Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tsunami and the cult of Ichiro

Update as of 3 May 2011 -- well, of course since I wrote the blog entry below on 25 Jan 2011, there was the horrific tsunami on the Sanriku coast, of which I have since blogged quite a bit, though not yet more about Kesennuma City.

But I haven't blogged anymore about Ichiro Suzuki. This Friday 6 May is Ichiro hit-count bobblehead night. I'll be going. You can follow Ichiro's stats here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/suzukic01.shtml
Fans of Ichiro and the Mariners know he holds the Major League record for consecutive seasons of >200 hits, batting for the Mariners since 2001. He broke Edgar Martinez' Mariners total hits record this year. If he has more than 200 hits this season, he will hold the all-time record for TOTAL seasons of >200 hits.

Meanwhile, the Mariners are showing signs of life.... In Japan, I was in a taxi whose driver asked where I was from, and I said "Seattle" after which "Ichiro" and "Mariners" He responded in Japanese to my host Yuichiro, "Mariners are weak"... We'll see. Meanwhile, keeping tabs of Ichiro's hits is fun.

original 25 January blog:

Last April, 2010, I was asked to give a lecture on tsunami geology to the community of Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Kesennuma is on the famous/infamous Sanriku coast of northern Honshu, where there have been many and serious destructive local tsunamis, as well as significant damage and casualties from the 1960 Chile tsunami. So 2010 was the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Chile tsunami, and there was an anniversary conference in Japan about tsunamis.

We tsunami scientists were on a field trip to the Sanriku coast, to see both the evidence of prior tsunamis, but also the efforts of the populace in a number of towns to prepare for future tsunamis – evacuation signs, elevated evacuation structures, gates to close off river mouths, and a sub-sea seawall to break the tsunami effects.

Despite all the precautions, the February 2010 tsunami flooded several towns, including the port area of Kesennuma City and did some damage to aquaculture in some embayments. Yuichiro Tanioka said there even was damage in Hokkaido, he has been going to meetings reviewing what happened and how to mitigate the next one.

So the people of the port/fishing community of Kesennuma City are very interested in tsunami, though it’s fair to say that’s true of many Japanese – indeed the word tsu-nami is Japanese and means “harbor wave.” [In Japanese, there is not a plural form, so tsunami is both singular and plural.]

This is an AP photo of Chile tsunami 2010 flooding Kesennuma.

So when our bus full of tsunami scientists from a number of countries rolled into these towns, they rolled out the red carpet. In Oofunato, we had a boat tour of the harbor area, with refreshments, in Kesennuma City a banquet. In between, the Kesennuma hotel ballroom was filled with mostly men in suits to hear two talks from our group, one by Fumihiko Imamura on the Chile 1960 and Chile 2010 tsunamis, and mine on tsunami geology. It turns out the mayor of Kesunnema was very interested in the asteroid impact 65 million years ago and my tsunami work on that, for which I apparently am famous in Japan, but I chose to focus on the geological evidence for relatively recent tsunamis in my home region--Cascadia subduction zone on the open coast (tsunami about 300 years ago), and the Seattle fault in the Puget Sound region (tsunami about 1000 years ago).

Well, how to relate my region to a Japanese audience? Most people don’t really know that Bill Gates lives in the Seattle area, though they’ve heard of him, of course. And if you go into a Japanese Starbucks, they probably have heard of Seattle, but despite the growing popularity of coffee in Japan, tea is still dominant. In any case, if you want to tell people here where you are from, just mention Ichiro -- I haven’t met a single Japanese person who doesn’t know about Ichiro. So I showed a couple slides mentioning Ichiro, and the audience was with me, completely, …while the international attendees (even from the U.S., except Seattle) were in the dark.

Ichiro (Suzuki), for those who are not baseball fans [that would be about no one in Japan…], now plays for the Seattle Mariners, and has the longest continuous steak of >200-hit seasons going in the history of Major League Baseball. Not to mention he is a great outfielder. I am not sure there is a living athlete in the U.S. who has the status of Ichiro in Japan. Maybe in the past, Babe Ruth? Every game is televised here, with Japanese commentators and photographers who focus on Ichiro. There are special Ichiro tours from Japan.

