Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sapporo Snow Festival: Encounter with snowballing Japanese army

From Sapporo on the northern Hokkaido island in Japan

(札幌市- Coordinates: 43°4′N 141°21′E) is the fifth-largest city in Japan by population. It is the capital of Hokkaidō Prefecture, located in Ishikari Subprefecture, and an ordinance-designated city of Japan. Sapporo is best known outside Japan for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics, the first ever held in Asia, and for the annual Yuki Matsuri in the city, internationally referred to as the Sapporo Snow Festival, which draws more than 2 million tourists from around the world. The city is also home to Sapporo Brewery which is a must to taste with the Sapporo Ramen (Noodle soup with miso) when you hang around Susukino night district with a friendly gang of freezing reporters.

Sapporo Snow Festival is one of Japan's largest winter events, funniest, and attracts a growing number of visitors from Japan and abroad every year. Every winter, about two million people come to Sapporo to see the hundreds of beautiful snow statues and ice sculptures which line Odori Park,the grounds at Community Dome Tsudome, and the main street in Susukino. For seven days in February,these ice statues and sculptures (both large and small) turn Sapporo into a winter "dreamland of crystal-like ice and white snow." Now this looks like a pr agency pamphlet, but quite right, it is a place to visit as Hokkaido is blessed with love for nature and protection for the environment (G8 2008 at Toyako). And there is "un-je-ne-sais-quoi" of provincial atmosphere, relaxing from hectic Tokyo. Hokkaido also being the mecca of ski in Japan with a powder snow that fits all adventurous endeavors.

There I met Morioka-san, a respectable official of the Japanese army -the "Japan Self Defense Forces"- explaining me why his soldiers turned into sculptors and played ice cutting and snow balls for this Sapporo Snow Festival: When I asked him: "are you on military training here and is it a part of the defense responsibility with the civilians?" JSGDF Morioka has this to say: "We have done it for decades now..."


JGSDF Morioka, soldier & ice sculptor

How to make a giant Snow Statue?

- 7 celsius, Sapporo Odori Park, breezing in the wind

APEC 2010

But soon Sapporo will get warmer and will welcome one of the major APEC 2010 ministerial meeting.

What is APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation?)
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, is the premier forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region .

APEC is the only inter governmental grouping in the world operating on the basis of non-binding commitments, open dialogue and equal respect for the views of all participants. Unlike the WTO or other multilateral trade bodies, APEC has no treaty obligations required of its participants. Decisions made within APEC are reached by consensus and commitments are undertaken on a voluntary basis.

APEC has 21 members - referred to as "Member Economies" - which account for approximately 40.5%1 of the world's population, approximately 54.2%1 of world GDP and about 43.7%2 of world trade.

APEC's 21 Member Economies are Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; People's Republic of China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; The Republic of the Philippines; The Russian Federation; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; United States of America; Viet Nam.

Purpose and Goals
APEC was established in 1989 to further enhance economic growth and prosperity for the region and to strengthen the Asia-Pacific community.

Since its inception, APEC has worked to reduce tariffs and other trade barriers across the Asia-Pacific region, creating efficient domestic economies and dramatically increasing exports. Key to achieving APEC's vision are what are referred to as the 'Bogor Goals' of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for industrialised economies and 2020 for developing economies. These goals were adopted by Leaders at their 1994 meeting in Bogor, Indonesia.

Learn more about the Bogor Goals in the 1994 Leaders' Declaration.

Free and open trade and investment helps economies to grow, creates jobs and provides greater opportunities for international trade and investment. In contrast, protectionism keeps prices high and fosters inefficiencies in certain industries. Free and open trade helps to lower the costs of production and thus reduces the prices of goods and services - a direct benefit to all.

APEC also works to create an environment for the safe and efficient movement of goods, services and people across borders in the region through policy alignment and economic and technical cooperation.

Sapporo Mayor Fumio UEDA, host of the APEC ministerial meeting

(Quotes: Apec, Sapporo City Mayor Ueda Fumio, Mofa, Vice Governor HokkaidoTakahara Yoji)

Toyota's downturn tragedy : too big, too fast, too arrogant, critics shoot!

Akio Toyoda bows and apologizes at the news conference

Toyota's president left seclusion to apologize and address criticism on friday that the automaker mishandled a crisis over sticking gas pedals. Akio Toyoda, appointed to the top job at Toyota Motor Corp. last June, promised to beef up quality control, saying, "We are facing a crisis." Akio Toyoda, 53 years old and grandson of the Nagoya firm founder apologies. Taking responsibility, he also orders swift action to tackle the braking system problems of some of its highly-popular Prius hybrid gasoline-electric models, but stopped short of saying whether such steps would take the form of a recall or voluntary repairs. Quotation agency targets now the manufacturer and enters into the negative appreciation mary-go-round turmoil.

