Balefire comments

Posted in: Leonard Cohen, rock music's poetic visionary, dies at age 82 See in context

I mourn the passing of a great poet and songwriter, to whom I am very grateful for his influence on me in many ways over the years.

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Posted in: 225 attacks on conductors, other staff reported by 16 train companies in 2015 See in context

@Dennis Bauer The trash bins were apparently removed from Metro Stations during the recent summit. I don't know if they have been returned.

http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/trash-cans-removed-from-subways-in-preparation-for-g-7-summit

JR has removed trash cans occasionally and for varying periods of time, depending on what risk level of terrorism they believe there to be. I've personally seen them removed--and later replaced--at Tokyo, Ueno, Shinagawa, Tamachi, and Kumagaya stations, among others.

I haven't been riding the trains that much recently, but the last time I checked the trash bins had been returned.

There were certainly times in the last few years when they had been removed, and explanations posted that it was an anti-terrorism measure. I believe they fear incendiary/explosive devices might be put inside the trash cans.

I've seen the trash bins on the shinkansen carriages temporarily sealed with tape, too, when the alert levels are raised for some reason, and then later unsealed.

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Posted in: 4 killed in car-motorbike collision in Gunma See in context

Knowing the names, if they're available, in such accidents does sometimes matter to those who see or hear the news.

If one has friends, not-so-close relatives, business associates, etc., who live in the area, it can be a cause of anxiety wondering if it's someone you know, and the bereaved family doesn't always have the time to immediately notify anyone but close family/friends.

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Posted in: Man run over by car believed to be victim of earlier hit-and-run See in context

Kudos to him for stopping and reporting the accident. As for not seeing the body:

At that hour of the morning, on a probably unlit road in rural Tochigi--outside of the expressway or around commercial spots there are not a lot of street lights in that area, as I recall--driving even a little too fast for the conditions could easily prevent a driver from seeing a body in the road in time to stop. Especially an inexperienced one, and at 19 it's unlikely the driver has a wealth of driving experience.

I haven't been out that way for a while, but if memory serves it's one of many such areas with relatively little traffic in the wee hours, and what drivers there are tend to drive faster than they should, assuming they're not going to come across other drivers, much less pedestrians. They're usually right, but when they're wrong, it can be tragic.

The most recent data I've seen for traffic fatalities per 100,000 population had Tochigi at #16, with Tokyo at #46: http://stats-japan.com/t/kiji/11911

We won't know until they catch the culprit, but I won't be surprised, given the time of day, if we learn the hit-and-run driver had been drinking and left the scene out of fear of the consequences. It has been reported numerous times in the Japanese media that hit-and-runs have increased since the DUI laws were strengthened. DUI cases may well have been reduced, but at the cost of more drunk drivers taking the risk of running from the scene (sometimes turning themselves in the next day when it's too late to prove DUI), to avoid the much harsher penalties.

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Posted in: Rock keyboard pioneer Keith Emerson dead at 71 in possible suicide See in context

Another of the bright lights that illuminated my youth has gone out. RIP

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Posted in: Japan's silver-haired seniors still punching the time clock See in context

There's also the issue, at least for many retired folks, that if you get another job to supplement the (often meager) pension, you have to be careful not to make too much.

If your total monthly income exceeds a certain amount, your social security amount will be reduced. In one case I know of, the pensioner had to keep his total (job income + social security) below 180,000/month from 62 when he started getting SS until he turned 65 recently, when the ceiling became 460,000, I believe. He's very unlikely to hit that, though, since his SS is a bit under 100,000/month. Not many jobs for senior citizens pay over 360,000/month.

He was really just scraping by for a couple of years there, though. Somewhat perversely, he's worried because he's in good health. His savings won't last if he lives too long. On the other hand, if he doesn't keep working now and try to continue saving, there's no way that he'll be able to afford a nursing home if/when he needs it.

