Archive | 11:42 am


7 Jan

Today is the seventh day of the new year.
It’s a Japanese tradition from China to eat a special dish made with 「春の七草」 (the seven herbs of Spring) on this day.


In China, the new year starts at the beginning of Spring. Japan used to follow this calendar, too.
That’s the reason that one way to write “New Year” in Japanese is 「新春」. It means “New Year“…but a literal translation would be “New Spring“.

The dish you meant to eat this morning with the 「春の七草」 (the seven herbs of Spring) is called 「七草粥」 (“Seven Herbs Porridge“).

The picture above is the 「春の七草」 (the seven herbs of Spring) that my wife used to make this 「七草粥」 (“Seven Herbs Porridge“):


I put a 梅干し (Japanese salty plum) in mine.
It was quite good.

20 Years Ago

7 Jan

From December 1926 until January 7, 1989, the 昭和天皇 (Showa Emperor), (also called Emperor Hirohito in Western countries…but in Japan, that’s never done) was the reigning Emperor.

Those years are called the 昭和時代 (Showa Era) and lasted just over 63 years. January 1-6, 1989 are the year 昭和64年 (Showa 64).

On January 7, 1989, the 昭和天皇 (Showa Emperor) died and his eldest son became the current 平成天皇 (Heisei Emperor).

January 7, 1989 began the 平成時代 (Heisei Era). So, even though the 今上天皇 (current Emperor) began his reign twenty years ago today…this year, 2009, is 平成21年 (Heisei 21) because 1989 was 平成1年 (Heisei 1).

Also, April 10 will be the 50th wedding anniversary of the 今上天皇 (current Emperor) and the 皇后 (Empress). So, this year (2009) is a big year for the 今上天皇 (current Emperor)…twenty years as Emperor and fifty years married.

So, in honor of his 20th anniversary as Emperor and his 50th wedding anniversary this year, November 12th will be a legal holiday in Japan…this year only.

Why November 12th if today (January 7) is the anniversary of his father’s death and the day he became the 今上天皇 (current Emperor) and his wedding anniversary is on April 10?

November 12, 2009 will be the date of the one-time-only holiday because the coronation of the 今上天皇 (current Emperor) took place on November 12, 1990.

Japanese Prison

7 Jan

I’ve never been arrested and I don’t personally know anyone who has.
So anything I know about America’s, Japan’s or any other country’s prisons or penal system is from what I’ve read.

As with most everything in America and Japan, these two countries’ prison systems are quite different.

In America, each state has it’s own unique laws governing the penal system, including capital punishment (the death penalty). The U.S. Government abolished capital punishment for the entire United States in 1972…but reinstated it in 1976. Currently, nineteen U.S. states and territories (such as Hawaii, Alaska and Guam) have laws against capital punishment…so they don’t allow the death penalty. The remainder of the U.S. states either use the electric chair or lethal injection as the means for carrying out capital punishment.
The state of Texas has the most people on death row.

In the case of Japan, the federal government makes the laws concerning things such as the penal code for the entire country. Capital punishment is used as a punishment for crimes such as murder (usually multiple murders) in Japan, and it is supported by the majority of the people.
But, unlike America, the method of carrying out the death penalty is the gallows (hanging by noose).
And, also unlike America, convicts on death row aren’t notified of their execution date until the morning of the day it’s carried out.

Regarding general prison life, the image of prisons in America is cells with bars that prisoners can see out of their cell.


And prisons in America have an image of being loud and violent with prison riots and prisoners murdering guards and other prisoners. And the prisoners in America are allowed to spend their ample free time almost as they choose…watching TV, playing games or sports, exercising. And they meal portions are quite large.

Is that inaccurate? I don’t know for sure…as I said, I’ve never seen inside a prison (except in the movies). But I recently read a newspaper article about prisons in America…and it seemed to support this image.

Prison life in Japanese prisons is quite different. In Japan, a prisoner’s daily routine is quite regimented and the slightest infraction (for example, eye contact with a guard) is often met with physical punishment and/or solitary confinement.

The cells themselves in Japanese prisons don’t allow prisoners to see out.

Japan Prison

There are no beds. Prisoners sleep on a futon on the floor…when they’re told to. During the day, they may not even sit on the bedding.
In Japan, prisoners may not speak unless asked a question. And they are given meal rations with the minimum daily calorie intact that a person needs to live.
The whole purpose of the prison system is to give the prisoners discipline and work experience to help them reform. So Japanese prisoners spend their days working…making furniture or clothes, etc.

But before prison, the whole judiciary system is different from America’s.

In Japan, the stigma of being arrested is great. Even being interrogated by the police can give you a bad image. So, the police in Japan take their time to be sure they arrest the right person. American police might bring many suspects in for questioning. That’s not how it’s done here, though.
Since Japanese police only make an arrest when they’re certain it’s the right person, 99% of the people who are arrested get convicted in Japan.

And when the police arrested someone in Japan, they’re allowed to keep the person in custody for interrogation for up to 72 hours…before that person is allowed a phone call or access to a lawyer.

Another difference is that in court trials in America, the defendants fate is left to be decided to a civilian jury. Until later this year, in Japan a judge (or in some bigger trials, more than one) makes all rulings. But starting this year, juries will be used in courts here in Japan. This is quite an unpopular idea with a large portion of the population…so we’ll see if it lasts.

Anyways, I don’t usually give this much thought. I’ve never been a victim of a crime (I certainly hope it stays that way), nor have I ever committed a crime (that will stay that way), I generally agree that capital punishment is right…but I’ve heard convincing arguments against it—so I’m not positive.
And sometimes foreign media paints a picture of Japan’s prison system and judicial system in general as being medieval…but I think it must work. Japan has a very low crime rate…and when prisoners are released here, most stay out of prison.

America, on the other hand, has more people incarcerated than any other first-world country…and a high percentage of repeat-offenders.