Insecure and Dysfunctional. Well, who isn't?

日本語 

Why are we so insecure? I do apologise if you're baffled by this presumptuous assumption, but we do seem to be beset with insecurities of all sorts (I'm keeping the royal 'we' to show solidarity with my fellow wimps of the world).

Am ugly. Am so stupid. Am such a fraud. Why is my career still non-existent? How could I possibly support myself and live to be happily-or-otherwise retired in my old age like normal people do? No one can possibly love me, and if they say they do, they don't really know me, they're only projecting what they want - the imagined me (all wonderful) - on this person - the real me (not wonderful), etc.

It's a wonder we can function as socially-responsible adults at all, when we're so tormented inside.

But that's just it. We do keep on living day by day, doing daily chores, pretending everything is chipper when all we want to do is just crawl up in bed and pretend that the world doesn't exist.

Isn't that amazing in itself? Aren't we tough as boots, though our confidence level might hit the bottom of the Mariana Trench?

Some psychologists tell you that unconditional approval from parents (esp. mothers) in childhood is essential in nurturing healthy self-confidence, and without that, we could be one hell of a nervous wreck of psychologically dysfunctional junks. Or something like that.

But aren't we all desperate for that approval, no matter what sort of childhood/parents we've had?

Isn't life about finding that place, one tiny little corner for yourself in this wide world, where you can feel safe, accepted, and wanted?

And I think we carve out that spot for ourselves by finding someone we could spend our life with, for one thing, and establishing ourselves in society by somehow building up this cantankerous thing called career, for another.

Seal of approval for our existence isn't some magical treasure that we missed in our childhood.

We're all lost, all so lonely and insecure, desperately longing to be accepted. And that's quite normal. Life's like that, because our life's journey is to find our way home.

So, chin up, us, we will get home one day.

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生まれてきちまった悲しみに

English

先日姪と『オズ はじまりのたたかい』を観てきたので、久しぶりに。

偉大な人間になりたいと思いつつ、自分はペテン師だと思っている男の物語。

どうして人はそれほどまで自分に自信がもてないんだろう。

自信はあっても、現実の自分の姿が邪魔する。小さい頃母親から絶対的な無条件の愛情を注いでもらえなかった。日頃の行いが悪すぎる……。


理由はいろいろだろうけど、自分の価値なんて、基本、人が教えてくれるものだと思う。誰も同意してくれないけれども私はすごい、なんて思える人はかなりおめでたい。


本当はひとりひとりがかけがえのない命で(何しろ同じ人間はひとりとしていないので)、生まれてきたというだけで奇跡なのだけれども、でも存在してるだけですばらしい、なんて言われても本人は納得がいかない。何か理由づけが欲しい。ひとりひとりが特別なんだよ、誰だってほんとはオンリーワン、じゃ、みんな問答無用に特別というわけで、じゃ、この私という人間には別に意味はないんじゃ、ということになってしまう。


そこで、ほかの人たちはどうでもいいけど、あなたは私にとって唯一無二の特別な存在なの、と言ってくれる人がいると、迷えるちっぽけなエゴもようやく居場所が見つかった気になれる。


そんなものなのじゃないだろうか。自信なんてなくって当たり前のものなのでは。だから、自分の価値を信じてくれる人の言葉は素直に聞いておいた方がいい。それを信じないのは甘えすぎ。自信のなさ、人生に戸惑っている不安なんて、人に丸投げできるものじゃない。


きっと、誰だってこの広い世界の中でどうにか生きていける小さな自分用のスペース(多分六畳一間くらい)を見つけようとしているんじゃないだろうか。それは、公私で見つけていくものだと思う(仕事の上で自分の地位を確立していくことと、プライベートで人生をともにする人を見つけること)。


でも、あなたはここにいていいんだよ、って誰にも言ってもらえないこともある。自分で自分に言うしかないこともある。


そういう時には、縁あって知り合った者としてひとこと言いたい。

誰が何と言おうと、あんたはえらい!

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Don't laugh at someone else's sex? But it's laughable to call it sex at all

Film review: "人のセックスを笑うな" (2007)
Director: Nami Iguchi
Cast: Hiromi Nagasaku, Kenichi Matsuyama

I guess I should explain why I picked this film to watch one night. It's because the title, "人のセックスを笑うな" (don't laugh at someone else's sex) caught my attention. Obviously I was intrigued by the provocative challenge that dares us to trivialise other people's predicaments where they are most vulnerable. I'm artistically-minded like that.

Just quickly to give you an idea what this film is about; basically, a boy of 19 (played by Kenichi Matsuyama) meets a mysterious (and apparently irresistibly attractive) maturer woman (played superbly by Hiromi Nagasaku), and predictably falls in love with her, who turns out to be a new lecturer at his college. What is not so predictable is that the innocently coquettish femme fatal turns out to be very much maturer indeed by some twenty years, and to be very much married also, happily living with a very sweet man. Heartache ensues, naturally.

