February 2005 Archives

BlogTV Japan: Tops

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Disinfotainment is back again with another video from Japan. This little piece of fluff was produced by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is a short film (3min 25sec) in English, about traditional Japanese toy tops.

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I love traditional Japanese crafts, and I love toy tops, so I love this little film. It's produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so of course it is a piece of propaganda about how Japan is exporting happiness in the form of one of their oldest traditional crafts. But if you can get past the first half of the piece, and don't choke on the cloying tone of the narrator (who seems to be addressing 2 year old kids) you will see some lovely, innovative designs for tops.
I had a chance to play with a Japanese top on my last trip to Japan. A friend took me to a theme park in Nikko called "EdoLand," where a woman in a kimono was demonstrating wooden tops of the style that was popular 150 years ago. I asked her to show me how to spin the top, it was was an unfamiliar shape and as big as my fist. She showed me how to wrap the thick rope around the top, and how to toss the top and make it spin. So I gave it a whirl, I tossed the top at the circular wooden platform, it bounced right off and hit the poor woman right in the stomach! I decided I better leave the tops to the little kids.
BlogTV is back on the air after a lengthy hiatus, while I upgraded the video delivery system. I am pleased to bring to you another strange video from FujiTV News in Japan (8min 50sec in Japanese with Japanese subtitles only) that explores the enigma of Japanese toilets.