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Posted in: Police officer fires warning shot after being charged at by knife-wielding 15-year-old boy See in context

The Japanese TV news has been saying that in addition to stabbing the man, the teen--said to have been "dressed as a cartoon ninja"--was swinging a grapnel (rope with multi-pronged hook on the end), and in fact destroyed the rear window of a patrol car with it.

He has been quoted as saying that he wanted to do something to attract the police, because he wanted to be shot and killed by a police officer.

When shouting, swinging the grapnel around, and brandishing a knife didn't draw the police quickly enough, he apparently escalated and stabbed the passerby. The police may have been already on the way by that time, though; that wasn't clear from the reports that I saw earlier today..

The news has also reported that the warning (?) shot was fired from about 10 meters away, and that the perpetrator did indeed subsequently stab the policeman, too, but caused no injury due to the officer's protective vest. It might have ended very differently, had the anti-knifing (not, apparently, bullet-proof) vest not functioned as well, or had the knife hit elsewhere.

The cop seems to have acted with remarkable discretion, all things considered.

The question mark above is because it isn't clear (even after watching/hearing reports from several different programs) whether the shot was indeed a warning or just a missed shot to the teen's leg. On the one hand, a warning shot into the ground is inviting a ricochet and maybe collateral injury/death, on the other hand it's hard outside of the movies to hit a precise spot on a rapidly moving target. My best guess is that it was indeed intended as a warning shot, and didn't work.

I'm glad that nobody was killed; being stabbed in the thigh--depending on where--could easily lead to swiftly bleeding to death.

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Posted in: 4-month-old boy dies of fractured skull at unauthorized childcare facility See in context

For what it's worth, the TV news showed the entire baby bed--what we called a "crib" when I was a kid, a barred bed that is raised a meter or so off the floor--being carried out of the facility by the police.

Other news stories have shown simulations of several such beds/cribs in the facility.

It was very definitely not a futon.

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Posted in: Which English words or expressions annoy you the most when you hear them repeatedly used by other people in conversation? See in context

Although I understand that "going forward" may be used (or have originally been used) when neither "in the future" nor "from now on" exactly express the speaker's intended meaning, it grates on me because almost every time I see or hear it used these days, it clearly is replacing one or the other of those phrases, for no apparent reason other than to either 1) sound trendy/corporate, 2) attempt to sound more dynamic/aggressive, or both.

The singular form "product", as in "we need to get more product out into the market", instead of the perfectly serviceable "products", irritates me, too.

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Posted in: Why married couples in Japan must have same surname See in context

@tinawatanabe As far back as 1980, I got married in the US. My then-wife and I were asked, as a matter of course, what names we wanted to register, and were given the options of both my surname, both her surname, or both/each completely different surnamesnames. I admit that I was surprised by the last option. This was in Hawaii, FWIW.

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Posted in: Boyfriend arrested over murder of 24-year-old nurse See in context

The Japanese news has been saying that she had never missed work without notice, and that her (female) supervisor became concerned when she could not be contacted. Whether it was she or another (male?) supervisor who went to check, I haven't heard.

It's not that unusual, in my experience, for co-workers, and sometimes supervisors or their delegates, to go to a colleague's house if at all practical, to check on their condition if there is any worry that they might have become suddenly ill or met with an accident and thus been unable to contact their workplace. If the employee is living alone, or thought to be, it's even more likely, again in my experience. That was the case in the large company in which I spent much of my career, and in a couple of universities where I worked, and I've heard it from acquaintances in several other companies and schools.

It's not so much Big Brother or an unwarranted invasion of privacy as legitimate concern that the employee might be in trouble. Carbon monoxide poisoning, unconsciousness from a fall or heatstroke...there are numerous possibilities, including, unfortunately, foul play like this.

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Posted in: For our readers who live in Japan, what are some items you always make a point to bring back to Japan after you return from a trip abroad? See in context

Shoes. It's hard to find any in US size 16 wide, and what there is here in that size doesn't have much variety.

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Posted in: Newspaper deliveryman shot by crossbow arrow in Aichi See in context

@Danny Bloom Where I now live, in a northern Saitama city, the newspapers are delivered between 02:00 and 02:30. In other areas where I've lived in Japan, the delivery times have varied from 02:00 or so to as late as 05:30. In each area the time was about the same, but differed depending on the area.

