Things Done Right: Living in Japan


Although living in Okinawa is not without its faults, it is nevertheless an incredibly efficient and easy-to-live-in prefecture of Japan, and Jody and I have discovered numerous things that the Japanese get not just right, but almost perfect. Here’s a “Top-10” listing of some of our favorites.

Clock-watching at work sucks; for public transportation, it's FANTASTICALLY good!

Clock-watching at work sucks; for public transportation, it’s FANTASTICALLY good!

1. Punctuality: Things in Japan run smoothly. Very smoothly. Yes it is true that the Japanese can be rather stoically set in their ways, and their rules almost certainly are made not to be broken, but without this high regard for law, order and adherence to cultural norms, living in Japan would be wholly different…involving a lot more wasted time. It is so very refreshing that the Japanese take punctuality totally seriously, where it is considered common courtesy to be early, regardless of what they may be early for. This is in large part why services in Japan work and work so well (and as they should), and schedules can be relied on without doubt.

Sometimes clock-watching is a GREAT thing

Sometimes clock-watching is a GREAT thing

For instance, getting maintenance completed on our condominium. A quick phone call to our property manager to set up an appointment, often the same-day, followed by the nearly on-time arrival of the maintenance man, usually a few minutes early, but sometimes ringing the doorbell to the minute. At home in the States we Americans need at least a half-day set aside to get cable or satellite TV. Here, we had a set appointment time, and yes, the technician was on-time. On-time deliveries, movers who show up ten minutes early, and public transport that’s seldom more than a couple of minutes off scheduled times all conspire to make living in Japan the “time” of your life!

Conductors still use pocket watches....

Conductors still use pocket watches….

Delays are inevitable though, even for Japan’s super-punctual rail system. However, in those rare cases, the rail companies and their operators sounding sincere and serious apologies throughout the trains while handing out “proof of lateness” slips to pass along to those suspecting bosses (or wives), proving that it was in fact the train company’s fault and not yours that you were late for work…. They can’t do anything for lipstick on your collar, though.

If you have been promised a service call on a certain day at a certain time, there is a very high probability that’s exactly when it will occur. Such dedication to timekeeping is admirable; I cannot express enough how refreshing it is to have everyone’s time so well-respected by most everyone else.

This vending machine even walks TO you....

This vending machine even walks TO you….

japanese_vending_machines2. Vending Machines: Yes, there are the crazy web postings about all the crazy things that the Japanese sell through vending machines, but much to our combined chagrin, woman’s panty vending machines are not found here on every other street corner. However, if you need a thirst immediately quenched, you won’t have to travel more than about 100 yards…in any direction…for either a hot or cold beverage of your choice. From canned coffee (which the Japanese are gaga over), to almost anything that can be stuffed into a pop-top tin can, it can be found in vending machines throughout Okinawa. Prices are reasonably cheap at between 110-150 yennies (roughly $1.10-1.50), and some machines are even completely LCD screens, opting for CGI rather than showing those boring empty bottles and cans. Then there’s the slot machine-like feather lending further incentive for purchase by providing “let’s chance” for winning a free drink.

The ubiquitous market for families on Okinawa

The ubiquitous market for families on Okinawa

use-convenience-stores3. Convenience Stores: Back home in the states, convenience stores are primarily used for lotto tickets, smokes, booze and gas (more and more in that order), and generally are seen as a last resort for groceries, and then only around midnight when you realized you just used the last of the toilet paper in the house. Someway, somehow, we rationalize that the exorbitant prices charged by such establishments are worth the “convenience,” and equally accept the almost universally poor service from minimum-wage employees who certainly don’t want to be there any more than you do.

LAWSON

 

circle-kThe Japanese micro-corner of the world in this respect is clearly upside-down and rotating backwards! Convenience stores in Japan are actually convenient. The convenience chains – Lawson, FamilyMart, CoCo, and even 7-Eleven and Circle K (when is the last time you saw one of those?) in mainland Japan are all kinds of wonderful and they’re absolutely everywhere. You know, a city block is really too far to walk, so let’s put TWO, one at either end. Make you cross a street for that yakitori craving? Certainly not: let’s put another on the other side! Prices are reasonable, ready-made meals using real food such as sushi, rice, and vegetables replacing our all-beige fried foods and pizza, are prepared fresh daily (rather than a day-off of a week ago), but it’s the services offered that really set these fine upstanding establishments apart. Some examples are:

Courier Services: need to send a package across town and don’t want to hassle with the post? Take your package to your local convenience store, have them measure it, slap a delivery label on it, and they will ensure a courier service picks it up for often same-day delivery!