Well, the film didn't quite deliver. It was all very stylish, all very cute, and actually I like it as a piece of work. But as a story, I didn't like it one jot for two reasons.

First, I didn't find the heroine a sympathetic character. The mysterious, free-spirited creature is basically just an overgrown child who has no respect for others or has no inkling that they may have such things as feelings. So she happily goes on taking advantage of everyone else, on assumption that the entire universe orbits around her existence. As you can see, I didn't quite like her.

Second, while I wholeheartedly agree with the message, "don't judge other people's affairs," (and that's what got me interested in the first place, I have to remind you), there's hardly any sex in the film. I'm not saying that I wanted to see Kenichi Matsuyama in action (though that would've made it more interesting, undoubtedly).

What I mean here is that there's no sensuality, no raw desire portrayed in the film. The most we get is Nagasaku kissing (more pecking, really) Matsuyama noisily and persistently, which we are supposed to interpret as liberated sexuality of a free-spirited older woman. No saliva, just cute little noises. I found that persistent pecking rather annoying, more than anything else. It's like talking about the "rampant sensuality" of biting into those pretty little pastel-coloured macaroons.

So there is no shock value that might be expected from the provocative title. The film is too busy being stylish, and it does not engage in the nitty-gritty of falling in love - the obsession, the exhilaration, and the hurt.

There is a very symbolic scene towards the end, where Matsuyama flicks the lighter that Nagasaku gave him in the early days (it's red and heart-shaped by the way, so you won't miss the symbolism), and a feeble light flickers on though he thought it was out of gas. Then a line comes up across the screen, something like "会えないからって終わるわけじゃないだろ" which roughly goes, "it doesn't die out just because you can't see her, does it."

The feeble flicker is very symbolic, I thought. The film's premise is jolting the world with the all-consuming flame of desire beneath the apparent ludicrousness that is the banal reality of romance. But there is no flame, just a flicker -  from a heart-shaped lighter that you thought was out of gas. Don't laugh at sex? There is no sex to laugh at. No nudity, no saliva, no sweat, no raw emotion - just girls jumping up and down on sofa/bed in tantrums. Quite a well-chosen gesture for the selfish, immature, skin-deep "want" of the characters I thought, as in kids screaming "Want" in front of toy shops.

So the film doesn't achieve what it sets out to do. Instead of shocking us into realising that every romance is real, no matter how lame it appears to be, it achieves the exact opposite in convincing us that yeah, something that can be so neatly contained in a stylish flick about romance IS shallow and superficial. Because it doesn't disgust you, embarrass you, weary you and captivate you by realities of naked human desire. It has no claw. It's only a kitten scratching at the surface, meowing "I can do you real harm." No, kitten, you are quite harmless. Very cute though.

About Nagasaku's oddly healthy huge cotton pants - why does she wear them over tights? Does everyone actually wear underwear over tights?

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Take a Walk on the Slutty Side

My mother, who is formidably proper in most other things, is a staunch believer of "showing a bit of legs," and urges me to do so, although she is extremely averse to cleavage flashing to the degree that she manages to find fault even with wedding gowns. To give you some insightful background information, my cleavage hardly exists and my thighs are too robust, shall we say, bordering on offensive. Mother, however, jealously guards my most innocuous cleavage while urges me to suffer the general public with my offending thighs. I am not quite sure if this is due to our generation gap, or simply my own mother's idiosyncrasy, but every time she gives me once-over with accompanying advice before I go out, it always strikes me that mothers are incomprehensible creatures with their own sense of propriety and dress codes.

The world, too, seems to have some strong ideas about what girls should wear. In sharp contrast to my mother's belief, it seems to think that girls should not expose too much of their limbs (though they are in perfect accord when it comes to neckline). Apparently, women are still to blame for exciting men's base desire, causing them to attack us forcibly: the ancient biological truth since the days of our simian ancestors. I believe that is what a Canadian police officer meant when he offered kindly advice to female students: "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."

Well, the force of argument is self-apparent. No doubt the British MP, Nadine Dorries, who proposed a bill for teaching young girls how to say No to their over-sexed boyfriends, would agree with this well-meaning policeman. Society is "saturated in sex," she said, and girls aged 13 to 16 should be taught abstinence, in order to empower them, really. Though boys are OK, they are free to go on just being boys, pestering girls for sex, because boys are like that, aren't they, at that age?

I do not understand why she did not see the obvious solution of giving them the snip. After all, if boys are the sole offenders as no doubt they are, when poor girls simply don't know how to say No, why not go to the source? And this environmentally-friendly solution has the extra advantage of solving the bursting world population problem too.

Just possibly, Kenneth Clarke with his subtle shades of rape-and-not-so-offensive-rape, may have had exposed midriffs and come-on boots in his mind when he suggested that date rapes "vary extraordinarily one from another," though I am sure he was merely thinking of the overflowing British jails in drawing up his plan for sentence discounts for early guilty pleas in rape cases.

