Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Smithsonian magazine: The Great Kanto Earthquake

Woodcut print by Japanese artist Unpo depicting the destruction in Ueno due to the Great Kanto Earthquake.
Woodcut print by Japanese artist Unpō depicting the destruction in the Ueno area of Tokyo due to the Great Kantō Earthquake.

The May 2011 issue of the Smithsonian magazine included an interesting article by Joshua Hammer about the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923, then considered to be the worst natural disaster to hit Japan. The article describes how earthquake, tsunami, and especially the resulting firestorms destroyed the port city of Yokohama and a large part of Tokyo. According to the article, the death toll from this natural disaster was estimated at around 140,000 people.

One interesting point of view mentioned in the article was the idea that the natural cataclysm also gave rise to political upheaval—that the devastation of two of Japan's major cities and the ensuing national trauma kindled right-wing passions and accelerated the rise of militarism and fascism in Japan.

On the lighter side, I was amazed by some of the earthquake-related artwork featured in the article. One such artwork is a woodcut print by an artist with the name of Unpō Takashima that I posted above (note the artist's signature, which is itself part of the art). I couldn't really find a reliable online source for information about this artist. But it's a vividly wonderful depiction of a suddenly tragic moment of time. You can find images of the other earthquake-related artwork and photos linked with the article on the Smithsonian website. (Update: I have posted more information about the Japanese artist Unpō in a blog post entitled, Visual impressions of the Great Kanto Earthquake, which was posted on August 19, 2013.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The #jishin_e Daily

A hashtag I follow on Twitter to keep up-to-date on information relating to the Great Tohoku Earthquake is #jishin_e. Today I read a tweet which said "Read The #jishin_e Daily." If that's what it sounded like, then I was intrigued, so I clicked on the link on the tweet. Sure enough, the link took me to an online newspaper called The #jishin_e Daily. I think this format is terrific—it's a more readable format for getting earthquake-related news culled from the #jishin_e hashtag. The site is powered by What seems to happen is that the articles linked to in the hashtag's tweets are gathered daily and a preview of the first sentence of each article, along with the source, is shown on the front page. Instead of reading tweets, one reads the actual preview of the articles referenced by the tweets. The result passes for a well-formatted news feed front page. The screen shot above is what today's newspaper looks like "above the fold". To read the complete article, one just needs to click on the preview's title.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I cannot think of cherry blossom trees without thinking of Japan. Although I've never been there, I've seen gorgeous pictures taken during Japan's sakura season. I'm always enchanted when I see those kinds of pictures, as if I'm seeing images of a magical world. The Polaroid photo above was not taken in Japan but near where I live (taken during spring of last year). We have cherry blossom trees around here locally, but not in quantities nor in varieties that are seen in places in Japan.

According to my Japanese dictionary, the kanji for sakura (さくら) is 桜, and the kanji for cherry blossoms is 桜花 (おうか). The kanji for cherry-blossom season is 桜時 (さくらじ).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Japanese language resources page updated

I've updated this blog's Japanese language resources page. It's a page where I plan to maintain a list of useful resources for learning Japanese. You can find a link to the Japanese page on the menu at the top of this blog. This is only a start to this list, starting with a few books that I've personally found to be useful in my Japanese learning adventure. But I'll be updating the list with other useful resources as my time allows.

Contact page added

I've just added a Contact page for this blog, which provides a form which can be used to send me an email message. You can find the Contact page link on the menu at the top of the blog, right below the blog header. The form is powered by Foxyform, a free service which provides a fast and easy way to set up a secure and private contact form which can be embedded in websites. Setting it up was a snap, and there was no need to create an account with them. I've read good things about the service, and it seems to be working well. I hope that readers of this blog will find the Contact form to be a useful alternative to the post comment form as a means to interact with me and this blog.


August 10, 2013 update: Some time ago, Foxyform dropped my contact form. I don't know why they dropped it, but I'm guessing it was because of inactivity. I just checked my contact page one day and saw that the contact form was broken. I don't remember getting advanced notice from them that they would be dropping my form. I replaced the contact form with a Google form, and this seems to work. Because of this negative experience, I am withdrawing my recommendation of Foxyform.


Welcome, to you and me.  ようこそ (youkoso), in Japanese.

I think I've been able to tweak the blogger template to a point that I can tolerate. So I can now look forward to focusing on writing posts for this new blog. I still have some final tweaks to do, but it's in a good enough shape to start writing.

I've written a few things in the About page to get started, and I'll probably be updating that again soon, when the blog is in a more final form. Likewise, I'll be getting the other pages I plan for this blog up soon.

So, about Japanese. Learning Japanese is something I started doing earlier this year, just for the fun of it, and informally, not within the framework of formal classes. So as of this posting, I am a beginner student of the language, in a class where the syllabus is set by myself. I didn't know when I started out on this adventure that Japanese is considered one of the hardest languages to learn (as a second language), mostly because of the thousands of kanji (漢字) characters that one has to learn. It is said that 漢字 is the major obstacle for most foreign students of Japanese. To learn the common-use kanji (常用漢字), I use a method developed by James W. Heisig, which he has written out in a book called Remembering the Kanji, Volume I (RTK1). My copy is a used one which I bought for about $10 at a used books store. I didn't know then at that used books store how useful this book would be to me, how much of a good bargain it really was. I am now quite fond of this used book, and it is an indispensable part of my Japanese learning progress. I have gone up to kanji frame 1250 (out of about 2000) of this book, which means that I can recognize and write most of these 1250 kanji characters. I expect to go through the remaining characters in the book within a few weeks' time. I do not know how to say these characters yet, nor how they are used in compounds, but that will come next as I shift most of my efforts from recognizing individual kanji to building my vocabulary. And this next step will come easier because I will already have the images and basic meanings of the kanji in my mind, thanks to Heisig's method.