Bill Pay: Need to pay your gas, electricity, internet or mobile phone bill? Do it here and it’s processed in seconds. The plus side? Your lights are back on in moments. The drawback? Cash only, my friends. See the handy ATM in the store…which do much more than just delivery cash. Okay, so the Japanese aren’t as savvy with online bill-pay…YET. I have little doubt in the end they will do even that better than we ever could.

suicaBooking & Paying for Tickets: Many convenience stores have rather large ATM-style machines which can be used to look up and reserve things like flights, concert and theme park tickets, and other fun things to do. Some machines let you shop online, as long as the vendor takes “convenience store payment;” after securing your wants and needs online right there in the store, take the printed receipt to the cashier and hand your cash over to the clerk. Yes, these transactions often are cash-based, but with that there are worries about bad credit or debt here.

Printing: The convenience stores have online printing service websites where documents can be uploaded and saved, after which a pass code is provided. Putting a few yennies in the store’s printer along with your unique pass code, and your documents are printed in seconds.

Ramen and Gyoza, just about the perfect lunch

Ramen and Gyoza, just about the perfect lunch

4. Food: Yes, there are some odd dishes here; those WTF moments as you find a way (and place) to spit out whatever is assaulting your taste buds…like horse sashimi or weakly fried dough with some raw octopus inside. But seriously, the vast majority of Japanese food is simply superb – and this coming from a guy who doesn’t even eat the sushi! Here are a few favorites to sample:

12833840553_2478d5f55d_bGyoza: Japanese gyoza are most often fried, something the Chinese may find insultingly unrefined (theirs are steamed), but there is not one single reason not to adore them. Available in wide variety, these hot doughy dumplings, soft on two sides and crispy brown on the third, are perfect anytime of the day or night. And they are sold day and night. All day and night! It is one of the staple dishes here, often making up a large portion of lunch or dinner.

Donburi: Bowls of fluffy white rice topped with strips of marinated meat(s), kimchi, or raw tuna. Some would call this dish Japan’s version of American soul food, these bowls of goodness are hearty and filling. The dish is so popular that there are fast food-style chains that specialize in it, such as Yoshinoya or Sukiya, at a decent price for a decent rendition.

12834199094_a848c495cc_bRamen: noodles in soup with toppings, deceptively simple but no less than decadently delicious. This is NOT your starving college student’s soup. The soup is available is probably hundreds of varieties across Japan, but is usually pork, soy, salt, or miso based, and topped with “pork bone,” among other things. Served with 6 or 12 gyoza and a meal is made.

10048619414_bdde9ccda2_bSashimi & Sushi: Sashimi, strips of raw fish, usually served with wasabi and soy sauce, is only a distant cousin of sushi, perhaps Japan’s most famous dish. Sushi is special rice either topped with or wrapped around ingredients like fish and vegetables. Even cheap conveyor-belt sushi here is good (and at a buck-o-five, it’s the bargain of Japan’s culinary world), but sushi made by chefs who have trained for decades and use only the finest ingredients is nothing short of divine (or so my wife tells me). I’m not sure we found such a place…yet.

shabu_1Shabushabu: Enjoyed socially and family style, shabushabu consists of vegetables and wafer-thin strips of raw meat cooked by the diner in mere seconds in a communal boiling stock, fondue style. Using various toppings and seasonings (like sesame sauce!), this type of soup tastes absolutely wonderful and seems to warm your very soul.

Leave the stinky soil at the doorstep

Leave the stinky soil at the doorstep

asi35. No Shoes Indoors: Yes, it takes some getting used to, and yes, for some westerners it results in a complete change in their footwear selection (laces are BAD). However, if you stop and think about it, the idea of walking around your home wearing the footwear soiled with the outside world is kind of gross. Or, think of it this way: every time you sit with your shoe-clad feet up on your sofa, chair or bed, what makes you so sure you didn’t step in something’s guts or defecate while outside?? Or, look at it this way: wearing you shoes all around your house is basically the same as taking all your rugs, carpets and furniture outside and expecting them to stay clean while using them….