Some women (and men, let it be said), however, took issue with this universal understanding that rape victims were asking for it; they have taken to the street to claim girls' right to tart up. The movement known as SlutWalks has now spread throughout the US, and to Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK, apparently. This may have raised some eyebrows among ranks of decent citizens, who never dream of even verbally abusing women or commodifying their bodies (the male half) and never wear anything that cannot be worn in the presence of their mother-in-laws (the female half). It may simply be bad taste and silliness as it appears to be.

I ask for understanding and generosity here, however. When you look at young girls in scanty clothes, arrogantly exhibiting their fearless youth, you may only see young girls in scanty clothes, arrogantly exhibiting their fearless youth. Yet, only too soon, their bodies will succumb to gravity and passage of time. Their limbs will not stay so supple, nor their hair so shiny for long.

So please overlook their proud crowning of their youth; it will not be there for long to bother you. Rather, why not admire the beauty of it all, the amazing vitality of radiant health, of youth that is yet to learn fear? Sadly, I do not possess ample bosom to present, or lithe limbs to exhibit; but if I did, I'd put on the tartiest of the clothes in my wardrobe and join them in a heartbeat on the SlutWalks. The only complaint I have with the SlutWalks is that participants do not seem to be dressed provocatively enough. What is the point of SlutWalk if it is merely a well-behaved march of demure-looking, well-dressed, well-meaning men and women?

One last thing on this matter; please do not be unduly offended when women, who are practically begging for sex for all intents and purposes, do inexplicably and stubbornly refuse to cooperate, because their assets are not meant for your consumption, however unbelievable that may be. When they put on tarty skirts, they are showing the world that this is what they are, what they are made of; that they have nothing to hide; that they are young, beautiful, and alive. Gentlemen, have you got the guts to be so alive?

PS. I accidentally went on one-woman SlutWalk, going to work today. Complete with aggressive makeup that was most inappropriate for a Monday morning. I tried to make my presence very scarce before leaving home, but mother was not to be defeated; she even overtook me as I was hurrying out the door, to take stock of my appearance. I braced myself for the usual "Isn't that showing too much?" (this always means cleavage, never legs) but got "Cool" instead. I'll never understand mother's sense of propriety.

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The Operation Tomodachi

Since the M9.0 earthquake and the towering waves of tsunamis left North-East Japan in devastation, so many countries offered us help, including those which I'd imagine could ill afford to do so: in fact, 132 nations and regions, and 34 international institutions to this day. After the crisis broke out at Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Plant, some nations - most noticeably the USA and South Korea, among others - promptly came to our rescue again. It was uplifting, to say the least, to know that the world cared about us, about the tragedy that befell those families who were torn asunder by the awesome natural disaster.

I will never forget how much relief I felt in hearing the news that South Korea was on its way to Japan, immediately after the disaster struck us. How much strength the international aid gave us. Most of all, America has proven to be our staunch ally.

The US took to the task of rescuing Japan full-scale; it was named "The Operation Tomodachi." When I heard the news, I couldn't help smiling at the slight cheesiness of it, but at the same time, nothing was more moving, and reassuring. Approximately 13,000 personnel are mobilised for this operation.

The US Air Force has been transporting relief goods such as food and clothes from the US Kadena airfield in Okinawa, and has been flying unmanned recon planes over the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant.

The US Army has sent medical and engineering teams, and has been engaged in the restoration of the airport in Sendai.

The US Marine Corps has been transporting relief goods to the affected areas from the super carrier acting as a relief centre.

The nuclear powered super carrier Ronald Reagan, with its fleet of 20 warships, had been on its way to military maneuver with South Korea, but changed its course on hearing about the news from Japan. It positioned itself 50km off the coast of Sanriku, and has been acting as an impromptu maritime base for rescue efforts since 13 March, only two days after the disaster struck Japan.

As the roads were severed in the coastal areas in Iwate and Miyagi by the tsunamis, the US rescue teams send relief goods from the temporary maritime base by helicopters. They spot shelters cut off from roads from above. They discovered 17 such isolated shelters in one day alone. In the news coverage, I saw old women bowing their heads deeply, holding the American soldier's hands, wordlessly thanking him. They have delivered 230tons of relief goods.

As a nuclear powered super carrier, Ronald Reagan is uniquely equipped with radiation monitoring equipments. Although the carrier is positioned 90km away from the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant, they take meticulous precautions against any possibility of exposure to radiation. They carefully monitor the radiation levels of personnel, check the wind directions, and provide pilots with iodine preparations against contingency. If the radiation level should go up, they would move the carrier to a different spot and continue with their rescue operation.

The US is fully engaged in the operations to pump fresh water into the reactors, sending two large vessels that can contain 1,100tons each. The US government also offered that it was ready to send a nuclear specialist troop of 450 men, on the Japanese government's request.

This shan't be forgotten in a hurry, how much our big tomodachi has been doing for us; indeed, how much our tomodachis both within Japan and abroad have been doing for us.