If memory serves, the deliveries tended to be later in Minato, Shibuya, and Setagaya wards, and earlier in various places in Kanagawa (several places each in Shonan and Kawasaki).

I hope that the victim recovers quickly and completely.

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Posted in: Education ministry urges all schools to make greater efforts to deal with bullying See in context

Is it only me that finds the "when the new school year begins on Sept. 1" strange?

As far as I know, school years here begin in April, not September.

This isn't (only) a comment about what is presumably either a typo or an egregious addition made incorrectly by the writer.

I am really curious whether what is meant is "when the new school year begins in April"--which would seem to be awfully late to begin--or "when school starts again in September" (after summer vacation, which is during school years rather than between them here).

The latter, despite its weak "urge" and "ask" language, would at least be aiming at something sooner rather than much later.

Moderator: The story has been corrected.

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Posted in: Japan rescuers discover body on burning ferry See in context

The TV news indicated that his last radio (phone?) communication while attempting to extinguish the fire was that he was unsure of which direction he was going/supposed to go.

The report said that was before he "went out of communication", which left it unclear whether it was a technical signal penetration issue or physical inability issue stop to communications.

He appears to have been confused by the darkness and the smoke, and probably overcome by the smoke, in the end.

He does seem to have died bravely trying to do his duty.

RIP

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Posted in: Man arrested after driving 20 kms the wrong way on Tomei Expressway See in context

I know that road/area, and I'm mystified how he managed to get himself going in the wrong direction.

About the only way I could imagine is if he made a sharp turn in the wrong direction when leaving a parking/service area instead of merging as normal, which would be utterly counter-intuitive, rather difficult (virtually impossible to do by mistake, IMO), and a sign of serious confusion, drunkenness, or whatever altered state of consciousness, and even that's a reach.

I've had to use the expressways quite a lot lately, and I'm not happy at the prospect of having to watch for guys coming in the wrong direction, in addition to some of the other incompetent driving behavior I have to be wary of.

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Posted in: Gov't tries to reassure public over pension data leak See in context

Not that I think, after the horse has bolted, that they have a lot of choice, but I'm displeased that my taxes now have to be spent on the huge number of postal mail notifications that are going to be sent to all those whose data was compromised,

It's particularly galling that the security breach was due to simple human stupidity that could,, with enforced policies in place, have easily been avoided.

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Posted in: Worker killed by truck without driver at construction site See in context

@lostrune2 I grew up in San Francisco, and learned to drive there. Turning your wheels into the curb--"curbing your wheels"--when parked on a hill was (and probably still is) required by law there. It was enforced fiercely, and the fine was not trivial.

Unfortunately, not all streets in Japan--or even in big cities such as Tokyo--have curbs. There are some very steep streets that have nothing more than a white line, if that, to separate the street from the "sidewalk". Even so, parking with the wheels turned away from the street's downhill slope would at least help minimize the distance--and maybe the damage--caused by a runaway vehicle.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Posted in: Driver who killed cyclist in crosswalk accident found not guilty See in context

Bravo! If this ruling sets such a precedent that it motivates a change in behavior for even one of the dozen+ cyclists I see blithely running red lights every week, I shall be very pleased.

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Posted in: How Huffington Post is changing Japan’s media landscape See in context

I wish them well, too, and hope that the Asahi doesn't use their large stake to pressure them.

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Posted in: Man, mother killed in Tottori car-truck collision See in context

@Joshua Garcia Sometimes it's not just the speed that's the problem. Some of the smaller vehicles here have considerably less mass than even a medium-sized truck, and are much less robust in construction. Relative heights and shapes of the vehicles involved can be significant factors, too. Modular design can help by absorbing some of the impact and reducing how much it's transmitted to other parts of the vehicle, but there are limits to everything.

