October 15 – Long-lost manuscripts and paintings
The Yomiuri Press reported that a cache of handwritten manuscripts and correspondence from such literary Japanese giants as Mori Ogai (1862-1922) and Natsumi Soseki (1867-1916) was discovered at the offices of publishing house Shinchosha in Tokyo. The collection was found pasted on the pages of a scrapbook, probably by Shinchosha's founder, Giryo Satoh(1878-1951). Documents like these can provide researchers insights into the literary milieu of the time.
Rediscovering long-lost – or unknown – masterpieces by famous artists has happened many times, in different parts of the world. Between 2013 and 2017 a number of paintings were discovered in "people's attics and garages," because they were believed to be fake, or not recognized as works of notable artists.
Another work of art, originally believed to be fake and relegated to the attic of the French ambassador to Sweden, turned out to be a painting by Vincent van Gogh. In an 1888 letter to his brother Theo, Vincent had described the painting in detail, leading van Gogh historians to conclude that Sunset at Montmajour had indeed been painted by Vincent. It has been on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam since 2013.
This shocking painting by Caravaggio entitled Judith Beheading Holofernes dating from around 1602 was found in 2014 "leaning against a wall in a dark, cluttered, leaky attic" by a Toulouse auctioneer. It had been "lost" for about 400 years. It was predicted to sell at auction for at least $110 million, but it was instead again sold privately to an American billionaire for an undisclosed price.
And there are many more (re-)discoveries of paintings, writings, and other artistic works. The "past" is not quite past yet.
October 16 – The Minamata disease continues...
Back in 1963, when I was managing the Tokyo branch of the Dutch Nationale Handelsbank, a terrible disease had hit thousands of people, caused by eating fish contaminated by discharged mercury in the Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu, by Chisso Corporation, a manufacturer of chemicals.
The company, whose headquarters were located in the same building as my ground-floor office, steadfastly denied the causal link between the discharged mercury and the "Minamata disease." When I arrived at my office in the morning, hundreds of victims and their relatives would already be sitting on the pavement in neat rows, leaving a polite gap in front of my bank's street-level entrance, carrying placards demanding recognition of their plight and compensation for their loss of health and livelihood. But Chisso didn't admit their responsibility, which was a cause of great embarrassment among the members of the Toseikai, a kind of bosses' club of the 12-odd tenant companies in the same building, including Shell Oil. We met twice a year for drinking and eating with geisha's present, but the Minamata issue was carefully avoided.
It wasn't until years later – after over two thousand victims of the "Minamata Disease" had died and thousands more permanently affected by physical deformities, loss of vision, and other forms of incapacity – that the victims brought their case to court. Chisso finally accepted responsibility, and compensated the sufferers financially. Insanity, deformity and paralysis were among the most serious symptoms.
Why do I bring this up now? Because the Japan News newspaper devoted a whole page today (partly shown at left) to an article entitled "Minamata mission continues", illustrated with many photos of Minamata disease sufferers, some of whom are still alive. The photos were taken during the past half century by the famous American photographer Eugene Smith and a Japanese photographer, Takeshi Ishikawa (shown sorting photos), both of whom lived in Minamata for some years in the early 1970s.
To remind the general public of that terrible disease, Ishikawa is now holding an exhibition until October 25 in Tokyo of the photos he and Smith took of Minamata victims over the years.
An American movie called "MINAMATA" starring Johnny Depp as Eugene Smith was released in August this year in the U.K., and is now being shown in Japan. It is based on Eugene Smith's documentary photographs of the effects of mercury poisoning on the citizens of Minamata.
And from Nov. 5 to 25, there will be an exhibition at Fujifilm Square, Tokyo, entitled: "W. Eugene Smith: Through the Eyes of a Photojournalist – Truths Revealed in Photographs," which will also include some Minamata images. The venue is the same where IJsbrand Rogge and I – at the invitation of Fuji Film Corporation – held a month-long photo exhibition in 2008, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Japan and the Netherlands.