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Come Live with Us and Be Our Neighbour

The world has been giving us so much support in this time of dire need. If nothing else, this tragedy in Japan has taught me that emergency draws out our true colours, and what I've seen is more beautiful than I'd imagined. There is much hope for humanity yet. Of course, there are some ugly stories as well, like a certain hospital where elderly patients were deserted by staff, but that is only to be expected. Who can accuse anyone of trying to save themselves, when we are not the ones who were tested? There are also those stories, where staff refused to leave their elderly charge, and where a young girl in a village office kept issuing tsunami alerts, saving many lives, until she was swallowed by the tsunami herself. And the international response showed us what mankind was capable of. It was enough to make me believe that we are indeed in the Age of Aquarius, if it hasn't passed on to some other sign of zodiac since the 70s.

Yet, I have some reservations about the international media's reaction. When the nuclear crisis broke out at Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Plant, the world media seemed to go into a full meltdown frenzy. Nuclear scare is riveting. Fascinating. No doubt, it was aggravated by the scarcity of information at the initial stages of the ongoing crisis. Foreign media was quick to offer speculations and criticisms of the government's management of the crisis. It sounded as if they all grasped the real danger of the apocalyptic end for those of us in Japan, and knew just what had to be done, while the Japanese government simply hadn't a clue that we were facing a full-scale nuclear crisis. They seemed to relish saying that Japan wasn't aware of the gravity of the situation, while what the nation was trying to do was to keep calm in the face of the most serious nuclear accident we have experienced.

The noticeable lack of panic in the public and the Japanese media during the height of the crisis does us some credit, I believe, as Japan is the country with most reasons to react hysterically to nuclear scare. Most people have visited the Peace Museum in Hiroshima on their school trips, and certainly have some extensive visual knowledge of what atomic bomb victims had gone through. When I was a small girl, I used to look at fallen hair on my pillow and wonder if we had been bombed during the night (I seemed to have mixed up air raids and atomic bombing), for a while after learning about atomic bombing. So, our apparent calm took me by surprise. I guess we couldn't afford to panic. It is only those in safe distance who are allowed the luxury of nuclear scare frenzy.

While the world media was gripped by the nuclear apocalypse for Japan,  which seemed to overshadow the Middle East crisis, it was only the British media (or the British Embassy in Tokyo, to be more precise) that offered any calm perspective, from my not-at-all extensive search of foreign media. Trust the Brits to keep their cool in time of emergency; their upper lips stayed as stiff as ever even when talking about a nuclear scare in some other country.

It was only natural, I suppose, that a rational voice in defence of nuclear power should be raised from that quarter of the world, in the middle of increasing distrust of nuclear power. Guardian's journalist wrote a piece titled "Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power" on 21 March, 2011. I personally think he spoke too soon, when the crisis is not even over yet, but I do understand why he would feel the urge to speak up for nuclear power right now. What he says may or may not be valid; there are so many conflicting opinions about the world's electricity situation that I cannot say if renewables alone (or in combination with fossil fuels), without nuclear, could cover the demand. (One thing for sure, we need to have a serious look at energy portfolio and at how much electricity we waste daily. We are trying to be extremely frugal with electricity in Japan at the moment, due to power shortage. It seems we should be able to live with much less electricity, at home at least.) Anyway, you can judge for yourself what he says here: "Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power" by George Monbiot.

He says, "I'm not proposing complacency here. I am proposing perspective." I'll give him perspective from the ground level, as it were.

It is too early to speak of the consequences of Fukushima No.1, when the situation is still far from over and done with. It may take some time yet until we hear the words, "cold shutdown," while continuing to hear reports of contamination in water and agricultural produce. There are restrictions on distribution of the vegetables which are contaminated over the safety standards; the sales of vegetables from those areas in general have been negatively affected. This is a grievous blow to the already earthquake/tsunami-stricken areas. Some countries already have placed restrictions on imports of vegetables from the affected areas. There is no knowing, as of now, how extensive the total damage brought on by the nuclear plant accident will prove to be, on our mental health (if not physical health, touch wood), and on our economy. These farmers and dairy farmers, who were spared in the unprecedented natural disasters the country has seen, are now threatened of their livelihood.

So far, the specialists tell us we needn't panic. The scientific data doesn't seem to warrant mass hysteria on a national scale. There are some who argue strongly that we shouldn't discard the vegetables which would not affect our health, even though they are contaminated over the safety standards (the provisional safety standards are very stringent, with the idea that the total radiation exposure should be below 5mSv even if the contaminated food/drink was consumed regularly at the national average rate for a year). It is shocking to see vegetables and milk go to waste, and to imagine what impact this will have on the farmers' lives. I understand these outcries against the restriction, although I do not see any other realistic response that the government could have taken. (Say, if there was no restriction placed on the risky vegetables, there would surely be mass hysteria, and the government wouldn't be able to claim that all "other" vegetables on the market were safe. If they lowered the very strict safety standards, rationally reasoning that regular consumption of the affected products over a certain period of time wouldn't affect our health, there still would be panic when foreign countries started banning imports from Japan, according to the strict safety standards.)