In the majority of Japanese homes – and also in schools, restaurants and some businesses – people remove their outdoor shoes before entering the building proper. While not unique to Japan, there is a clear desire here to draw a clear line between the clean uchi (“inside”) and unclean soto (“outside”).

13374414963_d1fe228ca2_bBut this notion carries on even within dwellings: that the home should never be unnecessarily dirtied is also reflected in the layout of a typical Japanese bathroom. Here baths are for relaxation and meditation, not for cleansing (why sit in a tub of your own grime). Everyone showers – the cleansing method of choice – before entering the bathtub. The toilet, the dirtiest place in the home, is usually found in a separate room from the bath, shower and sink.

Fast food.  It's certainly fast; still unsure about the "food" part....

Fast food. It’s certainly fast; still unsure about the “food” part….

6. Customer Service: working concurrently with the Japanese sense of punctuality, there’s something inherently awesome about having the staff at McDonald’s treat you like royalty…or is that Burger King? Speaking of Burger King, their drive-thru here on Kadena Air Force Base is probably the most efficient service I have ever witnessed, worthy of further study and publication with an aim to educate the American fast-food industry. Seriously, it moves that fast, even during the lunchtime crunch, which is HUGE here with limited eating options, and even more limited drive-thru’s. If there’s one thing you can say about the Japanese, it’s that they really know how to look after their customers.

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Space-saving genius:  pumps on the ceiling!

Space-saving genius: pumps on the ceiling!

Speaking of customers, whether they are from Japan or not, all receive polite greetings and smiles. Japanese employees are quick to find something to apologize for even when it’s clear that the customer is, in fact, in the wrong. Have a problem at the bank or post office? The staffs there will do their best to find a solution for you rather than simply apologizing and trying to move on to the next customer…an all-too-common occurrence in the States. Gas stations are still full-service; you never leave your car. The attendant cleans your windshield, side-view mirrors and even headlight housings; they run their cloths over your wipers, and finally inquiry about any garbage you’d like thrown away. And most amazingly, this same attendant will stand next to your car and bow as you drive away!

It's pretty much like the Space Shuttle's "Manned Maneuvering Unit," for your bowels.

It’s pretty much like the Space Shuttle’s “Manned Maneuvering Unit,” for your bowels.

peepo-choo-japanese-toilet7. Toilets: While bureaucracy was invented in the West but perfected in the East, the exact same thing can be said about toilets. Japan’s “space-age toilets” are truly things of tremendous technological achievement. Heated seats, with not one but two spray functions whose pressure, warmth and direction can be controlled, ambient noise to help hide any embarrassing bottom burps, lids that open automatically as you enter the room in a reverse bow, and multiple flush options to help save water (after wasting all that electricity) make using the facilities in Japan an adventure in itself (see my blog dedicated to this very fact here). There is plenty of debate still offered as to the health benefits of the old-school Asian squat-toilets, which unfortunately still exist here in droves, sometimes to a Westerner’s consternation. But it’s just impossible to resist tinkering with the plethora of buttons and dials, even if the health and well-being of the family jewels might “hang” in the balance!

Doorman not required.

Doorman not required.

item8_size_japan-cab-driver-rotator8. Taxis: They are not cheap (nor too expensive), but they are cool for one and one reason alone – automatically opening doors! After hailing a cab that has come to a stop at your curbside, the taxi’s passenger door will automatically open. Like unlock and completely open, swinging wide to allow for easy and quick entry. Once you’re safely inside, the driver uses a lever to close the door after you. Yes, it’s a small gesture, but it makes a world of difference and makes one feel like a minor celebrity.

ea0ad0_1d565cc2c112c34dd3e7d82b45b363c6_jpg_srz_3872_2592_85_22_0_50_1_20_0There is no creep factor in the Taxi industry here, nor or foreigners utilized in revolving-door human resource staffing. Rather, being a taxi driver is a recognized and appreciated profession in Japan, reflected in that most drivers wear suits, complete with tie and white gloves…and sometimes even a vest and hat. Oh, and as a side note, all Taxis in Japan are natural-gas driven, and while this does sacrifice some trunk luggage space, the no-emission nature of the fleet is very much appreciated in the car-choked streets of Japan’s greater urban areas.

Waste-not, want not, except for more recycling bins.