In Fukuoka, your Habri team's city of residence, a local bookstore has opened a special exhibition of the many books that have been published over the years on the subject of Minamata.
October 21 – Famous Conductor Bernard Haitink died today
The legendary conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, passed away today, aged 92. He started his career in 1954 and conducted his last concert in 2019, ending a 65-year long career as conductor, mostly with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, but often also as conductor of other famous orchestras.
He visited Japan several times with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. One special concert – which I helped organize – took place in May, 1974. It was a benefit concert at the Tokyo Festival Hall in aid of the World Wildlife Fund. My wife and I were introduced to the then-Crown Prince Akihito (now Emperor Emeritus) and Crown Princess Michiko (now Empress Emerita) because of our involvement in this special occasion.
The Amsterdam-Rotterdam Bank made available a gift to supporters of the WWF, a recording of one of the concerts conducted by Haitink – see picture. Today, I listened to this LP again, in memory of that great conductor and that unforgettable event.
August 8 – The Tokyo Olympics
Today marked the end of the 2020+ Tokyo Olympic Games, which opened on Friday, July 23.
Was it a success? That depends on one's point of view.
At around 35 degrees Celsius, the heat was sweltering and the humidity level was between 60 and 80 degrees. With the coronavirus spreading fast, the hospitals in Tokyo had already been overwhelmed, though the Olympic organisers had made room for possible Covid-9 sufferers among the athletes and their staff. On top of that, no spectators were allowed!
No wonder that in the months and weeks leading up to the opening, public demand – including on social media – to cancel the Games had been sharply rising. But the government and the IOC President Thomas Bach insisted on letting the games go ahead, given the enormous investment (between 2 and 4 trillion Yen) made in the preparation for the Olympics – including a new stadium to be used for the opening and closing ceremonies. More importantly, the expectation of the over 11,000 athletes for the Olympics and 4,000 for the Paralympics, to join the competition after a long period of training and preparation, could not be denied.
In retrospect, considering the extreme circumstances, the games can be considered relatively successful, without disaster.
The state of emergency that prevailed throughout the Olympics will continue at least until the end of August. Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at Nomura Research Institute, projects that the loss for the hospitality and related sectors could total Yen 2.19 trillion (about US$ 20 billion).
Yet some say that the strong performance of Japanese athletes has been an undeniably positive factor, which may help post-Olympic spending in department stores and supermarkets.
These are the final medal standings of the top 10:
The Netherlands did remarkably well, too, slightly better than France, Germany and Italy, despite its small size.
Here are some photos taken from the TV coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies:
August 9 – Nagasaki Memorial Day
Today, the day after the closing of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the annual Peace Ceremony was held in Nagasaki, the date the city was destroyed by the atomic bomb 76 years ago, on August 9, 1945.
July 1 – Regge Life's short film, based on 2018 Interview
Back in 2018, Regge Life, an American film maker, interviewed me in Fukuoka for a documentary on Japan he was making. It would focus on early post-war Japan, including the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but the exact layout had not been decided.
The interview went very well, and Regge kept me informed for a while, but it wasn't clear when the film would be completed.
Then today, unexpectedly, I received the link to his short film, partly based on the interview. Its title is MEMORIES OF THE 1964 TOKYO OLYMPICS AND BEST WISHES FOR THE 2020 TOKYO OLYMPICS. It contains many photographs taken by my friend IJsbrand (aka Michael) Rogge and me.
It is now available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/e0LMtQenctA
July 14 – Exhibition at the Netherlands Embassy
To mark the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, the Netherlands Embassy in Tokyo organised a small exhibition with memorabilia from the 1964 Olympics, including my photo of the Dutch team entering the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony. This is how it was displayed:
July 19 – A Genius, aged 11, wants to make the world immortal
Now here is a mind-boggling story that appeared today in the English Newspaper The Times: Laurent Simons, a Flemish boy, aged 11, with a Dutch mother, graduated this month from the University of Antwerp with a degree in quantum physics, two years after enrolling at age 9, having completed his secondary school curriculum in 18 months!