So we do our very best to be rational and to eat our greens, drink our milk, and not to rush to supermarkets to buy bottled water, so mothers with infants will have water to buy. (And just to preempt any criticism from those living outside Japan in a safe environment at those who do buy bottled water just now, we do not know when this crisis will come to its end, how it will play out, or if water might not become contaminated beyond the safety standards for adults as well. Our fear may prove irrational, and I hope it does, but who could call them selfish and inhuman when it is not their safety that is threatened, and it is not their integrity that is tested? Fear of nuclear is deeply rooted, and no amount of rational reasoning can eradicate the uneasy feeling that you might be taking in toxic substances that would eventually harm your health.)

But surely it is not normal to have to stop and think, "So the radiation level is only this and that, so we needn't worry," every time we drink tap water or go out in the rain. I don't know how long we must stay rational. The cleanup of Three Mile Island reactor 2 took 12 years. I would appreciate the journalist's rational approach, bigger perspective and all that, but there comes a point when I'm simply done with being rational. Reading this article was one such point for me. I'd love to shout out at him, "No you twat, nuclear isn't safe or viable."

He says in the conclusion, "Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power." The crisis ain't over yet. So, there has been no death attributed to the plant accident, as yet. Nuclear people tend to point at "no death" (during nuclear power plant accidents) as if that's proof positive that nuclear is so safe. But "the impact on people has been small"? Say that to those workers, firefighters, policemen, and SDF men, who are risking their lives to contain the situation. And to those farmers and dairy farmers who may lose their livelihood. If he really wanted to show rational support for nuclear power, he should raise his voice against the restriction of Japanese vegetables' imports. Or, better still, he could move to Fukushima, preferably within the 30km-zone. There'll be any number of empty houses, and plenty of free vegetables and fresh milk that he can drink to his heart's content.

Sometimes "rational" sounds only sanctimonious when it's not your thyroid glands that are on the line.

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East Japan Earthquake - Evacuees' situation - 17 March 2011

Some supply routes have been secured, and supplies have started arriving in the afflicted areas. Japan Ground Self Defense Force has sent 280 personnel and 100 vehicles to send supplies to evacuees. Also, the government has secured 300 tanker lorries from the western parts of Japan, to send fuel to the afflicted areas. People from all over the world have started sending supplies to Japan. South Korea has decided to provide Japan with gasoline preferentially.

Some evacuees, however, have already died from sheer cold (and hunger, fatigue, illness, etc). Elderly people are under serious threat. Many "shelters" (mere schools and halls; any big place really) are coming to their ends of supplies (food, water, petrol, kerosene). Here is a summary of what I've seen on the news (NHK news).

In Iwate, even those who are trying to send medical supplies to the area must get permit from the local municipality to receive petrol, as five petrol stations within Iwate that are set aside for emergency vehicles are running out of petrol.

In the badly stricken Rikuzen Takada, at least one shelter is coming to its end of kerosene. An old man told the media that they didn't have any more kerosene left after tonight. He said, "Though it's cold in the morning. Well, it just cannot be had, so nothing we can do about it," and smiled.

A private tour company started transporting patients to several hospitals for free. As the company is running low on petrol, the driver wasn't sure if they could provide the service again tomorrow, but he said they'll continue it as long as petrol lasts.

Evacuees are still trying to find their family members in other shelters. As there's hardly any petrol left, however, this is very difficult. I saw a woman cycling from shelter to shelter, looking for her parents. A few days ago, I saw a man cycling around, looking for his wife. He covered his back wheel with a piece of paper with her name written on it, and he carries his wife's photos to show people.

Yesterday (Wed, 16), I saw a girl, taking shelter in (possibly her own) primary school with her friends. They looked all very cheerful, as only primary school children can be. The girl said, "I don't know where my parents are yet, but they must be in other shelters," with such implicit faith, so matter-of-factly, without any trace of doubt.

There are many isolated shelters, completely cut off. An old people's home, whose residents are mostly elderly people with dementia, is one such example. As so many others in the Northern Japan, this place was hit by tsunami; however, there was no casualty, not even one of all 100 residents. This is because the 50 staff members carried all 100 of them upstairs, just as they practiced in their regular tsunami drills. Most residents are not mobile, so sometimes it took four staff members to carry them in heavy wheelchairs upstairs. They finished moving everyone upstairs five minutes before the tsunami struck them. Mercifully, it didn't reach the second floor, unlike in so many other places.

They were urged to evacuate to other shelters, but the staff refused to go, as it was not likely that they could find any shelter that would accept their residents, who need special care, and as they thought their charge wouldn't be able to survive in any other place. The staff managed to procure some supplies. The power is down, so they use a power generator. As they are very low on the fuel, however, they turn it off, save four hours when they cook food for all of them.