My report on RTL France today :

Toyota is such a symbol of success story that falling is not tolerated. And as if one damage of such magnitude was not enough in this world economic dire trend, some bad feeling of revenge from the American car manufacturers is felt in Nagoya today. Some sources said there is a desire in the US to glue similarity between this industrial Baron apologies and the apologizing of Hirohito to his people prior to surrender. To this nuts comments, I'd say: Totally preposterous and out of proportion. "It's not nice to see a killing, but worst is that we have a kind of racial animosity behind this downturn" one Japanese source told me.

One example with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who "has served notice he's "not finished" with Toyota". In such context: how keen will other foreigners be to invest and create jobs wherever Toyota is rooted? "Constantly looking for something wrong with Toyota, whether it's faulty accelerator pedals, slippery mats or something new amounts to little more than political harassment and populist hay making."

Will Toyota's pain be rivals' gains?

The storm might affect other manufacturers and others sectors of the industry as we saw with this pedal problem. "Not too fast" might be the wise comment regarding how globalization or new technologies introduction will go. Especially interesting is to know how the rush to the green car (Hybrid, EV etc.) 'gold mine' will affect the car makers and industrialists? Therefore logical consequences is that the financial sector again might very well bear the blame for pushing up gains without assuming responsibilities and in this field: car security.

Question number 1 now, how will Toyota win the next battle: Regain Consumers and investors confidence? "I will do my best" Akio Toyoda President said after apologizing:


When the Prius was launched, I met Akio Toyoda, I also met his father during the Aichi World Expo, and I believe this family of industrialists words. But intentions and realizations are two different folders. Toyota will have to reorganize. So, a long story to be continued...
(Sources: RTL, Nikkei, Investors, reporter's notes)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Sumo : Asashoryu quitte l'arène

"Je prends ma retraite", a annoncé Asashoryu (Dragon
bleu du matin), qui vient de remporter sa 25e Coupe de
l'Empereur le mois dernier, devenant ainsi le troisième
plus grand champion de l'histoire du sumo en nombre de

VDO A news much commented on Japanese TVs'

Agé de 29 ans, le Yokozuna (Grand Champion) Asashoryu,
dont le vrai nom est Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, est
soupçonné d'avoir cassé le nez d'un consommateur lors
d'une bagarre après une soirée très arrosée le 16
janvier, en plein tournoi de Tokyo.

"J'ai causé beaucoup de problèmes. A présent, c'est
clair dans ma tête", a-t-il dit devant les caméras. A
24 ans, son compatriote et rival, Hakuho ("grand oiseau
blanc"), dont le vrai nom est Munkhbat Davaajargal, est
lui très apprécié au Japon et demeure désormais le seul
Yokozuna en compétition. Lui aussi a versé ses larmes
rituelles lors de l'annonce de la démission.

Beaucoup de spéculations agitent le monde des médias
sur le montant des indemnités reçues par Asashoryu pour
son Grand Départ.

Le monde du sumo est souvent l'objet de controverses en
raison de liens supposés avec les bookmakers locaux et
les paris sur les "écuries" associant le sport et
l'argent, voire, avec des milieux plus " underground".

Thursday, February 04, 2010

You don't understand Japan? Check the online chats!

Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

When scholars talk about Japan or China and Taiwan future
in non magical incantations, it gives such a thing :

W... post on the informative NBR forum on Japan
affairs February 1st, following the US weapons sales to
Taiwan that inflames Beijing allowed chatters to open
fire. Quotes : " It seems entirely possible that China
will sooner or later come into possession of Taiwan.
This would alter Japan's strategic position quite
markedly, by substantially increasing China's potential
to threaten both the Ryukyus and Japan's sea lines.
Some would argue that this is irrelevant so long as
China remains a friend of Japan, but Japan must
consider what the price of Chinese friendship may be
and how the possession of Taiwan might affect it."

To this post an other comment from one of my honorable
colleague at FCCJ:

" Does not Japan recognise China's sovereign right to
Taiwan, as one of the conditions for recognition of
Beijing in 1972? Or are we to list this amongst the
several other inconvenient facts that we are supposed
to ignore when it comes to Japan's relations with its

Now simply said, when you ask the question to Chinese
and Taiwanese, which I did, media or diplomats, they
all seem to agree that with the time it is
inevitable... Time is just a variable of uncertainty
by definition.

Other interesting debate on NBR forum : Futenma, Japan
versus China on regionalism leadership, lately on
Chunxao field etc.

Naturally it costs to have such forum functions and a
call to support the US Japan forum is made here

Sometimes, debates get hot, with occasional
disagreements... Like here on U.S. Japan Alliance
versus China:

2 scholars, one is Chinese and the other one an
American. Both well versed in such themes.