What is his scientific aim? "Immortality, that is my goal," he explained. "Not for myself, but for other people by replacing as many body parts as possible with mechanical parts. I have mapped out a path to get there." His parents are understandably struggling to keep up with his plans, but Laurent's creativity is a hit with academics.
Laurent, with an IQ of 145, has been compared with geniuses like Einstein, but his mother says that he doesn't like that kind of comparisons. "He feels that he is unique in himself, just as everyone else is unique in themselves."
When Laurent was very young, his parents worried about his mental health, as he avoided playing with other kids his age, and showed no interest in toys. In 2019, age 9, he had dropped out of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, and soon thereafter was accepted by the University of Antwerp.
His father, Alexander, 38, said that after pandemic restrictions eased Laurent would move to the UK to devote his further studies to classical mechanics and quantum physics. He could stay with his uncle in London, until his parents joined him. His father said: "Many of Laurent's university teachers have been British, and he likes their way of thinking. But we'll have to see what is legally possible, because Laurent is a minor."
Laurent's bachelor thesis was a study of "vortice properties in Lee Huang Yang condensates."
Uhh – I think I'll leave it at this. Some kids are rather hard to understand.
June 3 – Uncertainties about the 2020+ Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics
With the novel coronavirus still not under control, several variants appearing, and foreign spectators already banned from attending the games, there is a growing demand from the Japanese public to cancel the Games. About 10,000 volunteers have already withdrawn, and many doctors are also skeptical.
The vaccination rollout started in mid-February for medical workers, from mid-April for citizens aged 65 or older. So far, only 3.6 % of the population is fully vaccinated, with 190 deaths. Vaccinations for Japanese Olympic athletes has started on the first of June. Even if the country succeeds in meeting its optimistic goal of fully vaccinating all 36 million elderly people by the end of July – already a week into the Games which will open on July 23 – about 70 percent of the population would still not be fully inoculated.
But both the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee are determined to let the games go ahead, as cancelling them would come at enormous cost and loss of face. The construction of the new Japan National Stadium, which opened in December 2019 to serve as the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as for track and field athletics events, alone cost some Yen 157 billion (US$ 1.4 billion), and the government and the Japan Olympic Committee don't want this investment be in vain.
Earlier, on May 21, Thomas Bach, the IOC President, said that at least 75% of participating athletes who will stay in the Athletes' Village will be fully vaccinated before the Games start. Most athletes, too, appear to favor non-cancellation, given the amount of training they have already completed in preparation. But at least half of Japanese people – including medical personnel – do not want to have the Games.
May 17 – "Japan is becoming the ally the UK needs after Brexit"
That is the opinion of Iain Martin, writing in The Times today. He refers to the UK's formal application, on 1 February, to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade pact between 11 countries: Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Mexico, Chile and Peru.
According to Chatham House – the London-based policy institute – that was "a smart decision by the UK as it will set or renew its trade terms with 11 trading partners in just one negotiation." And, of course, it will be the first and only "European" nation to join this pact.
In Martin's view, "Japan is the frontline power in the Pacific. Located next to China, it is working with Australia, the US and Britain on improving the defence of sea routes and tracking Chinese disruption."
The CPTPP is a big agreement which came into force in 2018. With a total current population of 500 million people located in the growing and increasingly rich Asia-Pacific region, its members account for 13 per cent of global GDP, and 15 per cent of global trade.
Martin expects that liberal-democratic Japan will turn out to be Britain's key ally in the area. Not only did it sign a trade deal last year with Britain, Japan also is this year's chair of the CPTPP Joint Commission. Japan has welcomed the UK's application and intends to engage actively in the process.
May 20 – Fascinating new project: Turning trees into batteries
In June, 2015, a method for making elastic high-capacity batteries from wood pulp was unveiled by researchers in Sweden and the US. Using nanocellulose broken down from tree fibers, a team from the Swedish KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stanford University in the U.S. produced an elastic, foam-like battery material that can withstand shock and stress.