A dairy farmer in Aomori says he's very much afraid that people may leave off farming if the situation goes on much longer. He continues to milk his cows dutifully, since they will become ill otherwise. After discussing the matter with his friends, he decided to spray the milk in the field as fertiliser. He is wishing to deliver his fresh milk to evacuees.

I've seen some people shedding tears, telling us how they have no food, blankets, or medicine. I saw one old woman tell us she was concerned about her eye drops, as she'd go blind unless she has them. Isolated evacuees may be suffering even more than those in shelters, although these "shelters" offer hardly any comfort against the bitter cold winter of the northern Japan. They are mostly sleeping on hard floor with hardly anything but blankets, and a stove or two if they're fortunate enough to have both stoves and fuel. They have very insufficient information, and not knowing what is happening must be extremely trying for the already tragedy-stricken evacuees.

Finally, life goes on even in midst of all this; new lives are brought into this world. I saw a new mum, telling us about her labour in complete darkness (electricity was down). She said he'd be a strong boy, coming to life at a time like this. Her glowing smile was so radiant.

These mothers need food, however. Nursing mothers need to eat. And new-born babies cannot survive harsh winter without any heating.

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The Porn Question

Recently, I heard a very concise objection to pornography while listening to BBC's podcast programme, which went, as far as I remember, that pornography is wrong because it commodifies women. I found that argument very forcible. I do not know how extensive your knowledge of pornography is, but if you have seen what I've glimpsed, believe me, you'll know what I mean. Let me explain.

I once took on a very educational job of writing up short synopses and catch phrases for rental videos, believing it to be a meaningful and useful step in my career as an aspiring translator. The videos unfortunately included porn films. I was usually given copies of their jackets, but sometimes I had to look them up on the internet to gather any available information about their "plots."

It was OK as long as I could laugh about kinky stuff, but it got quite disturbing when I came across some seriously sick ones involving homeless people and rape, to give you some idea. I had to get out of there quickly before I was mentally scarred for life, but sometimes I do wonder if a regular guy, appearing to be completely normal and decent to all intents, may secretly harbour a colourful collection featuring high school girls in tights or much older women in bondage. Or rape-snuff films. I'm sure we're all entitled to our own fetishes and sexual fantasies in private, but these films do appear to treat women not as live human beings with feelings and pain, but as nothing more than pieces of meat.

What should we do about such extreme cases? Ban porns? There's always that argument that atrocious films are the cause of actual crimes. Banning pornography is not likely to eradicate violence against women, but these films certainly seem to abet diseased desire and promote the mindset that women are simply sex toys at your disposal to release your sexual frustration with. But sex is part of our nature; banning pornography, suppressing such a large part of our nature - after all, sexual desire is up there with the need for sleep and the need to eat - seems rather a myopic solution.

Then what are we to do? Should we embrace sexuality and make all-out porns for women? Shall we try and subjugate men to "female gaze," instead? Commodify male bodies? Say, just as men seem to think it their birthright to undress women in their minds while having a conversation with them (who said women are better at multi-tasking?), shall we stare at men's crotches intently until they squirm?

I happened to air that idea to a group of intoxicated women recently, in the course of a conversation on a completely different topic. They were quick to reject it; they insisted that that is not what grabs their attention about men, and that sizes do not matter. It is a widely-accepted pseudo-scientific fact that men are more visual, whereas women are more tactile. Therefore, I guess very explicit porn films catered for female audience would not be box-office smash hits.

So, hard-core porn films that portray men as nothing more than limbs and muscles and sticks and balls wouldn't work for female audience. We need stories. The whole point of it (well, not the whole, but large part of it anyway) is the "leading up to it." That's why most romance novels normally don't start in steamy bed scenes.

Here again, I must admit to some meagre professional knowledge. At one point during my past career struggles, I studied Harlequin romance. It was strictly for work, not for pleasure; however, if you need any pointer, I'd recommend Margaret Moore if you're into historical romance. "The Dark Duke" was quite good though not a Burney or an Austen, of course.

At any rate, as I was saying, the whole building-up to the final culmination is the life and meat of romance novels or chick lit, usually. Unless you want something saucier. Then I'd suggest you try Cheryl Holt. She's in the school of "sex first, talk later," with heroines passionately humping heroes after they barely met, oh and reaching soul-embracing supreme love through carnal knowledge in the process, naturally.

Either way, what is important for female readers is this connection of "souls"; romance has to satisfy their hunger for this ultimate, eternal love, not just bodily desire. Porns may have "plots" too; yet I believe that they are not much more than just settings to suit male audience's fantasy and to arouse their interest. At least, there wouldn't be much danger of the many protagonists finding their soul mate in the victim of rape in the above-mentioned example.

Does this mean that women are made of finer stuff than men? But that is too weak as a conclusion; if anyone happens to be reading this, the reader, of either sex, will immediately raise an objection that that is too obvious. So, let us explore the issue a bit more.