Waste-not, want not, except for more recycling bins.

recyclingjapan9. Recycling & Waste Management: Japan’s system for garbage collection and disposal is one to be admired, and quite possibly, emulated. Their garbage trucks are covered with stickers of cute creatures, and play music reminiscent of the ice cream trucks of yesteryear Americana. Most cities require residents to sort their household waste into distinct categories: burnable, plastics, PET bottles, glass, aluminum, and paper/cardboard. We, on the other hand, living in an American-centric high-rise here in Okinawa, only sort between burnable and unburnable. But even then, our trash is still sorted at pickup, which also allows for some very enterprising (and early rising) Okinawans the chance to collect on valuable metals and such in our building’s collective waste bins since only the thinnest see-through plastic bags are allowed to be used for refuse.

While sorting may seem like “work,” it really doesn’t make sense to try to cheat this system by being lazy. The refuse collectors will often leave wrongly bagged items behind, probably to shame you in front of your neighbors, forcing you to either commit hari-kari, or, more likely, into doing the right thing next time. Further, most towns each sell their own refuse bags in local supermarkets, DIY and convenience stores, and encourage proper recycling by making bags for cans and plastics much cheaper than the more general “burnable” bags. Besides being an adhered-to cultural norm, in Japan, it seriously pays to be green.

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Look closely for the booze in this photo!

Look closely for the booze in this photo!

10. Drink & Drinking: For Americans, public imbibing of alcohol is most likely illegal, and even if it isn’t, it is certainly frowned upon. But in Japan it’s considered perfectly OK to crack open a beer in the park, on the street, or in a bullet train. Perhaps it’s simply that so few Japanese make a nuisance of themselves and get violent (or naked, or BOTH) after drinking…. Whatever the reason, thanks to this relaxed approach to public drinking, parks all over Japan are filled with respectable revelers, primarily made up of families rather than just rowdy spring break students. Here in Okinawa, our front yard Sunabe Seawall is the place of choice to enjoy a cold one (or three) along with the most beautiful sunsets over the East China Sea. No brown-bagging your booze here; in Japan it’s “beer and cheers” as and when you see fit, and both Jody and I think that’s progressively refreshing over the prototypical over-indulgent and uncontrollable American drunk…which has to be constrained and often restrained by Johnny-Law.

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Far East Flicks: Cinema in Japan


“Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater.” ~ Roman Polanski

“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.” ~ Jean-Luc Godard

“The secret to film is that it’s an illusion.” ~ George Lucas

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, goin' to the movies, deciphering the automated ticket machines, but no lines!

Ready to confront the automated ticket machines….

The refreshing experience of going to the movies in Japan is certainly no illusion. Rather, it’s a refreshing reality!

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The mix of English in Japan is interesting….

Jody and I were in Kyoto, and found ourselves rather exhausted from being continually on the go, playing the role of foreign tourist to a tee. Our feet were aching, our legs tired, and minds overwhelmed from the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this enchanted Far Eastern foreign land. We had been transiting a major subway/rail station, and noticed that there was a movie theater on the 4th floor in the “small” mall attached to the train terminal: the TOHO Cinema in Nijo, Kyoto. I thought out loud, “Why not take in a movie?”

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If this isn't Academy Award material, I'm not sure what is!

If this isn’t Academy Award material, I’m not sure what is!

The cinema of Japan (日本映画 Nihon eiga, also known domestically as 邦画 hōga, “domestic cinema”) is one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world. In fact, as of 2010, it is the fourth largest as measured by the number of feature films produced, and earns domestically on the order of 55% of the box office total in the United States, a respectable amount indeed. Japan has won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film four times, more than any other country in Asia. Too bad Godzilla wasn’t one of them. Thanks, snobbish saurophobic Academy members….

The Japanize movie "Zomboobies" was not a winner.  Yes, it's a real movie....

The Japanese movie “Zomboobies” was not a winner. Yes, it’s a real movie….

Sailor-suited Japanese Vampires never looked so good

Sailor-suited Japanese Vampires never looked so good

It’s rather funny that the second movie theater date that Jody and I have enjoyed over the last 4 years happened in Japan. Yes, we don’t go to the movies…much. Having a very large screen TV at home, along with our precious “char-and-a-half” (see the blog Easy Chair), combined with on-demand movies , our constantly updated Netflix Blu-ray movie queue, and reasonably priced extensive snack collection, there isn’t much reason to spend the money at the theater, only to sit with and next to strangers who seem more fixated on their cell phones than the movie…or on good manners.