When we had a tsunami workshop in Seattle in 2005, we received special requests from our Japanese colleagues to go to a Mariners game, so 40 of us went. It was the night he hit his 1000th major league hit, but he was low key himself because he had been in a batting slump. Our group got its name “Tsunami Deposits Workshop” on the big board (can't find the picture right now...), and there just happened to be a tsunami warning in northern California that night [uncalled for… it was a quake on the Gorda plate]. Big night.

Well, Babe Ruth’s name sold candy bars – what else? Ichiro’s name and face sell everything, including beer. Today within a few blocks, I came across three Ichiro highlights. The Kirin Beer one I took in Tokyo last year. I am happy to have some instant cachet when meeting new people in Japan.

From Wikipedia: The Japanese name "Ichiro" is often written 一郎, meaning "first son." Ichiro's name, however, is written with a different character, 一朗, so that his name roughly means "brightest, most cheerful". Ichiro performs in TV commercials in Japan for ENEOS Oil Company. His likeness is used as the basis of the character "Kyoshiro" in the anime and manga Major.

One more link between Ichiro and tsunami – [partly from Wikipedia]

--While the exact origins of “the wave” may be in dispute, Seattle was the first place to routinely perform it [Husky Stadium, Kingdome, Mariners Stadium, Seahawks Quest Field]. It became ubiquitous at every single sporting event in the area in the early 1980s, and it has been a staple of Seattle sports ever since.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The last day or so..

The last day or so had a fair amount of diversity, I just want to share a few photos and tidbits. The first is the latest on the edge of my roof yesterday morning:

Then I took myself skiing, first of which was to take the subway to the southern end of the line, at which point I took this photo of an ad on the car. It made me think of Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation" -- this is an ad for Suntory beer, rather than Suntory whiskey:

Then I took the 102 bus to the end of the line, I didn't get any photos out the window, but views included 1) a giant quarry, 2) a giant, golden, reclining Buddha [the size of a building], 3) the outdoor sculpture, art park, and 4) the cemetery on the hill that has scale replicas of Easter island heads, a whole line of them; Stonehenge; and a giant Buddha head.

I got off at Takino ski area, mostly families doing low-relief downhill skiing and sledding:

I had an adventure renting cross-country equipment [mostly lost in translation; and/but especially they wanted a cell phone number...], then I headed out, thinking I might try skiing 16 km [10 miles]:

It was a relatively warm day, hovering around freezing, started sunny, but clouded over, the light was rather flat. The course started quite hilly, so I wasn't sure I was going to make 16 km, but around 5 km, it became gentler for longer distances.

I caught the 102 bus back to the subway, and the subway line back to my neighborhood, it was pretty straightforward. I bought a card worth 5000 yen to use multiple times on subways and buses. Tanioka taught me how, now I'm pretty independent, except that... well, I found there is a fair trade store in my neighborhood, and I wanted to find out if the coffee they sold was dark roast. I had a dictionary, but we never managed to figure it out, I bought some anyway. They had quite a few things like the Ten Thousand Villages Store in Seattle, where I volunteer:

Also on my way to and from the subway is the big store, where I do most of my shopping and where I picked up a few kitchen items. Already the day before I had purchased some Suntory whiskey, of which, after a bath and some supper, I had a glass. I went to bed early so I could get up and watch the Packers beat the Bears. I don't have any pictures of that, except in my head.

After I paid my rent, I came in to the office, and the rest of the day has been pretty regular. Except in this case, regular does not include snow.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

To snow or not to snow…

By yesterday lunch, there hadn’t been anything but a tiny snow flurry for three days. As we walked to lunch, I commented that I was getting nervous about no new snow… I had just read about how the 2006-2007 was a low-snow year, and the possibilities that global warming might be responsible for less snow and sea ice around Hokkaido [a 20-year eyewitness account by photographer Kenji Ito, who went with us to the Kurils in 2006]:


But mostly I was just yearning for the clean, white, fluffiness, rather than the packed-down, browning world of old snow in the city.

Besides, it’s hard to walk on old-snow-packed sidewalks. It had been near freezing, so the packed surfaces were slick – last night I went to my knees once, and slipped off into deep snow another time. Many of the snow-packed sidewalks have rises in the middle, where people pack the surface before it can be shoveled, or where small snow vehicles have packed the edges to iciness. Walking on this higher surface is like walking on wet, algae-covered boulders in the intertidal zone. I always advise my students, “Don’t step on the tops of boulders, jam your feet in between them.”

