Einstein’s Monsters: an expat view of the North Korea Missile Crisis from Tokyo

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Until recently, I considered being in Tokyo a sideline seat to the North Korea nuclear crisis. After all, I rationalized, why would Kim Jong-un waste precious nuclear bombs on a symbolic target like Tokyo? Between the American and the South Korean militaries, weren’t there enough concerns on the Korean peninsula without having to look for targets further afield? And if the North Korean military command did turn their attention offshore, wouldn’t Guam be the most likely target (no offense to the Guamanians)?

Then, however, I learned a few things.

First, there are 50,000 American forces members in Japan, well within strike range of Pyongyang and thus of interest to the DPRK military leadership.

Second, America has some significant military hardware in the region. The USS Ronald Reagan, the aircraft “supercarrier” and flagship of the US Navy recently dispatched to the waters off North Korea, is permanently based in Yokuska at the mouth of Tokyo Bay.

Third, there is an historic animosity between Japan and North Korea; indeed, the very founding of North Korea and the current dynasty is rooted in resistance to the Japanese occupation of the peninsula in the first third of the 20th century. As I learned in a recent Newsweek Feature by Samuel Earle, the origin myth of North Korea’s current dynasty is inextricably linked to Kim Il-Sung’s resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea. So if Kim Jong-un were to “sink” Japan as he has recently threatened to do, he would simply be fulfilling the war against Japan fought by his grandfather almost 100 years ago.

So, IS North Korea likely to directly attack Japan? Despite the recent escalation of words, with “Rocket Man” and “dotard” being flung across the Pacific, it still seems unlikely. A graver and more imminent concern, perhaps is North Korea’s threat to carry out an atmospheric explosion of a hydrogen bomb, the fallout from which could affect the entire region.

Stay tuned…

I will continue to post updates from ‘Einstein’s Monsters’ on Big Sushi, Little Fishes as long as there is interest. You can also read the full text of Einstein’s Monsters at https://medium.com/@aaronpaulson/einsteins-monsters-in-tokyo-an-expat-view-3c6fdaa44f1e

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Tokyo Rainy Season 2016

The tsuyu (“plum rain”) rainy season doesn’t kick off officially in Tokyo until June 8, but already a steady rain is falling from skies the colour of dirty rice water. And is forecast to continue to do so every day this week…

Actually, the weather changed abruptly around mid-morning Saturday, Tokyo time. Until then, we’d enjoyed a gloriously warm, sunny, relatively dry early summer – perfect for hanging laundry (just saying). Then, before noon, sombre grey clouds overcast the city, the temperature dropped — and my allergies went into overdrive.

Fortunately, Japan has very effective over-counter-allergy medicine. Unfortunately, the best of the weather may be behind us here in the Big Sushi – and the rest of Japan. The forecast is apparently for a “La Niña” climate cycle to replace the El Niño, bringing – yet another – record-breaking hot summer.

We won’t be alone. Apparently for the first time in history, the whole planet has been setting month after month of heat records since March of 2015, which is itself a record: never before have there been 12 consecutive months of record heat.

 

Extreme Weather: Tokyo Heatwave, 2015 Part 2

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Apparently, the word for “heatwave” in Japanese is 猛暑日, mōshobi, or “very hot day” (yeah, no kidding!). Tokyo’s got it bad, with a record-breaking five straight days of temps above 35 Celsius, and plenty more on the way, if the JMA forecasts – usually a bit on the conservative side – are at all right. According to this August 5th story on Weather, however, even balmy Hokkaido is getting temps in the 30+ range, and in Tatebayashi, Gunma prefecture, near Tokyo, it hit 39.8 C on Wednesday. Yeesh.

Just glad I’m not in Kyoto…

Shinjuku North Side Drift: Red Lights to Skyscrapers

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Shinjuku North Side: Kabukicho; Golden Gai; Hanazono Shrine; Skyscraper District

Almost two decades ago, I landed in Japan on what was to be a three-year overseas adventure from my home in Canada. I’m still here, but that’s another story…. Those first days in-country, while my then-partner — I’ll call her Achan — attended orientation training at the Keio Park Plaza hotel before being posted to rural Hokkaido to help “internationalize” the countryside (but that’s still another story…) I spun out a jet-lagged fugue through the neon canyonlands and narrow sidestreets of Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighbourhood. You know: the setting for Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Bill Murray? That was me. Minus the hair. And Scarlett Johansson.

After three years Achan returned to her family in suburban Calgary. After another year, in central Hokkaido this time, I relocated to Tokyo for some big-city adventure.