The movie posters alone were worth the visit!

The movie posters alone were worth the visit!

Gravity was out back home, and I knew that it was one of those films that needed to be seen on the big screen with a massive sound system. We headed over to see what was playing, and sure enough, there it was, and showing in English at a time which allowed for us to maneuver successfully through this foreign experience.

The Mihama 7-Plex on Okinawa

The Mihama 7-Plex on Okinawa

A Geisha Franken-Girl??

A Geisha Franken-Girl??

I had been to the movies in Okinawa during my previous tours on Okinawa, and knew how pleasant the experience and venues could be. For starters, minors under 16 are not allowed in the theater past 6 pm, and there is no one under 18 after 10 pm, regardless of movie ratings or fake identifications in hand. In other words, it’s really a place to date with fellow adults, which significantly alters the theater cliental in Japan over what we normally encounter at home. While the ticket prices are a bit higher than the states, the food is much better and prices are actually reasonable¸ a quite refreshing relief from the fast-food capitalistic highway-robbery we often suffer through back in the states. As a passing note, there appeared to be an unnatural obsession with multi-colored churros, of which we chose not to sample. The tickets for our movie cost about $21 (each), plus an additional $1 for 3D glasses rental.

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Picking our assigned seats!

Picking our assigned seats!

However, prices are just the start. Like most transactions in Japan, buying tickets is totally automated and cash-free, which you might be thinking, is just like many theaters back home. However, there is a serious difference here in Japan: the automated system that dispenses tickets also allows you to reserve seats. Yes, reserved seating, all automated and quick! Oh, and the ticketing process can be all in English…after one finds the “English” button on the kanji-crowded touchscreen.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, goin' to the movies, Jody is the absolutely beautiful theater!

Jody following the rock garden in the floor.

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Not just for kids

Not just for kids

The theater was beautiful, incorporating a Kyoto-inspired rock garden under the floor, viewable through translucent floor tiling. Like most movie-going experiences, “coming soon” movie posters are seriously one of the more entertaining aspects of such an adventure! The seating is stadium style, and booster seats are so plentifully stacked by the theater’s entrance, it leads one to believe that not just children here use them. However, perhaps one of the coolest aspects of this movie-going experience was also one of the simplest: food trays ergonomically shaped and designed to fit the drink holder along the seat armrest. The tray, a cantilever design for you mathletes out there, incorporated its own dual drink holders, and served in essence as our table during the movie. Why we don’t have such small yet important conveniences back home is seriously a mystery to me….

The food tray was COOL, cool enough for DOUBLE peace signs!

The food tray was COOL, cool enough for DOUBLE peace signs!

 

cast me if you canThere were, unfortunately, commercials before the trailers (thanks again, American capitalism), which alternated between English when Western English-speaking directors explained their upcoming films in oddly dry and flat script and film, and also in Japanese. The audience was really respectful and almost too quiet. The Japanese, almost as a rule, actually adhere to the warnings about not using cellphones, talking, and even to the theater’s on-screen reminder not to kick the seats in front of you! If they can put down their cell phones here, certainly you can too in America. No one is that important.

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vampire-girl-vs-frankenstein-girlThe movie, besides being fantastically visually stunning and overwhelmingly action-packed, was in English with Japanese subtitles. After a very short period of viewing, the subtitles seem to disappear, and really not once detracted from the viewing. It’s interesting to note that a Japanese version of the movie was offered at other times; no doubt voice-overs would detract from the any film’s very essence. The sound system was energetic, and combined with the wide-screen and 3D effects, seeing Gravity in Kyoto certainly accelerated our enjoyment in this fanciful foray of our Far East Fling.

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Nuking Japan: They deserved it??


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“The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” ~ Carl Sagan

“They deserved it,” I said coldly, almost mumbling. We continued to walk the sacred grounds of Nijo Castle in Kyoto, seat of the Shoguns and the leadership of Japan for centuries, absorbing our conversation quietly in the gentle rain.

I almost immediately regretted saying it. And after a few moments, I told Jody, my wife, the same. I sensed she was rather shocked at my matter-of-fact cold-blooded conclusion at the destruction of two Japanese cities in 1945 by atomic bombs, resulting in some 200,000 fatalities….