The transformations of the snow creatures

The naturally sculpted snow creatures I have been observing in the trees first morphed into fatter, sassier guys as the big snow went on. Then as the snow waned and the sun warmed, they thinned back out. Many of them dripped icicles and “snow lace.” Some of them went from looking like fall-fattened bears to drooping sloths. The transformations were one aspect of the waning snow and warming air that enthralled me. I’ve taken far too many photos. So now I try some days to leave my camera behind and just look. I imagine I am getting to be a familiar, strange sight to others who walk the main route down through Hokkaido University. Do they wonder what I’m gazing at? Does it cause them to stop and contemplate, too? The other day, one of my colleagues here said “You have a good imagination.”

Who likes snow?

At lunch, I rhapsodize about the snow, and talk about skiing, or just about the wonderful natural snow sculptures in the trees. Yuichi complains about having to shovel it. Yuichiro mentions that many old people give up their houses in Hokkaido because they can’t keep up with shoveling the snow. He also said that the other day, because the roads have been narrowed, etc., by big snow piles, that it took him and his colleagues an hour to go 2 km in a traffic jam in the middle of the day. Better to walk. But watch out for slipping….

I mention a couple times that in the enterprising U.S. of A., we youngsters would seek business opportunities shoveling snow for spending money, and that nowadays there are whole businesses devoted to snow removal. Here it seems still very much a duty of each resident, with the municipal forces eventually cleaning the walks more thoroughly. I do remember, as a kid, finishing the driveway cleaning, only to have a plow come by and make a giant pile at the end….it happens here too.

I am reading the novel (in translation), Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami. I previously read Kafka on the Shore, which was quirky and compelling. I’m not sure why I picked out Dance… as the next one to read, but it starts with the protagonist in Sapporo during winter. His mood is not positive, in any case, so the nearly continuous snowing in Sapporo for him is depressing ---gray, gray, gray.

I find myself exhilarated by the snowing. It’s like going back to childhood. Rather than the gray skies of Seattle winter, I see the world here as bright and white. My ways of dealing with Seattle winter rain and clouds include “allowing” myself to have a fireplace fire if it’s raining (also better for the air). In terms of colors, though, Seattle actually has most winter places beat because the grass stays green, and there are lots of conifers. A contrast, e.g., with my winters in Wisconsin, which were very white [and gray and brown]. Of course it’s all a matter of perspective and mood. Have I mentioned I love snow?


Last night as I left the office I was surprised to go out and find a centimeter of new snow--I hadn’t noticed it snowing from my office window to the dark outside. The snow must have fallen in big flakes or clots because the snow surface was pock-marked; I worried it might rain…. There were still some flakes in the air, though not many.

This morning I woke to thick flurries, with about 10 cm accumulated – hurrah! Walking in was much easier, as the new snow had stickiness to it that kept the slipping and sliding to a minimum. And many of the dingy surfaces were covered again. It’s been blowing, so snow clods are flying off the trees, a small one hit the back of my neck. Three young men walked by without hats, and they looked a bit like snow monkeys with their black hair hatted with snow.

Now it’s partly sunny, but I feel like it will snow again soon. I hope.

Beginnings of Hokkaido University

A bit of history of Hokkaido University (Hokudai for short), and the role of Massachusetts men

Hokkaido University (北海道大学, Hokkaidō daigaku), or Hokudai (北大), is a national university of Japan and a member of the National Seven Universities. It is ranked as one of the top 200 universities in the world. Hokudai had its beginning as an agricultural college founded near the beginning of the Meiji era.

Photo from the archive of William Wheeler

The short story: Sapporo Agricultural College (1876-1907). In July 1876, Dr. William S. Clark (see more bio below), then the President of the Massachusetts Agricultural College in the U.S. was invited to be the Vice President of the College. In August 1876, Sapporo Agricultural College was inaugurated by William S. Clark with the help of five faculty members and a first class of 24 students. In April 1877, Dr. Clark left Sapporo, and his former student and protégé Dr. William Wheeler (see more bio below) took the helm, remaining as president through 1879.

William S. Clark [left}, the Clock Tower, today (center), which was built in 1878 as a drill house for the college, and William Wheeler (right)

From 1876-77, Clark traveled to Japan at the request of the Japanese to establish an agricultural college at Sapporo. He is still remembered in Japan for his famous parting words: “Boys, be ambitious!" He is, indeed, almost a mythical figure.