Should we, then, try to elevate men to our standards by promoting porn films of higher quality, whose plots are not mere props for quickly setting the scenes for twisted, potentially criminal fantasies? Is it a matter of creating "female porns"; porn films in which protagonists spend a lot of time being attracted to each other but crossing wires, before they inevitably find the love of their life in each other? Without too much raw visual but with lots of talks of souls, possibly even of reincarnation? In which every casual seductive maneuver on the hero's part is interpreted as a manifestation of his deep, uncontrollable passion and love for the heroine, every careless and meaningless action or lack of it as purposeful rejection ... or do we do that already in real life?

As of this writing, I'm yet to come to a decisive opinion on the matter. As a woman, I cannot swallow the idea of porn films that portray women purely as objects, carved out to your desire. But are we, women, also subjugating men to our desire, commodifying them and moulding them to suit our fantasy as these soulful lovers of our dreams?

The question is, I'm thinking, should men watch more romantic porns in which the hero and the heroine (whether in singular or plural) spend the first hour and a half getting to know each other, only getting down to business in the climax of the final five minutes? Or, should women give more impassioned appraisal of men's crotches, while also paying more attention to their buttocks, biceps and other manly curves? I'm rather inclined to think so. Come to think of it, we have been rather rude, to be so remiss about such male assets, haven't we, ladies?

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No Laughing Matter?

Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, one of the "double atomic bomb survivors" passed away on 4 January, 2010. His extraordinary experience was featured in a comedy quiz show by BBC, aired last December. This programme immediately caused a stir among Japanese viewers, which led BBC to issue apologies a few times. Here's the video-clip of the programme in question.

It may be "bad taste" and "ignorant" as some viewers thought, but it certainly isn't racist in any way, or trying to belittle the tragedy. You can see they are just being British. These men are bursting to say something funny on the topic, but they are not making light of Mr. Yamaguchi's experience or poking fun at atomic bombing itself. As far as I can see, the only offensive moment in the programme was when one of the panel said "his life wasn't curtailed" because he lived to be 93, rather carelessly and dismissively, and Stephen Fry hurriedly murmured "not exactly." If you think he had a jolly good old life, only kicking the bucket at 93, the old dog, then you should've done your homework. Just google "atomic bomb disease/ victims."

Apart from that, I do not find the programme itself particularly offensive (although it is not at all hard to imagine how his family must've felt, watching this programme). I do take issue with BBC's apology, however.

"QI[the comedy quiz show] never sets out to cause offence with any of the people or subjects it covers. However on this occasion, given the sensitivity of the subject matter for Japanese viewers, we understand why they did not feel it appropriate for inclusion in the programme."

This is fine, you may think. A good enough apology on a tricky matter. What seems to be missing in this official comment is the bit about QI frequently taking up European experiences during WWII too, this not being any preferential racist treatment for Japan. Interestingly, this part of the apology, which was reported by a reliable source of Japanese media (Nikkei), cannot be found anywhere else in the English coverage of this fiasco (so that was only my rough translation: the original text from the article was 『第2次大戦中の欧米人の悲惨な経験についてもお笑いクイズ番組で「しばしば取り上げてきた」とし、日本人だけを差別的に扱っているわけではないと釈明している』).

How charmingly condescending, as only Brits can be: "oh we shouldn't have done that. These Japanese, they're so touchy about atomic bombings. We, the mature Europeans, laugh at each other all the time, in fact, even at the Holocaust. That's the extent of our sophistication, it's part of our culture and history. But they'll never get that, will they, because they don't understand the first thing about humour (particularly the British kind)."

Oh, please don't go highbrow on us, BBC, especially with that sad excuse of a second-class comedy quiz show, with a bunch of middle-aged men in Hawaiian shirts trying so hard to be funny, desperate not to be outdone by others. If you need to make some apologetic noises, then please let it be about failing to be funny or provocative.

Granted, laughter has transcending power. To laugh at something means, to some degree, to look at things differently. That is why we can laugh at tragic events; it does not mean we are inhuman monsters who find other people's tragedy funny. We are laughing at something else that humour lets us see in the otherwise unlaughable situation. Laughter offers us a different perspective.

In fact, laughter probably is the only way we can cope with the sheer human misery in some cases. Laughter offers us some escape, as it lets you switch out of your perspective. It allows you to look at your life from outside, which is already some form of relief in itself. While you're laughing, you are outside of your own predicaments; you're no longer trapped in your life. If you can laugh, despite everything, you are OK.

This works on onlookers too; those happy people, who lead comfortable enough life, may be jostled out of their comfort zone when they laugh at something they are not supposed to find funny. It makes them feel uneasy. Laughter can have some disturbing effect, precisely because it sticks the harsh, raw reality of this world in our faces for a split second. Because of this, laughter is, by nature, subversive. In the hands of someone like Dario Fo, it can be made into explosive expressions of anger. But we don't go into that here, to keep it simple.