Devastation at Nagasaki

Devastation at Nagasaki

Some of the 300,000 Chinese civilians raped, tortured and murdered by the Japanese

Some of the 300,000 Chinese civilians raped, tortured and murdered by the Japanese

I do regret saying it, along with my rather immature emotional reaction at the time  Thinking only of the brutality of the Imperial Japanese movement of that time after having recently seen the movie “The Flowers of War,” I felt the unmistakable tinge of vengeance, which just as quickly subsided, replaced by a more reasoned and tolerant understanding.  But as terrible as the atomic bombings were, I cannot be party to the more popular notions of revisionist history and say that I fault or morally judge those who made the decision to conduct such horrific attacks.

The role of the atomic bombings in Japan’s surrender and the US’s ethical justification for the first (and only) use of nuclear weapons has been the subject of scholarly and popular debate for decades. The fundamental issue is whether the use of “the bomb” was necessary to achieve victory in the war in the Pacific on terms satisfactory to the United States.

American B-29s dropping incendiary bombs over Japan

American B-29s dropping incendiary bombs over Japan

Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by Fat Man on Nagasaki on August 9. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred immediately or during the first day of each bombing. In the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, all compounded by illness, poor diet and unsafe sanitation. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima did have a sizeable military garrison.

Poorly armed and trained, but willing to die

Poorly armed and trained, but willing to die

Supporters of the bombings generally assert that they caused the Japanese surrender, preventing casualties on both sides during Operation Downfall, the impending invasion of the main islands of Japan. The Japanese propaganda of the time stated, “One hundred million [Japanese] will die for the Emperor and Nation.” Although this was clearly hyperbole, President Truman stated in his 1955 Memoirs that “the atomic bomb probably saved half a million US lives,” while Prime Minister Churchill talked of saving “one million American and half that number of British lives.” And these numbers don’t even begin to discuss the losses the Japanese would have suffered had the allies invaded Japan proper. In total, there were over 2.3 million Japanese Army troops alone prepared to defend the Japanese home islands, backed by an active civilian militia of 28 million men, women and children. Japanese casualty predictions varied widely, but all were extremely high; the Vice Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi, predicted up to 20 million Japanese deaths alone. From our own War Department estimates of 1945, the invading Allies would suffer between 1.7 and 4 million casualties, including between 400,000 and 800,000 dead; Japanese casualties would range from 5 to 10 million, most dying in a feeble attempt to defend their homeland.

Dresden, Germany.  Conventional bombs with atomic results.

Dresden, Germany. Conventional bombs with atomic results.

Hamburg after a firestorm

Hamburg after a firestorm

Those who oppose the bombings cite a number of reasons, among them a belief that atomic bombing is fundamentally immoral, that the bombings counted as war crimes, that they were militarily unnecessary, that they constituted state terrorism, and that they involved racism against and the dehumanization of the Japanese people. Some of these reasons are quite ludicrous. Military leaders of the time argued that it was simply an extension of the already fierce conventional bombing campaign, an assertion to which I agree. The indiscriminate bombing of cities is another matter, but as a fact, such “crimes” were committed on all sides.  For example, although the atomic bombings themselves are absolutely horrific, the Operation Meetinghouse fire-bombing of Tokyo on the night of March 9–10, 1945, was and remains the single deadliest air raid of World War II and the history of warfare, resulting in a far greater area of fire damage and loss of life than the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Similarly, the conventional bomb-induced firestorm destruction of Hamburg and Dresden in Germany were no less horrific.

“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts. And the way to make sure it never starts is to abolish the dangerous costly nuclear stockpiles which imprison mankind.” ~ General Omar Bradley, speech on Armistice Day, 1948

It’s easy to look back from the safety of island fortress America in 2014 and say that use of the bombs was wrong, immoral, and/or unnecessary. I refuse to partake is such missives. While some may argue that time and distance lends clarity and objectivity which allow for moral judgments of actions taken during war, it is the absence of that very same objectivity, not available to the leaders in 1945, which results in the “fog of war.” Without proper context but with expansive hindsight, it is much too easy to place blame and fault, much like a Monday-morning Quarterback does after watching the previous Sunday’s games….

Me and the Mighty A-6E Intruder loaded for a strike.  A conventional one....

Me and the Mighty A-6E Intruder loaded for a strike. A conventional one….

