Friday, January 06, 2006

Energy, Tuna, Jazz, and Population: Japanese News

[Update: Saturday's paper says Tsunanmachi has 370cm of snow, whereas Friday's said 389cm (and it snowed a LOT on Friday). Not sure which is actually right, but more snow is expected through Sunday.]

A collection of random notes from newspapers the last couple of days...

Tsunanmachi, in Niigata prefecture, has accumulated 389 centimeters (153 inches) of snow. Niigata is know as "Yukiguni", or "Snow Country", and now you know why. The same storm has dumped quite a bit in the Hokuriku and Tohoku regions, stopping some shinkansen service and affecting about 9,000 passengers. And we're stuck in boring ol' Tokyo...(well, we did have a nice visit down to Hakone over New Year's, but that's another story).

The government aims to reduce energy dependence on foreign oil from the current 50 percent to 40 percent by 2030. This includes raising the percentage of nuclear power from 30 to 40. They claim Japan's economy is already very energy efficient, and if these numerical targets are met, it will be twice as efficient as during the first energy crisis in 1973.

Anybody who has lived in Japanese housing has to wonder about the efficiency claim; insulation here, at least around Tokyo, is not what it is in the northeast U.S. (Hokkaido is probably better). Double-paned windows are very rare, even in new construction. Walls are insulated with 35mm thick sheets of polystyrene foam, which is better than nothing, but I have a hard time believing that has an R-factor anywhere near what 100mm of pink fiberglas would have. I'm not sure what goes into floors or roofs.

Our place is probably typical. We have no central heat; wall-mounted heaters/air conditioners serve each major room (the bathroom and hallways aren't heated). These heaters can be gas or electric, ours are electric. We have on-demand heated water, not a large, standing water heater, and a gas range (no oven). My mother-in-law still uses a free-standing small kerosene stove, since electric heating is expensive. The current trend, at least in advertising, is to promote all-electric places, despite the price (it's certainly safer in an earthquake).

In the first fish auction of the year at Tsukiji, the highest price paid for a tuna (the whole fish) was 3.82 million yen (about $33,000) for a 191-kg fish, about $80/pound, bones and all.

There was an article about young women jazz players. I haven't heard any of them, but I may try to either find albums or catch them live, if I can. Nineteen-year-old saxophonist Saori Yano just recorded an album in New York; pianist Hiromi Uehara studied at Berklee. Trumpeter Hikari Ichihara and sax player Kaori Kobayashi are featured, as well, with shorter mentions of Akiko Grace, Saya, and Chihiro Yamanaka. Their staying power has yet to be demonstrated, of course, but given the dearth of international-quality Japanese women players to follow the groundbreaking path of Toshiko Akiyoshi half a century ago, it's a good sign. A few artists, such as pianists Junko Onishi (one of my favorites), Hiroko Kokubu, Keiko Kishino, flutist Rie Akagi and violinist Naoko Terai started appearing in the 1980s. I'm looking forward to hearing all of the ones I'm not already familiar with.

Okay, the big news from last year: the population of Japan declined in 2005, to 127,756,815 as of Oct. 1, about 19,000 fewer than a year before. The health ministry estimates about 10,000 fewer births than deaths for 2005. I'm not sure where the discrepancy lies, presumably that means that 9,000 more people emigrated than immigrated. This is two years earlier than previously predicted.

One consequence is that universities are scrambling for students. The Education, Science and Technology Ministry estimates that the number of students desiring admission will equal the number of places available in 2007. In 2005, 160 private universities, 30 percent of the nationwide total, failed to fill their entering classes.


At 2:19 AM, Blogger Rui Horta Santos said...

I run a pod dedicated to free improv out of Lisbon, Portugal:
Keep up the good work and pay us a visit!




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