Tohoku Imperial University (1907-1918) In June 1907, Sapporo Agricultural College became a part of the Agricultural College of the newly established Tohoku Imperial University in Sendai. Hokkaido Imperial University (1918-1947) In April 1918, Hokkaido Imperial University was established. The Agricultural College of Tohoku Imperial University was transferred to it. Hokkaido University (1947-2004). In October 1947, Hokkaido Imperial University was renamed Hokkaido University, re-chartered in 1949, and becoming in April 2004 National University Corporation Hokkaido University.

I am not sure what the newer designations mean, but I do know that since I have been here, there have been several votes taken by faculty about certain matters, and these votes are real elections, with ballots and monitors, etc.

More to come on Massachusetts men, Amherst, UMass, and the founding of Hokkaido University.

I’ll come back to this, here are a few photos, meanwhile. You can find decent articles in Wikipedia on William S. Clark and William Wheeler.

These are a couple of my pictures from this winter of the historical experimental farm -- yes, this is Hokkaido University, not western Massachusetts...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Some basics about the island now called Hokkaido

Hokkaido—the Japanese Alaska? the Russian Kamchatka?

When I first came to Sapporo for a meeting in 2006, I heard a Japanese earth scientist referring to “Japan and Hokkaido” – this would be like saying “the US and Alaska” or “Russia and Kamchatka” [once, in the U.S., when a young Moscovite asked if I had been to Russia, I reponded yes, I’d been to Kamchatka, and she replied, “Oh, but that is not Russia…”] – indeed the three regions (in the case of Alaska, especially the Aleutian chain eastward to SW Alaska) have some commonalities in their geology, geography and human history. Though many differences, too.

Hokkaido, Kamchatka, and Aleutian Alaska are all frontiers, remote and wild. By now, Hokkaido is the most developed of the three, but still there is much wildness, and a sense of other-ness compared to the rest of Japan. Its climate and vegetation are northern temperate, with four seasons and mixed hardwood-conifer forest. Kind of like New England! No wonder William S. Clark was a success here [see the founding of Hokkaido University].

A bit of Hokkaido history [feel free to let me know of emendations] [dates given are western calendar; historical summary is edited from Wikipedia]

There is archaeological evidence that people were on Hokkaido by around 20,000-30,000 years ago. When people from Japan arrived, the primary residents were the Ainu. [more later about archaeology, as I have colleagues here who study it.]

During the Nara and Heian periods (710–1185), people in “Hokkaido” conducted trade with Dewa Province, an outpost of the Japanese central government. From medieval times, the people in “Hokkaidō” began to be called Ezo, and around the same time this island came to be called Ezochi, its Japanese name until the Meiji Restoration (which began in 1868). Residents of Ezochi mainly relied upon hunting and fishing and obtained rice and iron through trade with the Japanese.

During the Muromachi period (1336–1573), the Japanese created a settlement at the south of the Oshima peninsula (the southern arm of Hokkaido island). As more people moved to the settlement, disputes arose between the Japanese and the Ainu. Takeda Nobuhiro killed the Ainu leader, Koshamain, and defeated the Ainu uprising in 1457. Nobuhiro's descendants became the rulers of the Matsumae-han, which was granted exclusive trading rights with the Ainu in the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo periods (1568–1868). There were numerous uprisings by the Ainu against feudal rule. The last large-scale resistance was a rebellion led by the Ainu chieftain Shakushain, in 1669-1672. In 1799-1821 and 1855-1858 the Edo Shogunate took direct control over Ezochi in response to a perceived threat from Russia. Leading up to the Meiji Restoration, the Tokugawa Shogunate took over control of most of Ezochi. Shortly after the Boshin War in 1868, a group of Tokugawa loyalists proclaimed the island's independence as the Republic of Ezo, but the rebellion was crushed in May 1869. Ezochi was subsequently put under control of Hakodate Prefectural Government.

The Meiji Development Commission aimed to secure Ezochi for Japan. When establishing the Commission, the Meiji Government changed the name of Ezochi, choosing Hokkaidō from six possibilities. According to Matsuura Takeshirō, the name was thought up because the Ainu called the region Kai. Historically, many peoples who had interactions with ancestors of the Ainu called them and their islands Kuyi, Kuye, Qoy, which may have some connection to the early modern form Kai. The Ainu name for the island of Hokkaido has traditionally been Aynu Mosir, translating as "Ainu Land" or "The Land Where People Live."