Now Nippon Paper Industries, a Japanese paper manufacturing company, has announced that it is going to use trees to develop a successor to lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, in cooperation with Tohoku University. Their aim is "to create supercapacitors that could store and release energy with vastly improved performance, and less environmental impact, than existing batteries." This is a highly technical procedure, difficult to understand for general readers, but in the age of global warming potentially an important contributor in lowering the dangerous levels of CO2 emissions.
May 31 – The Takanawa Embankment: Important Archeological Discovery
Japan's first railway service started in 1872, connecting Tokyo's Shimbashi district with Yokohama, a distance of 24 kilometres. As part of the route was over Tokyo Bay, a 2.7 km long embankment was built in what is today Tokyo's Shinagawa district. This woodblock print dated 1871 illustrates that part of the route.
From around 1910, as Tokyo needed more land, the area became part of a large-scale reclamation. The embankment and surroundings were covered with soil and believed to be destroyed.
Recently, the East Japan Railway Company – known as JR East – discovered 1.3 km of the embankment (photo at left) during preliminary excavations for a construction project comprising several high-rise office-apartment-shopping complex buildings, which is currently underway in the Takanawa area of Minato Ward, Tokyo. They announced their discovery of the embankment, which soon attracted the interest of historians, archaeologists, architects and train spotters.
A movement started to have the embankment preserved as an important historic area, as it was the beginning of Japan's world-famous railway culture. It was literally the first major project in the modernisation of Japan, known as the "Bun'mei-kaika (opening of civilisation)". As the first railway in East Asia constructed not by colonial powers but by a nation-state, it was also of immense significance from a world-historical perspective.
JR East is reluctant to abandon their building project, but indicated that they are willing to preserve – and relocate – a small part of the embankment. In response, the Japanese Archaeological Association ("JAA") submitted a letter of request to JR East and other organisations and public bodies including the government of Japan and other relevant municipal governments to preserve the entire stretch of the excavated embankment, as the partial preservation and relocation would fundamentally undermine its significance and historical value. So far, JR East does not appear to have changed their policy.
But now the movement is garnering increasing international support, and ICOMOS Japan – a branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), linked to UNESCO – wants the full 1300-meter excavated embankment to be preserved as a World Heritage Site. The pressure on JR East is mounting as the JAA and ICOMOS Japan want to preserve this "irreplaceable historic treasure for future generations."
April 4 – Travel ban between Japan and the EU extended
Due to the spread of new, more contagious strains of the novel coronavirus in many countries, Japan is closing its borders until further notice to all foreign tourists. Resident foreign nationals and Japanese nationals are allowed to (re-)enter, but must test for the virus at least 72 hours before their departure to Japan and submit documentation proving that they tested negative for the virus. Additionally, they are asked to self-isolate at home or at a designated place for two weeks upon arrival, and they are banned from using public transportation during their quarantine period.
Travelers from Japan to the EU including the Netherlands have been banned from entry since the end of February. This is due to the strong uptick in Corona-19 cases in Japan, mostly because of new variants.
The number of vaccinated individuals in Japan is still extremely low. Only 0.87% of the population has received at least a single dose as of April 3. In the U.S. that percentage is 48.35% and in the Netherlands 13.88%. In Japan, even those over 65 have not received a jab yet. The plan is to have them vaccinated starting mid-April, a procedure that will take an estimated 3 months.
April 5 – The coming Tokyo Olympics' torch relay
On March 25, the Tokyo Olympic organizers unveiled the map route for the torch relay that began on that day.
The 121-day relay started in the tsunami-affected prefecture of Fukushima, after the Olympic flame arrived from its ceremonial lighting in Olympia, Greece.
The relay concludes at the Opening Ceremony on July 23, after visiting all 47 prefectures of Japan.
Since then, Osaka has moved its participation in the relay to a park without spectators, as it wants to avoid the Covid-19 health risks associated with the large crowds that normally line the routes of the torch bearers.