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Perhaps nothing in Japan inspires more curiousity than toilets. Everyone knows that Japanese toilets are somehow different, but there are a few misconceptions about the subject. Many people have the strange idea that Japan is a land of high-tech toilets, but that is a misconception. According to Japanese census data, it was only within the last decade that over 50% of all toilets were Western-style toilets. Until very recently, Japanese toilets were predominantly the Japanese-style squat toilets, which are not much more than a trench in the ground. Census data still shows that as many as 35% of all toilets in Japan are not hooked up to sanitary sewers, they are merely hooked up to holding tanks that must be emptied by a "honey wagon," a tanker truck that comes around periodically to siphon off the sewage. Much to the chagrin of hapless foreigners, it is quite common to find oneself in a position where no familiar Western toilet is available, only a squat toilet. However, for the Japanese, it is also possible for someone who has never used anything but a squat toilet to find only Western toilets and not know how to use them. Even when both styles of toilets are available, many people prefer the Japanese style, since that is what they used since they were a child.
And this is where our video begins. A classroom full of kindergartners is assembled on their first day of school for an important lesson: how to use the school's new Western toilets. Some of these children grew up in traditional homes and have never seen such a thing. The teacher explains to the giggling children how to use the new toilets, and takes the children on a tour of the newly remodeled facilities. The children love the new toilets, declaring them beautiful, and in fact, they are practically palaces of porcelain compared to typical school toilets. One student says the old toilets were stinky and he never liked to use them.
And here is the crux of our video. We switch scenes and enter the Ministry of Science and Education, where a spokesman declares that the poor quality of toilets in schools is becoming an obstacle to the education and socialization of children. Japan must not allow itself to fall behind in public toilet facilities, so the Ministry is announcing an expensive new program to upgrade toilets in all schools throughout Japan.
Let us tour some of these new facilities, starting with an elementary school in Kanazawa prefecture in north central Japan. The cameraman lingers on a crude copy of Rodin's famous sculpture "The Thinker," but his squatting merely foreshadows the sights we will view inside the school. We approach the newly upgraded facilities, painted a bright blue, and the announcer directs our attention to the distinctive "tokonoma," a typically Japanese architectural feature of an inset shelf where an artistic display can be set, in this case a vase of flowers. But perhaps the announcer is attempting to divert our attention from one strange feature, a large mirror on the boys' bathroom that allows us to see all the way into the room. There is no such mirror on the girls' side. Inside the room, we see the ceiling mural of blue sky and white clouds, to evoke a peaceful, restful setting. A group of girls assembles and one says, "It doesn't seem like a school bathroom!"
Let's visit another school in Gunma Prefecture. This school has a different color scheme, but the design is even more modern. A high-tech washlet is available, as well as self-flushing urinals. But not all toilets in the school have been modernized. We see another bathroom that is more typical of the old style, with rusting steel sinks and grungy tile walls and floors. Students again express their disgust for the decaying old bathrooms.
But the Ministry of Science and Education's toilet initiative is not designed just for convenience, it must enhance social interaction. So the new toilets are designed with benches out front, where the students can lounge around between classes. We watch through a telephoto lens from a far distance, and we see a gaggle of girls headed to the head together. They don't enter to use the toilets, they sit out front and chat with each other. Even the teachers get into the act, chatting with small groups of boys and girls. The bathrooms have become a center of social activity within the school.
The toilets even have a unique educational component. We watch as a group of students learn how to help the disabled use the "barrier-free" bathroom. The students take turns roleplaying, learning to lift each other on and off the toilet. Perhaps some good will come from these able-bodied students learning how difficult it can be for the disabled to perform some of the most basic bodily functions, they may learn to empathize with others who are less fortunate than themselves.
Let us now travel off to another school in Mie Prefecture. This school's bathrooms have not yet been upgraded, so we will be able to observe this most typically Japanese process of planning a public project. First, an initial site survey is performed by members of an iinkai, a committee delegated to investigate the issue. A teacher watches as the students point out their problems with the facilities. They complain about privacy, badly placed mirrors allow unobstructed views into the urinal area, the doors on the stalls do not go all the way to the ceiling so people can hop up and look over the doors. But this is merely the first step in the planning process. The full membership of the iinkai meets to prioritize the changes they would like to make.
Let's leave the Gunma school's preliminary iinkai and visit another school in Shiga Prefecture, to see how their upgrade process went. Eight years have gone into this plan, and with such elaborate preparations, every detail has been examined, this school's bathrooms are the very model of a modern major upgrade. But a bathroom is mere tile and porcelain, the school principal declares that the biggest changes have come in how students think about bathrooms. And now we see the reason why, an iinkai conducted a survey of all students, to examine how they felt about the old bathrooms and what an ideal bathroom would look like. The remodeling reflects the students' wishes, so students now feel like the bathrooms were created just for them. And in any public school, the bathrooms' maintenance and cleaning is the responsibility of the students, so if the students don't care about their toilets, they will not be responsible citizens and take proper measures to insure their cleanliness. We see how the students fastidiously clean the facilities, even leaving signs taped to the wall to admonish everyone to keep the place neat and tidy. Anyone who would dare to defile these porcelain halls would be wagamama, a selfish person who does not obey the social norms that are expected of every citizen. A teenage girl says it is the responsibility of the senior students to teach their juniors the proper attitudes towards the toilets, and the school's principal proudly declares that the students will always treasure their memories of their time spent in the school's toilets.
And as we close, the announcer repeats the central lesson of the Ministry of Science and Education's toilet initiative. A change in the toilets also changes the attitudes of the students that use them. A remodeling of the facilities has given the students new opportunities for socialization, both through the iinkai process of development, and through the new social space created in accordance with everyone's desires.
During the recent public outcry over rapist Pierre Pierce's latest crimes, another important news event was overlooked: Iowa football thug Antwan Allen was arrested for assault causing injury, a Class D Felony. Iowa City Police reports say that violent thug Allen assaulted a man in a drunken bar fight, striking him from behind with a cowardly sucker-punch, breaking the man's jaw and knocking him unconscious.
The sentence for Felonious Assault Causing Injury is a prison sentence of up to 5 years, and a fine up to $7500. However, football coach Kirk Ferentz imposed his own unspecified disciplinary actions, and issued a warning to thug Allen "that if charges and a conviction followed, more measures will be taken including suspension of playing time.”
What a terrible time for poor little thug Antwan Allen. He breaks a man's jaw and sends him to the hospital, and for his trouble, the coach says he will have to run extra laps during training, and if he's convicted he'll have to sit out a few games. And even worse, his moment in the spotlight is overshadowed by rapist Pierre Pierce, making thug Allen's crimes seem amateurish in comparison. However, he will soon regain his moment in the sun, when a judge and jury deliver a more severe penalty. Thug Allen will be unable to play Iowa football for up to 5 years.
The persistent problems with violent criminal thugs on the University of Iowa's sports teams are intolerable. Iowa sports coaches have been doing everything possible to protect their thug athletes from criminal penalties. Thug athletes have assumed they can get away with any criminal activities and be shielded by their coaches, which has lead to more and more outrageous criminality. Enough is enough.
The citizens of Iowa City and the students of the University of Iowa have spoken clearly, they have demanded the University adopt a strict policy concerning criminal actions by student athletes. The University convened a panel to suggest a new athlete conduct policy. This was obviously a stalling tactic, two years have passed since the panel convened and no new policy has even been suggested, let alone implemented.