However, I have changed, quite significantly so, in my own personal feelings of the use of nuclear weapons. I flew Navy medium-sized, carrier-based attack bombers – the mighty all-weather A-6E Intruder – in the 1990s, and perhaps the most serious tasking we had was the carriage and employment of nuclear weapons. Back then, as an invincible 24-year old, I was actually excited about being on the tip of the United States’ nuclear-tipped spear. In fact, I was so gung-ho about our mission and (nuclear) warfare that I was actually disappointed in the size (yield) of the nuclear weapons we would carry.

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely.” ~ Ronald Reagan, State of the Union Address, 1984

“What? It’s not even a megaton yield?!?” I question rather rhetorically upon learning that the nukes we would carry and drop would be well below the magical one megaton rating of the larger ballistic missile warheads. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, in hindsight, it is.  Almost as silly as proclaiming that there can no be fighting in the war room!

The B-61 "Silver Bullet" Nuclear Bomb

The B-61 “Silver Bullet” Nuclear Bomb

B-61_componentsB-61_bombThe weapon I’m talking about is what we referred to as “the silver bullet.” For obvious reasons. The B61 nuclear bomb was one of the primary thermonuclear weapons in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile during the cold war, and remains in significant numbers even today. It is an “intermediate yield” strategic (think whole-city devastation) and tactical (think airfield or naval base annihilation) nuclear weapon, the difference being what we callously referred to as “dial-a-yield.”. In other words, the explosive potential of the bomb could be rather easily set by an amazingly simple rotating dial, varying the boom between 0.3 to 340 kilotons. For comparison, Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 16 kilotons, while Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki had a yield of 21 kilotons.

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In other words, the bombs I carried – the very ones I complained were not powerful enough – where about 20 times as powerful as the bombs utilized in WWII.

The B-61 turns out to be QUITE powerful....

The B-61 turns out to be QUITE powerful….

I admit I am ashamed of how I felt as a youngster. Looking back, with the clarity and objectivity I have now, including a healthy dose of combat and the experience of the black death and wanton destruction which war inevitably brings, there just isn’t enough reason – or more so, safeguards – to carry and employ such weapons of mass destruction so easily (read here).

It's Bonnie's birthday on this blog's posting day - have a happy and non-nuclear one!

It’s Bonnie’s birthday on this blog’s posting day – have a happy and non-nuclear one!

“In a world which had become a nuclear powder keg…it [is] a mistake–perhaps one of suicidal proportions–to believe there [is] a difference between good shooters and bad shooters. There [are] too many shaky hands holding the lighters near too many fuses.” ~ Stephen King, The Drawing of the Three

Some claim that the conventional bombing of Japan together with the sea blockade, the collapse of Germany (with its implications regarding redeployment of additional allied forces to the Pacific), and the Soviet Union’s surprise attack against the Japanese Army in Manchuria (China) would have brought Japan to surrender. With or without invasion of their homeland? That’s the million-dollar…and multi-million death question.

The War Operations Plan Response computer playing a game of thermonuclear war

The War Operations Plan Response computer playing a game of thermonuclear war

Whatever you may believe, however, I must agree with Emperor Hirohito’s characterization of the new nuclear age expressed in his plea to the people of Japan to embrace surrender in 1945:

Portrai“Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of [surrender].”

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“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” ~ American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s recollection upon viewing the first atomic bomb test in 1945

No one deserves to be nuked, not even the vehemently violent and extremist Japanese minority of World War II. In the final analysis, there is a conclusion that cannot be avoided, regardless of your political point of view or religiosity: when the rich wage war, it is the poor that die. In other words, it’s always the innocent that suffer the most and the longest in war. War is, after all, an extension of political will when diplomacy has failed. And seldom, if ever, do the ends justify the means.

b61patchUnfortunately the dawn of the nuclear age occurred in 1945, and cannot be undone. In the poetic words of The Offspring, “the genie’s out of the bottle and we can’t put it back.” While the weapons of August 1945 have evolved and endured, and continue to threaten our very existence, I no longer embrace the use of such savage weapons of war. Thankfully, I no longer have to face becoming death, the destroyer of worlds.