Because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, there has been growing opposition in Japan to the holding of this year's "2020 Olympics and Paralympics", which have already been postponed by one year for the same reason. The latest plan is to let the event go ahead, but with a limited number of only domestic spectators. Spectators from abroad will be banned, and they will receive a refund for tickets already purchased.
All this is a far cry from the first Japan-based Olympics in 1964, which went ahead untrammeled and was a huge success. I, your Habri author Hans Brinckmann, attended its festive opening at the National Stadium in Tokyo, which I described in my book The Call of Japan as "the symbolic end of Japan's post-war reconstruction period and its return to the ranks of leading, mature, respected nations."
March 21 – China's provocative actions near Okinawa increasing
There have been an increasing number of incursions by Chinese Coast Guard vessels around a group of uninhabited islands, the Senkakus, in the East China Sea, claimed by China and Taiwan and Japan but administered by Japan as part of its Okinawa Prefecture. According to a website of The People's Republic of China, China has had jurisdiction over the archipelago from the early 15th century, while Japan has had actual ownership of the islands since 1895.
As they are located in an important sea lane used heavily by all three countries as well as by the ships of other trading nations, China's takeover of the Senkakus would also mean their virtual control of that shipping route.
To prevent that from happening, Japan and the U.S. are contemplating joint military exercises in the waters off the Senkakus. This would certainly worsen an already tense relationship between China and the U.S. as well as between China and Japan, the deterioration of which China recently blamed on Japan's position as a "vassal" of the United States. Though relations between the two countries have always been troubled, this insult has caused Japan to lodge a protest with China through diplomatic channels.
Another front on which the U.S. and Japan see eye-to-eye is their objection to China's suppression of Hong Kong's democratic freedoms and its claim of Taiwan as a "historic" part of its territory.
We can only hope that tension will not explode into war, and relative calm will return.
March 31 - Asian Americans in the US under attack
Multiple hate crimes against Asian Americans were reported in the U.S. over the past year, mainly against women. Among the worst was the killing on March 16 of eight people in massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, six of them women of Asian descent. The shooter was a white male.
Anti-Asian hate incidents such as shunning, slurs and physical attacks are not unusual in the U.S. The "STOP AAPI Hate" non-profit registers thousands of cases against Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (AAPI) every year. But there has been an upsurge since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The recent uptick in crimes is linked to the political rhetoric by Donald Trump, who has used terms such as "China virus" and "kung flu." As the average American finds it hard to distinguish Chinese Americans from those whose origin is from other East Asian countries such as Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines, most Asian-Americans have suffered from this totally unwarranted blame game.
Japanese-Americans have also suffered from this wave of racial bias, though to a much lesser extent than Chinese-Americans. According to a March 28 report by the Japanese national news agency NHK about 40 percent of the victims over the past year were Chinese-Americans. Remarkably, "only" over six percent were Japanese-Americans or Japanese residents of the United States. Perhaps it is at least in part because the Chinese-American population is more than three times that of Japanese-Americans.
Racial discrimination is part of life in most countries. Japan, too, has its own kind of xenophobia, though it has decreased over the years and, to the extent it still exists, is more toward other resident Korean and Chinese minorities and black people than against white citizens from the U.S. or Europe.
During my long residence in Japan – over 40 years since 1950, divided over two periods – I have seldom experienced discrimination. On the contrary, with very few exceptions, I've always felt very welcome, wherever I go.
February 6 - The Corona Pandemic Rages On
No relief in sight. In Japan - among the least affected countries until recently - a state of emergency was declared in early January by the central government for Tokyo and three adjoining prefectures. On January 13, seven more prefectures were added, including Fukuoka, where your Habri team lives.
The restrictions include asking eating establishments to close by 8 p.m., and stop serving alcoholic drinks by 7 p.m. Businesses are requested to use remote working to help cut the number of commuters on public transport by 70%, and people in general are urged to refrain from nonessential outings at all times, especially after 8 p.m. As the government does not have the legal power to enforce these restrictions, no official curfew was declared as in the Netherlands, which caused serious riots, mostly by young people fed up with any regulations aimed at curbing their freedom of movement.