"For all I know, Mr. A... may be entirely right in
his understanding of the U.S. promise to Japan. If
so, then the treaty is worse than I thought: as
foolishly drafted as it is now past its sell-by date.
On the other hand, if he was right, then Japan would
long ago have taken all kinds of actions it has so far
avoided on all its territorial claims that its
neighbors dispute."

An other forum on Asia exists such as the refined
SSJ-FORUM of the Institute of Social Science,
University of Tokyo

Interesting and informative tools for Asia watchers

Sunday, January 31, 2010

From Russia with Love: 20 bullets!

February 7th at Kudan Kaikan, Tokyo, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and others such as the National Federation of Organizations Demanding the Return of the Northern Territories will gather for the endless repetition of a scenario that let Russians insensitive after decades-old territorial dispute. "The return of the so-called Northern Territories" to Japan.

The Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were occupied by Soviet troops in 1945 and are currently under Russian control. Russia and Japan have long been at odds over ownership of the islands, with the dispute blocking the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries since the end of World War II.

Coincidence? Provocation? Theatrical diplomacy? Russian message? Today, right wingers are in ecstasy. Why? A total of 20 bullet marks have been found on the hulls of two fishing boats that returned to a Hokkaido port after apparently being fired on Saturday morning by a Russian coast guard helicopter in waters off one of four disputed northern islands.


Russian border guards shot at two Japanese fishing boats in what Russia considers its territorial waters near the four disputed Pacific islands. The incident happened at 03:20 GMT on Friday, some 1.5 nautical miles off Kunashiri Island.

As seen on the VDO after the Japanese boats ignored orders to stop for examination, the Sakhalin coast guard department of Russia's Federal Security Service sent warning shots, then Russian coast guards fired at the boats from a helicopter. The boats stopped and returned. The Coast Guard said 15 bullet marks were found on one of the vessels and five on the other. The 19-ton vessels with a total of 15 crew members returned to the Japanese port of Rausu, near Nemuro (a place I visited during the G8 Toyako Summit).

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said Russian border guards had admitted that they opened fire on the vessels off the coast of Kunashiri Island, confirming Japanese reports of the incident the previous day. A joint investigation into the incident had been launched with the Japanese side,

In Tokyo, Yasuaki Tanizaki, director general of the Foreign Ministry's European Affairs Bureau, lodged a protest with Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Bely over the incident, which he said occurred when the boats were operating appropriately.

To be continued... Russia and Japan, still not in peace technically as no Peace Treaty has never been signed after World War II, do not stop arguing and kicking at each other about fishing zones troubles, pollution, etc... Catching the monitoring by spy boats and submarines, "big ears" (Misawa), in an area of the Northern Pacific seen as attractive by the Tokyo intelligence community' watchers' and where nobody expect anything to change to the displeasure of concerned parties.

"The thing is entirely psycho!", one well versed source told me, in that "Official Face Japan built the military pride of the inhabitants after defeating the Russians in the Japan Russia war in 1904", which led Japan to force Russia to abandon its expansionist policy in the Far East, becoming the first Asian power in modern times to defeat a European power and then Japan, after violating Korea's sovereignty, embarked on an adventurous colonization of Asia that ended with Hiroshima nuclear bombing. Since this time, "Tokyo neo-cons never ended arguing and "branded" the Russians as 'freaks'. Any option to combat Moscow is seen here as a patriot move. Seen as something OK to unite Japanese, so imagine during the Cold War between US Soviet-Union! Now, if anyone 'd lower the heat tension with Moscow, it's the whole symbolic of the Japanese victory on the Russian fleet that is threatened, and so on with the national pride. So, any attempt to soften stances between Tokyo and Moscow is permanently destroyed or interfered, except when money and energy, gas, oil, is at stake!"

For history lovers, here is the recall of events with

"In 1898 Russia had pressured China into granting it a lease for the strategically important port of Port Arthur (now Lu-shun), at the tip of the Liaotung Peninsula, in southern Manchuria. Russia thereby entered into occupation of the peninsula, even though, in concert with other European powers, it had forced Japan to relinquish just such a right after the latter's decisive victory over China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. Moreover, in 1896 Russia had concluded an alliance with China against Japan and, in the process, had won rights to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Chinese-held Manchuria to the Russian seaport of Vladivostok, thus gaining control of an important strip of Manchurian territory..." More on the Russia Japan War on

And to end on this one, I found the Japanese poster from the 60's

"From Russia, with Love" published in 1957, is the fifth James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming and is considered one of the best in the series, elaborate plots and counterplots between the British and the Russian intelligence agencies. This is the Japanese poster of the movie by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman in 1963 with star Sean Connery as James Bond 007.

(Sources: wire services, ann, l'histoire, tass, xinhua, upi, reporter's notes)