry Enfield on YouTube suffices to illustrate my point. The behavior of the upper classes is so captivating when skewered, that even bastardized versions of such behavior, the ones that trickled down to the bourgeoisie and the middle class, are fascinating. Keeping Up Appearances was one show that capitalized on this.

USA: You might ask why current humor here in the good old US kind of stinks (at least I do). Well, to answer my own question, I think it’s because we’ve been free of restrictive societal norms, at least when it comes to public behavior. In a way, we’ve neutered one of our most potent sources of humor, though it wasn’t done on purpose. We started out with a few civilized cities and mostly wilderness and farms, and it’s still pretty much that way ;-).

Most people are still relaxed in public, and getting even more relaxed. Americans just don’t ascribe to certain norms when out in society, and to a certain extent, this is excusable. In a melting pot like ours, standards differ from family to family, and without huge, focused, national efforts to introduce some standards, things will not improve.

Fortunately, we did have those annoying yuppies in the 80s and early 90s, and we could make fun of them for a while, until that got old. The movie Trading Places (1983, IMDB listing) has some pretty good examples of pseudo-aristocratic behavior just ripe for skewering.

So, here in the States, we’re fresh out of good material unless we tap into history. Or, we could always make fun of how indecently relaxed people have become in public. For example, not a day goes by that I don’t see people wearing unsightly plastic clogs (you know, the “fashionable” kind, the sort that give you athlete’s foot and make your feet smelly) or low-cut jeans that make me wonder what’s more disgusting — the fact that they’re not falling off even though I can plainly see the butt crack, or the plentiful layers of fat that flow over the waistline.

At any rate, the point that I wanted to get across is that I finally get it: humor, by and large, is driven by societal norms, which of course, differ from society to society. I’m beginning to enjoy Japanese humor. I even get why those ads featuring American celebrities are so absurd. They have to be. When you wear a suit and have to act proper all day long, even at home, you long for something completely different.

No matter what culture or nation we talk about, as people, we all share a basic set of needs and wants. One of those is laughter. While the things that make us laugh may differ from region to region, we all want to laugh, and we enjoy ourselves even more when we laugh with others. It’s nice (at least for me) that I can get to understand other cultures through their humor. It’s certainly an interesting way to look at their societies.


Earthquake safety testing

From CNET News: “Video: Earthquake safety testing. Japan’s Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center tests real houses under earthquake conditions. This video shows the difference between two actual wooden houses, the one on the right retrofitted to limit damage.” Very cool! Here is the link.