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For more, please see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadako_Sasaki

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki

Twice Surviving Atomic Odds: Niju Hibakusha (被爆者)


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“I was lucky as a lot of others died instantly, but I still want to know why such a horrible thing happened to me twice….”  ~ Kazuko Uragashira, a niju hibakusha

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”  ~ J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb

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On March 24, 2009, the Japanese government officially recognized Tsutomu Yamaguchi as a double (nijū) hibakusha. He not only survived one of two nuclear bombings in the deep history of mankind, he survived both.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi-san, the first officially recognized survivor of BOTH atomic blasts in Japan.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi-san, the first officially recognized survivor of BOTH atomic blasts in Japan.

I discovered this doing some research on a blog I’m drafting about my own conflicted feelings of nuclear weapons and their past and postulated utilization. And besides incredibly witnessing and surviving the only two nuclear attacks in history, these unlucky souls suffer further injury and injustice from an enemy within: from unfounded and quite incredulous discrimination within and throughout Japan based on foolish fear, idiotic ignorance, and a sheer lack of compassion, especially in modern times.

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SC106 Hiroyuki Higaki_77_Hiroshima Hibakusha_Geoff Read 2012In Japan, the survivors of the atomic bombings are called hibakusha (被爆者), or literally “explosion-affected people.” The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law defines hibakusha as those within a few kilometers of the hypocenters at the time of the bombings; those who traveled within 2 km of hypocenters within two weeks of the bombings; those exposed to radiation from fallout; and those not yet born but carried by pregnant women in any of the former categories. As of 2013, over 200,000 hibakusha were officially recognized by the Japanese government, most living in Japan, with roughly 1% having illnesses caused by radiation. The atomic memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki contain lists of the names of the hibakusha who are known to have died since the bombings; these monuments are sadly updated annually on the anniversaries of the bombings as the last of the hibakusha pass away. As of August 2013, the memorials record almost 450,000 deceased hibakusha.

Hibakusha

5842678368_1e67745f7b_bYamaguchi-san was confirmed to be 3 km (1.9 mi) from ground zero in Hiroshima on a business trip when Little Boy was detonated. Yamaguchi recalls seeing a bomber and two small parachutes, and then “a great flash in the sky, and [he] was blown over.” The explosion ruptured his eardrums, blinded him temporarily, and left him with serious burns. After regaining his sense, he crawled to a shelter to rest, where after he set out to find business colleagues before returning to Nagasaki the following day. In Nagasaki, he received treatment for his wounds, and despite being heavily bandaged, he reported for work on August 9, the day Fat Man was dropped. Ironically enough, that morning Yamaguchi was describing the atomic blast in Hiroshima to his coworkers when Fat Man exploded over Nagasaki about 3 km away. This time he was unhurt by the immediate explosion, but Yamaguchi he did suffer injuries from radiation fallout while searching for friends and relatives.

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Documents-519Yamaguchi-san lost hearing in his left ear as a result of the Hiroshima explosion, and found himself bald at a very young age. His wife suffered severe radiation poisoning from “black rain” after the Nagasaki explosion, and died in 2008 (at 88) of kidney and liver cancer after a lifetime of radiation-sourced illness. Late in his life, Yamaguchi began to suffer from radiation-related ailments, including cataracts and acute leukemia. He became the first officially recognized survivor of both bombings, and died in 2010 at the age of 93 after battling multiple cancers. Since his infamous designation, there have been an additional 165 nijū hibakusha documented and declared.

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SadakoHibakusha and their offspring remain victims of severe discrimination in Japan due to public ignorance about the consequences of radiation sickness. In a shameful corner of a proud and peaceful people, many in Japan continue to believe radiation-based injury and disease to be hereditary, or worse, even contagious. This all despite facts to the contrary; there have been no statistically demonstrable increases in birth defects or congenital malformations among the later conceived children born to survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hiroshima hibakusha atomic bomb survivor Koko Tanimoto Kondo

Hiroshima hibakusha atomic bomb survivor Koko Tanimoto Kondo

It’s bad enough to experience and survive a nuclear blast quite injured. It’s unbelievable to witness and endure two such blasts in three days. But perhaps the most dubious part of this story is how the world can turn their collective backs to the very horrors brought and wrought by they themselves. While mankind owes the nijū hibakusha a debt that cannot be repaid, the Japanese government can at least make restitution (and it has attempted to do just that). However, it is up to the Japanese people – each and every one – to afford these (un)luckiest of the lucky the compassion, empathy, and respect which they so fully deserve.