Although corona infection rates and deaths in Japan are very low compared to most other countries, recently there has been a worrisome acceleration in the number of deaths, which has resulted in the EU re-imposing on January 29 the entry ban on travelers from Japan, by removing Japan from the list of seven countries that had been exempt from its general world-wide entry ban. Even so, the Covid-19 death toll in Japan as a percentage of the population is still a fraction of those of other countries:
USA 0.001395UK 0.000871Netherlands 0.000837Japan 0.000025
The following link takes you to a Covid 19 world map, updated daily: https://news.google.com/covid19/map?hl=en-US&gl=US&ceid=US:en
Another somber note: The health ministry disclosed last week that 20,919 people took their own lives in 2020, a 3.7% increase over 2019. The increase is the first annual rise in over a decade of steady decline. Experts believe this latest increase is the result of the coronavirus triggering a kind of 'suicide pandemic' especially among women and children, who find it hard to cope with economic hardship and loneliness.
January 2 - World's oldest person marks 118th birthday - in Fukuoka!
FUKUOKA - Kane Tanaka, the world's oldest person who was born in the same year as the Wright brothers' first powered flight, celebrated her 118th birthday in southwestern Japan on Saturday.
January 14 - Famed writer Kazutoshi Hando dies
Today the Japan News daily dedicated an article to Kazutoshi Hando, a well-known non-fiction writer specializing on Japan's Showa era (1926-1989), who died on January 12. In 2006, he received an award for his two-volume book about Showa, which became a best seller. And in 2015, he was awarded the prestigious Kikuchi Kan Prize for his efforts to "seek the truth on the war" and "enlighten readers with a number of excellent books about history."
Why do we focus on Hando's work and his passing at the age of 90? Because in 2009, when Random House Kodansha published Hiromi's Japanese translation of Hans' book, Showa Japan - The Post-War Golden Age and its Troubled Legacy, Hando provided an endorsement on its jacket with these words - translated from its Japanese original:
"A unique view of Showa which has escaped the attention of most Japanese. Brinckmann - who shares the post-war experiences through the eyes of a European - sounds a warning about looking back on the Showa era with nostalgia."
We remember him gratefully for his support.
January 21 - The digital age has arrived - never mind the dangers and inconvenience
On December 21 it was reported by Nikkei News that the Japanese government will "remove the limit on the amount of time that children can spend looking at screens in class from April as it aims to introduce digital textbooks to all compulsory education schools by fiscal 2025." And this despite the fact that under current rules the time that digital textbooks can be used is limited to maximum half of classroom times, due to "worries that children's eyes and health would be adversely affected by spending too much time looking at screens." An earlier editorial in The Japan News of October 27 emphasized the "importance of reading books in print needs to be recognized anew," adding that "digital devices are not suitable for reading carefully and thinking deeply."
Besides that, as can be observed every day everywhere, mobile phone addiction and nomophobia is already widespread, even among children. Some people even watching their mobile screen while driving a car or riding a bicycle...
The reason for the proposed lifting of the limits is that the government, led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, is planning to have all textbooks digitized at enormous cost, - surely a roadmap for completing the digital transformation.
International Courier Service
Today we visited our local post office to send a small package to the Netherlands by air. We had filled out the required form, and expected to be out of there within minutes. Not so fast. It took almost an hour. Reason: from 1st January, handwritten forms are no longer accepted, due to new international rules requiring EAD (Electronic Advance Data). It is therefore now obligatory to input the address and other details onto your mobile phone - assuming you have one - which is then connected to some small machine to produce a printed form showing all the details in tiny letters. Even the postal clerk - though very kind - had difficulty helping us, as this system was new to her, too.
According to data from the relevant ministry, about 10 million elderly people need assistance using digital devices. From April, the government will hold seminars to provide that help, to eliminate "the digital divide."
I'm longing for those bygone times, before the dehumanization - I mean, digitization - of our daily life.