On Hokkaido in the Meiji restoration, Kuroda Kiyotaka was put in charge, and he went to the United States and recruited Horace Capron, President Grant's Commissioner of Agriculture, to promote Western agriculture and mining; Capron had mixed results.* In 1876 William S. Clark arrived, having been hired to help found an agricultural college in Sapporo. Although he remained less than a year, Clark left lasting impression on Hokkaido. His parting words, "Boys, be ambitious!" can be found on public buildings in Hokkaido to this day.

In the 1870s, the population boomed from 58,000 to 240,000, and in 1882, Hokkaido was separated into three prefectures, Hakodate, Sapporo, and Nemuro. In 1886, the three prefectures were abolished, and Hokkaido was put under the Hokkaido Agency. Not until 1947 did Hokkaido became equal with other prefectures, when the revised Local Autonomy Law became effective.

*[excerpted and edited from Wikipedia] Horace Capron (August 31, 1804 – February 22, 1885) was an American businessman and agriculturalist.….Capron was asked by Kiyotaka Kuroda, a vice-chairman of the Hokkaidō Development Commission, visiting the United States, to be a special advisor to the commission in Hokkaidō, Japan. Capron agreed and travelled to Hokkaidō 1870-71 as foreign advisor…. Capron spent four years in Hokkaidō, suggesting numerous ways that the frontier island could be developed. He introduced large-scale farming with American methods and farming implements, imported seeds for western fruits, vegetables and crops, and introduced livestock, including his favorite Devon and Durham cattle. He established experimental farms, had the land surveyed for mineral deposits and farming opportunities, and recommended water, mill and road improvements. His recommendation that wheat and rye be planted in Hokkaidō due to similarities in climate with parts of the United States also led to the establishment of Sapporo Beer, one of Japan's first breweries. He contributed to the urban planning for Sapporo city with an American-style grid plan with streets at right-angles to form city blocks.

Capron's tenure in Japan was not without controversy. Articles appeared in both Japan and the United States by former associates attacking his work and his personal competency. He was often frustrated with delays in the implementation of his suggestions (or on occasion, the rejection of his suggestions by more conservative members of the government). However, Kuroda Kiyotaka, future Prime Minister of Japan, was a close and trusted friend. Capron admired the Ainu of Hokkaidō, whom he compared favorably to his experiences with Native Americans. From his journals, it appears that he also admired the Japanese, although he regarded them as semi-barbaric, and firmly believed that rapid adoption of Western culture would be in Japan's best interest.

During his stay in Japan, Capron was honored with three audiences with Emperor Meiji, who took a close personal interest in his work in the development of Hokkaidō. In 1884, nine years after he departed Japan, Horace Capron was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun (2nd class) for his services in transforming Hokkaidō.…. After his time in Japan, Capron continued his contacts with the country, including acting as a purchasing agent for livestock and military equipment, and selling his house on N Street in Washington, D.C., to be the site of Japan's first Embassy. During his period in Japan, Capron amassed a large collection of Japanese art and antiques, which subsequently formed one of the foundations of the Smithsonian's Asian collection.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow in Sapporo
After a couple days of mostly sunshine, it has clouded over again, but no sign yet of new snowflakes. Oops, a few are now being squeezed from the atmosphere, and now as I write, it's a light but steady fall.

Meanwhile, our big snow from a few days ago is evolving.

I am enthralled with the snow here, not only because of the setting – the sculptured and tended Japanese trees and shrubs pillowed up with snow – but because of the quality of the snow.

The snow is fluffy and light--it was easy to ski in a foot (30 cm) of it or more. Yet it sticks together and sticks to surfaces, even as it hangs over eaves such as the one outside my picture window.

In the days after the snowfall, the snow in many places is clinging to branches in unlikely manners, draping like garlands in many cases, sitting in lumps like deformed marshmallows in others. On my way in to the university this morning, I meditated on these natural sculptures, several looking like cats, squirrels, koalas, and many like anacondas.

What makes this snow special? Something about its origin as “fog” from the Japan Sea? Is there something in the physics of it? There must be. I can’t find much on the web, I have written to Steve Warren, an atmospheric scientist who studies snow. But maybe he is at the South Pole and can’t get my photo images.

I guess this is more of a photo essay, because I haven’t many words for my wonderment.