Now, thirteen years later, I live in a comfortable if un-cinematic neighbourhood in west Tokyo. Every day, on the commute, I pass through labyrinthian Shinjuku Station.

“There are eight million stories in the naked city,” to paraphrase The Naked City. And more than three million of them pass through Shinjuku each day. The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Shinjuku Station as the“world’s busiest station”. Channel5’s recent documentary “World’s Busiest: Station” gets it right: “a perfect storm of busy-ness.”

Continue reading “Shinjuku North Side Drift: Red Lights to Skyscrapers”

Shinjuku’s Golden Gai: Down the Rabbit Hole in Tokyo’s Best Nightlife District

An introduction and Brief Guide to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai

(Update: I’ve posted an updated version of ‘Down the Rabbit Hole,’ with pictures, at my other blog on medium.com)

Tokyo has more than its share of popular nightlife areas. Shibuya draws the club kids. Roppongi caters to the international crowd. Kabukicho is the largest blue-light district in Asia, a disconcerting mix of hostess clubs, brothels, and straight-up bars and restaurants.

Still, in the twelve-plus years I’ve lived in Tokyo, it’s to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai I go to meet interesting locals and, increasingly often, tuned-in travellers.

Since the 60’s and 70’s, writers and filmmakers such as Yukio Mishima and Yasujiro Ozu have haunted these narrow alleys. In the 1980’s, Wim Wenders shot scenes for Tokyo Ga in La Jetee, a bar devoted to movies, and still a favourite of cinephiles.

In fact, most of Golden Gai’s bars have a theme. There’s karaoke, of course, most visible at Champions, a popular first — and last — stop for many visitors. They start to spill onto the flagstone path by nine, and some stay until the first trains pull out of the nearby stations around dawn. At other places jazz remains popular, while Hair of the Dog has an extensive collection of punk and ska from the 80s. Still others cater to patrons with a passion for photography, exploitation films, or plastic models. At Tachibana shinryoushitsu, “Tachibana’s diagnosis room,” a cosplay nurse serves drinks with names such as “enema” and “speculum” from beakers amidst a cabinet of curiosities of medical charts and anatomical models. Another, the two-storey Albatross, has kept the red plush walls and chandeliers of its former incarnation as a brothel.

Maybe the setting explains Golden Gai’s unique fuinke, “atmosphere.” To enter the Gai is a little like discovering a secret garden or falling down a rabbit hole. A treed path lined with Peter Pan-like statues of cherubs riding dolphins and snails leads off neon-lit Yasukuni-dori and the red lights of Kabukicho. This isn’t Kansas Shinjuku any more, Dorothy-san.

No neon or — at least until recently — touts accost the visitor. Japan’s bubble economy, which transformed the surrounding area into an international-style city of wide roads and highrises, skipped this warren of six narrow lanes. In fact, the locals fought to keep it that way. Back in the 80′s, when developers razed the student ghetto and working neighbourhood of nearby west Shinjuku, locals took turns guarding Golden Gai from developers.

Maybe that’s why Golden Gai has a reputation for being closed to outsiders.

Times are a’changin’, however. Now visiting pop culture luminaries such asTim Burton and Quentin Tarantino have been spotted in the area. Whither go our pop stars, so follow we: Golden Gai has earned entries in recent editions of Fodors, Lonely Planet, and a plethora of websites. Heck, even CNN ran a service piece on “the five best bars in Golden Gai.”

“Down the rabbit hole,” maybe, but not exactly off the beaten path any more…

Truth is, the scene in Golden Gai has changed a lot in the last couple of years. More visitors have discovered the place and some, at least, of the establishments in the area are courting new clientele. Tokyobling, a popular blogger, recently called it “One of the most poorly kept secrets of Tokyo”, which sounds about right. This hasn’t “ruined” the place in my opinion, though twenty-year regulars may disagree.

What this means is that you should feel totally comfortable and confident visiting Golden Gai. While there are still many establishments that still cater to regulars, others are happy to host the international crowd.

Golden Gai may now be on the itinerary of every hipster visiting Tokyo, but it still offers a unique Japan experience. Perhaps not for much longer, though: a recent story on japantoday.com suggests that redevelopment plans for the area might once again be in the works… maybe in time for the 2020 Olympics.

Check out my most recent gallery of pics from Golden Gai on the Medium.com post!

Continue reading “Shinjuku’s Golden Gai: Down the Rabbit Hole in Tokyo’s Best Nightlife District”