Last summer the driver of a yellow-plate kei fell asleep at the wheel and suddenly crossed the center line, running into mostly the right front fender of my small-ish SUV (a Suzuki Escudo). We were doing 30 or 40 kph; she was going about 50. My car was damaged beyond economical repair although the airbags didn't even deploy, but hers was essentially turned into mangled junk. Luckily nobody was seriously injured (her airbags did deploy, and probably saved her from much worse than the bruising she received). Had she hit a 10- or 20-ton truck, I'd bet that the outcome would have been much grimmer.

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Posted in: Nissan aims to put self-driving cars on Japan's road in 2016 See in context

I can see how this would be very beneficial for those living in areas with inadequate public transportation who cannot drive, due to age or infirmity.

On the other hand, I'm not sure if I'm ready to trust a computer-operated car when the "BSOD" could become frighteningly real.

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Posted in: Worker killed by truck without driver at construction site See in context

I was also reminded of something that I saw a couple of weeks ago. A driver for one of the big delivery services had parked his truck on a slope. He carefully set chocks against each tire...on the uphill side. Somehow I don't think that retraining would solve the problem.

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Posted in: What do you think of the quality of education at international schools in Japan? See in context

@Novenachama I have a private student who is an 11-year-old girl. She returned to Tokyo last year after living with her parents--both Japanese--in Seoul for six years while her father was assigned there to work. She attended an international school there and became very fluent in English; a combination of extra Japanese tutoring there and speaking both Japanese and English at home have made her bi-lingual. She is as fluent in both languages as one would expect from a child her age.

Her parents are supplementing the English she studies at Japanese public school with weekly lessons from me, and with many English-language books and videos they acquire for her. They're very serious about helping her to maintain and improve her ability to use both languages, and so is she. She can easily switch from one language to the other as required, and managed to avoid the habit of mixing the two inadvertently, which is a problem that I used to see among children on US military bases here.

She tells me that she is neither shunned nor teased by her peers for her unusual background and superior English ability, and has many friends. She has discussed the possibility of teasing or bullying when she enters middle school, but claims to be unworried about it. "That," she says, "would be their problem, not mine."

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Posted in: Why doesn’t the U.S. adopt the metric system? See in context

There has been considerable, if slow, change in the sciences and engineering, and many/most packaged goods (food and the like) show both grams and ounces these days. The cost of changing all of the road signs alone would be considerable, not to mention a lot of re-tooling of production equipment and the like.

As Sensato says, it was almost a done deal at one point but politics won over rationality (again), fueled by a lot of latent resistance, some logical (i.e., the cost factor) and some not.

It has always amused me that one traditional measurement--which has long been obsolete in the US--managed to survive in the UK despite the change to metric: the "stone" as a measure of weight. I've never heard or read of an American using that, but it seems to still be in common use in the UK. I'm not sure what the current situation is in UK pubs vis a vis the pint.

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Posted in: LED traffic lights too cool for snowy Aomori See in context

It's not as if this were a new issue. Note the date:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/16/led-traffic-lights-that-c_n_393769.html

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Posted in: New law takes aim at Japan's glut of vacant houses See in context

@Kathryn Sanday That's a great idea. The local area is fortunate to have a car parts factory to provide employment.

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Posted in: New law takes aim at Japan's glut of vacant houses See in context

@Boy Next Door, One problem is that in most cases there is no such agency; the houses are privately owned (and sometimes finding the owner can be difficult).

I'm not sure what you mean by homeless workers living in apartments. Do you mean those (relatively few), mostly either unemployed or day-working folks living in city-operated temporary apartments/shelters, or those working homeless living in temporary company-provided dwellings only for the duration of the construction project?

Something along the lines of what I think you're proposing could probably be attempted in some--especially metropolitan--cases, but one of the big issues about abandoned houses is that many of them are in fairly rural and/or remote areas, where jobs are scarce or non-existent, population aging and declining, and local government services severely underfunded

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Posted in: New law takes aim at Japan's glut of vacant houses See in context

@knowitall That does indeed seem to be the case about the tax rates; by assessing taxable value at the same rate for a piece of land with an abandoned house on it as for a vacant lot the current tax-based disincentive for removing the building disappears. That is, the owner can no longer avoid paying six times as much for a vacant lot as for the lot with a house on it. Or, to put it another way, will no longer have the advantage of paying the property tax at the "residence" rate 1/6 of of the "vacant lot" rate.

