Swans Commentary » swans.com December 17, 2012  



Perspectives: A Review of 2012


2012 Japan: Radioactivity Risk, Territorial Dispute, And Rush Of eBooks


by Kazue Daikoku





[ed. Kazue Daikoku, the publisher and editor of "Happa-no-Kofu," was very gracious and generous to share her sensitive thoughts in April 2011 about the natural disaster that befell Japan, her beloved country.]


(Swans - December 17, 2012)   I tried to choose three subjects that occurred in my mind when I thought about this year.


1. Aftereffect of the 2011 nuclear accident

I remember I wrote about the nuclear accident and the big effect last year in the "Year End Review" titled "Living With Radioactive Contamination." It has been 20 months now since the accident. What is the situation after 20 months? On the surface the aftereffect seems to fade along with the passing of time. It seems that people don't think about it all the time and it is no longer their first priority, even if many people join in a demonstration every Friday in front of the office of the prime minister's office in Tokyo against the government that is about to restart nuclear power plants. (It is very rare for Japanese, especially for ordinary people including young women with their children, to take action on something political.)

I guess most Japanese people don't think or try to avoid thinking about radioactive contamination in their daily life. They know it may not be safe for them to eat vegetables or fishes from Fukushima and the surrounding areas, but they don't know what they should do, either. So they avoid thinking.

But some people, especially the ones who have little children, have been worried seriously about this matter. One of my friends who has two daughters (both are under 10 years old) feels uneasy about radioactive contamination in the area where she lives. She lives in Tokyo. She has refused one of her daughters who goes to primary school to eat school lunches. Instead, she gives her daughter a homemade lunch to take to school. She also refused her daughter to join a curriculum of producing vegetables in the school yard. She didn't want her daughter to touch the soil of the school yard, which may be contaminated with radioactivity, with her bare hands. I hear that some kindergartens in Tokyo removed the sand from the sand pool in their garden after the accident due to a concern about radioactive contamination.

I don't think my friend is one of the excessive phobics.


2. Reaction to Japan-China dispute about a tiny island

Basically, I am not interested in a territorial issue even if it is related to Japan. Some well-known Japanese author proclaimed on TV, after the Japanese government bought the small island of the East China Sea to claim it as their own in September, that there is no time for us to get involved in such a territorial issue now. The Japanese government has strongly claimed the island had belonged to Japan. He mentioned that such a territorial dispute was always from the borders that were decided or confirmed by the governments, the nations, or colonies, not people who live there; it's a kind of "that's your business, not mine."

I totally agree with him. We have more important issues we should think and talk about. But according to him, after the TV program a lot of blasts and blame rushed to his Twitter, like "you are so unpatriotic."

Oh, the word "unpatriotic" is still effective when you want to blame someone! If I were blamed by someone that I am so unpatriotic, I would say yes, I am really honored by your words: "I am so unpatriotic." I do want to live like "an unpatriotic person," because I think to live as an unpatriotic person, or a peaceful and unprejudiced cosmopolitan, is the nearest way for people to reach a peaceful world.

The most surprising thing of all is that the Japanese major newspapers described the island in question between Japan and China as OUR ISLAND, or the island that belongs to our country. I wonder if newspapers are just the same as the government? Are they a monolithic block, the media and the government? Don't they have independent perspectives and opinions about the territorial issue apart from the government?

If the media doesn't have any differences from the government, it will serve as propaganda for the government.

Of course, I know this is not uncommon, and not only Japan. I have read China Daily on my Kindle recently, and they also say that the island belongs to their country. No differences between both media, Japan and China.

Japanese people are generally apt to think that Japan is more civilized and advanced than China. But to see this issue, Japan and China are no different -- two of a kind, birds of a feather.


3. Rush and panic about eBook due to the announcement by Amazon

One of my foreign friends, a Spanish guy living in Japan, told me "Japanese people are turtles, so slow for everything." I was told this by him several years ago. Now I understand very well what he meant.

The first trend of the electronic book began in Japan in the latter half of the 1990s. The Japan Electronic Consortium was founded, and they started the experimental trial of the ebook. First they made an ebook reader collaborating with electronics companies. I took part in the trial to test the device for how good or bad it was to read books on the monitor. At that time, though I don't know the reason, I had to go to the bookstore in the center of Tokyo (it took almost an hour from my house) to download book data. We already had the Internet at the time. Anyway, the experimental trial of the ebook failed, and the Consortium disappeared after only two years.

After that there have been various movements on ebooks in Japan; several electronics companies made some devices for reading ebooks, and some new ebook stores appeared on the Web. But they haven't had much power and particular influences on ordinary people, nor book lovers. I have never bought any ebook at the ebook stores because I couldn't find any book that I wanted to read. The books on their shelves were different from the paper books that we can buy at the ordinary bookstores on the streets or from Amazon. I guess major Japanese authors and commercial publishers were not interested in making and selling ebooks, and they might have been even afraid that their books would become ebooks, for some unknown reason.

In that situation the most distinct one was Aozora Bunko (the Blue Sky Books) on the Internet. They are a non-profit organization of ebooks -- it is very rare to be non-profit for publishing books in Japan. They started to input Japanese texts of the public domain in a text format by volunteers like Project Gutenberg. Now the e-texts they have input for these ten years became a great value for the ebook development that anyone, any commercial publishers, could not achieve because when Amazon Japan started its Kindle Store in October 2012, they only had 50,000 titles, and most of them were from Aozora Bunko. It means other commercial publishers haven't prepared ebooks to publish for over ten years; I guess they didn't believe the age of the ebook would come to Japan, or they don't want it to come here because they have been somehow worried about a new era of publishing that might be encroaching on their vested interests.

Now, here in Japan, Japanese publishers and publishing businesses rushed the ebook project to start and develop and complete at one time. The turtle is suddenly transformed into a rabbit.

For a long time I had been waiting for Amazon, who started their service of Kindle in Japan. It was a hard and difficult task for the Japanese commercial publishers to start their services with Amazon, because there were many barriers for them to join the Kindle world; they have been doing business in the very traditional and closed world for over fifty years.

Of course, it is easier for me to read a book in Japanese than English, but I bought a Kindle to read English language books before Amazon Japan started their service here. Since then I have enjoyed reading books and newspapers on Kindle. And now, my non-profit independent publisher, Happano, started selling ebooks at Amazon along with print-on-demand (POD) books. I think these two means for publishing are very useful, convenient, and economic for small publishers and independent authors.

I look forward to seeing how Japanese ebook readers will be growing here next year.


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About the Author

Kazue Daikoku is the publisher and editor of a nonprofit Japanese Web Press, "Happa-no-Kofu," which means "leaf miner" in English (an insect larva that lives and feeds within a leaf). Happa-no-Kofu specializes on bilingual (Japanese-English) publications both on the Web and in print on demand. Daikoku writes in the site's about page, "We value the uniqueness of each individual's ideas. We support the individual's power and energy, and believe that our activity on the Internet helps international communication on an individual level." She is also a translator from English to Japanese. To learn more about her (and see a picture of her), please read the 2007 interview she gave for Červená Barva Press. Kazue Daikoku lives in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo, Japan.   (back)


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Internal Resources

Years in Review

Ecology & the Environment

Patterns which Connect

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published December 17, 2012