I am calling on the University to immediately implement drastic measures against criminal athletes and the sports environment that enables their criminality. I propose the following policies.

1. Any athlete's arrest, even a misdemeanor, will result in immediate permanent removal from the team. Reinstatement will only occur upon total exoneration by an innocent verdict (not just a plea bargain). Immediate suspension of athletic scholarship upon any arrest. Expulsion from the University upon any felony conviction.

2. Drastic cuts in coaches' pay. Cut coaches' pay for each player's arrest. Iowa coaches are the highest paid state employees. They have obviously failed their mission to provide leadership for their team. Each incident of criminal behavior only demonstrates their further failure. Coaches clearly value money over morals, they have no financial incentive to keep their players in line.

3. Drastic budget cuts to football and basketball programs. The major sports teams are sucking money out of the general University budget. It is time to return that money to academic programs. This week, the University announced another budget shortfall, light bulbs are being removed from classrooms to save energy costs at the same time a $5 million renovation of the football stadium is underway. Athletics are always the last programs to receive budget cuts. As a last resort, $250,000 was cut from athletics. The University has spent 5 years trying to raise a mere $2 million for new building construction for the Arts campus, but $2 million was raised for a "Hawkeye Sports Hall of Fame" in less than a month. The University should require all contributions to sports teams or facilities to be put into the general fund. Contributions earmarked for sports programs should be considered "matching funds" and at least 50% should go towards academic, non-sports programs.

4. Team budget cuts for each teammate's criminal action. This will clearly demonstrate to the law-abiding team members that they are all collectively responsible for the actions of their criminal teammates, and must work together to stop violent thugs from damaging the team's and the University's reputation.

5. End all special privileges for athletes. Just down the street from my home, the University has constructed a $4 million facility, the Gerdin Athletic Learning Center, to provide remedial tutoring for athletes who are failing their classes. But no similar facility exists for the general student population. The University has struggled for many years to find enough money in the budget to provide additional funding to academic support programs for general students, yet donors can find instantly find $4 million to prevent athletes from flunking out of school. The Gerdin Center should be returned to the general student population, make athletes use the same academic resources as any regular student. Athletes who cannot meet academic standards should be expelled like any other failing student.

The University of Iowa must recognize the problem with criminal thug athletes, and act decisively to end the problem. The University's mission is academic, not athletic. The University must return its focus to providing the best possible education to all students, rather than providing the best possible support to athletes. If the University cannot find a balance between academics and athletics, it will not be able to attract the best students and faculty, and even athletes who are serious about education will go elsewhere. The reputation of the University is at stake. As an alumni of the University of Iowa, I cannot sit back idly and see the reputation of my school be dragged through the mud.
Rapist Pierre Pierce's day of reckoning has finally arrived, he has received the Hawkeye Death Penalty, he was kicked off the University of Iowa basketball team. Once again, rapist Pierce is under investigation for heinous crimes including sexual assault, burglary, and kidnapping. Apparently he has admitted to these acts but claims he committed no crime because the victim is his girlfriend and he can do whatever he likes because he is a basketball star.
Basketball coach Steve Alford said "I regret this step has become necessary, but Pierre has betrayed the trust we placed in him when he was given a second chance two years ago." University of Iowa President David Skorton said, "Coach Steve Alford, athletic director Bob Bowlsby and I agree that it was time to take decisive action by removing Mr. Pierce from the basketball team permanently. We agree that Mr. Pierce has violated the standards of behavior that we expect and demand from all of our student athletes." But rapist Pierce has not been expelled from the university; the status of his basketball scholarship is unclear, but I suspect it cannot be revoked. The University has no policy on criminal activities by student athletes.
It appears that the University of Iowa is finally learning that rapist Pierce and all the other criminal thug athletes bring dishonor upon the sports program and the University. But it took repeat offenses of egregious crimes before the University would act, apparently a single incident of rape was insufficient reason to take action. Perhaps Coach Alford should think twice before giving a second chance to the next criminal thug.
It is usually the policy of the University to close ranks around their star athletes, to attack the victims and discredit them, and to handle punishment internally (like requiring the athlete thugs to run extra laps). So the full extent of rapist Pierce's crimes must be far worse than has been disclosed. I am eagerly anticipating rapist Pierce's upcoming career on the Anamosa State basketball team.