My understanding is that the rate disparity was originally intended to 1) discourage speculation in land, and 2) encourage building. This made sense when the government's motivation was to make it easier for people, especially young couples and new small families, to afford to buy/build a residence. It also made construction companies/developers happy. I have been told that quite specifically by city officials on more than one occasion.

It makes less sense now that the population is declining and that demographic sector is shrinking, especially in rural or semi-rural areas.

As an aside, many years ago I bought a piece of land intending to build on it, and received a nasty surprise in the form of a construction moratorium soon after, because of a city-wide project to expand and build roads. The details of the project are not germane here, but the result was that I had a housing lot on which I could not build until the project--still proceeding at a glacial pace nearly two decades later, with no clear official prediction for when it will be finished--was done. Luckily for me, the owner of the adjacent lot with a then-new house on it, sold me his property. I then had to combine the two lots into a single "occupied" plot. The administrative fees weren't cheap, and the paperwork was a pain, but I avoided having to pay six times as much property tax on the empty and essentially unusable lot.

Luckily for me, I now have a well-built house and a large yard (at least, large by Japanese standards). Not so luckily, when the road widening work finally gets around to my area (in 5 years? 10? 20?), the property will be moved back a couple of meters, and the house will have to be demolished and replaced. The new back property line will extend into what is now rice paddy/wheat field, and will have to be filled about a meter and a half deep and stabilized before construction, and a retaining wall built. The city will provide some funds for this, but it won't cover nearly the total cost, even if I build a very modest dwelling.

Of course, this means that the property is unsalable. But the combination of a rapidly aging population and rural flight would have made it hard to sell even without the building moratorium and road project. And this is in a city that's only a little over an hour from Tokyo, 40 minutes by shinkansen.

If I died and had heirs who didn't want to or couldn't live there for whatever reason, my house might well become one of those abandoned ones, and the heirs would have a serious financial burden.

Incidentally, many/most of the ruins with trees growing through them that existed when I moved to the town, if in areas no longer affected by the road project, have since been torn down...and replaced with barely used parking lots. I guess that they provide at least a little occasional income, and are easier to maintain than dwellings that nobody wants to rent or buy.

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Posted in: New law takes aim at Japan's glut of vacant houses See in context

Although some people may enjoy the bucolic life, not everyone can find a job in the countryside; that's obviously a major reason for flight from--not to--the boonies. Even in those--relatively few--rural areas with decent internet speeds, telecommuting is an option for only a small fraction of the working population.

There is a lot less available for entertainment, shopping, etc., and in general the available public transportation is insufficient, to put it mildly. You pretty much have to have a car in many areas, and as JeffLee points out, that's expensive. It also presents problems as one becomes older, adding mobility to the other problems for those thinking of retiring to the country...problems such as, in snow country, clearing snow from the roof and driveway/road.

There are good, practical reasons that country living is not attractive to many, making those houses, and the land they're on, a tough sell. The local governments don't want to be burdened with owning and maintaining unsalable property in addition to their many existing financial challenges, exacerbated by shrinking tax bases.

So some/many of the properties in more-or-less remote areas, or at least pretty rural ones, are rather unattractive to both working age and retirement aged people.

As for dilapidated properties within big cities, some of the owners are caught in a trap because of their location. In some older neighborhoods, houses are located in spots accessible only on foot, through narrow alleys. This is a problem in some areas of Tokyo because new construction is prohibited in spots where it is deemed impractical/impossible for fire-fighting equipment to get close enough. That's not unreasonable, but aside from the difficulty of demolishing the building in such a spot (and there are more of these than one might think), the owner would then be left with a lot on which taxes must be paid but on which a new building cannot be constructed...at least until the rest of the neighborhood is razed.

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