So, laughter is probably the greatest gift we have (some even claim that it is a specifically human ability to laugh, though I'd argue that that is a particularly human-centric idea and even smacks of imperialism somewhat. How many times have we seen similar scenes in films where the supposedly incomprehensible "natives" make some awkward attempts at jokes to the dumbfounded-and-then-delighted white people, by which we are supposed to understand that they have managed to build some connection because those who have been hardly perceptibly human so far are now shown to be "human"? But I digress).

We can laugh at ourselves, and embark afresh on this thing called life. Or, we can laugh with those afflicted, in our utmost compassion for the fundamental misery of our existence. There should be no taboo for laughter, as long as it is offered in understanding of our fellow beings. Sometimes, all we can do is laugh or cry.

Here's my complaint, BBC; you can laugh at anything you like, but please have the decency to make it funny. (And tread carefully when you apologise.)

I heard a rumour before that James Cameron was planning to make a film about the late Mr. Yamaguchi. While we cannot expect this film to be as irresistibly witty as BBC, we can at least be sure that it will be thoroughly informative, disturbing and deeply moving. I'd very much like to see this film. In 3D, of course.

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Girls just wanna have fun, wine, and all things nice

One night, on the way home from work ("work" proved to be a rather short-lived experience for me but that's another story), I heard some professor talking about happiness on podcast. It was rather an unlikely topic for a business school professor. He briefly explained what he calls "if then" model: happiness is a state of emotional well-being, so our happiness should not be dependent on external factors like money and success. It is a totally wrong way of going about life to say, "If I get promoted, then I'll be happy," "If I can get that lovely wallet, then I'll be happy," he said.

(For more info on his philosophy, his name is Dr. Srikumar S. Rao, Columbia Business School professor, author of "Are You Ready to Succeed?")

Yes, yes. Happiness is knowing that you're happy. You want to get on in life and stuff, but once you realise you've actually all you need to be happy, the idea of struggling to make something of yourself seems even more of a wild-goose chase. Surely things like making a living and establishing your career cannot be so consequential as they are cracked up to be, when you're surrounded by a loving family that happens to include two dogs and a cat, and two lovely nieces even.

I found that idea very congenial. Let's just be happy. Mother says I'm a good girl. No need to think yourself somehow unqualified just because you don't earn a regular income to support yourself or because you don't have a boyfriend even though most of your friends are married with kids and homes and mortgages. Happiness is all there if you care to look.

These ideas, however, somehow left me uncomfortable and confused. Am I making myself dissatisfied with life because I fail to accept myself and my life? Am I being acquisitive, misled in pursuing objectives such as career, independence and love? Is self-realisation a bogus dream of an overly ambitious, material person overindulged by a modern affluent society?

My "career struggles" may well be complaints of the fortunate when I don't have to toil to keep food on the table. It may well be greediness to want more when I am blessed in so many ways in life. After all, I have my family, health, (comparative) youth, and a roof over my head.

Still, it does take some fortitude not to be affected by the bleak prospects of getting nowhere with career and of life-long loneliness. What makes it even more trying is that trials don't come all at once; it takes iron will not to feel defeated by life's little disappointments. You think you've made a small headway with your career, then you find you're still solidly at the bottom of the ladder. You think you've met that special someone that you hear so much about, but it all comes to nothing.

It's not all that easy to be a thirty-something single woman, though our tribulations may seem so trivial to impartial onlookers. You see it everywhere in those books and films, "Bridget Jones," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Confessions of a Shopaholic" to name a few (though the heroines in the latter two may be twenty-something - hence the relative lack of poignancy in their romantic struggles). They're all true, probably minus the obligatory happy-ending. We may appear comical, at best, always going on about our same old woes (men that never reply and career-breakthroughs that never happen), but underneath it all, there is our genuine, heartfelt desire for happiness.

We want to become happy, and somehow, it seems to hinge on these extraneous things like men and career, probably undeservedly and disproportionately. It's our serious cry for happiness. It is true that we are fortunate; after all, we're not living on the street, and our countries are not in war. So accept it, be content with your lot in life, find your inner peace?

Well, no thank you. I need to be able to make a living, to make something of my career, if only to have even a shred of self-respect. I need to be in a happy, loving relationship. I need these things to be happy.

So, with due respect to Dr. Rao, I beg to differ. Happiness may be a state of being, but I choose to go obstinately after my will-o'-the-wisp.

And, just to be clear,  I won't let further adversities life may deign to place in my path foil my plan of happiness. Even if I end up a single forty-something who's still nowhere near being a "respectable citizen," I'll be at least a happy, laughing underdog. I'll amuse myself any way I can, having night-outs with friends, going to concerts or theater or whatever quality entertainment our society has to offer, buying whatever treats - bags, clothes, shoes, all these pretty things - when on sale.

In short, I'm determined to be as flippantly happy as possible, if denied of more profound happiness. That's the answer to the conundrum, I've found. Happiness is neither about being at peace with your life nor about achieving self-realisation; it's about doggedly refusing to be beaten down. It's the stubborn will to be happy, no matter what.

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