Friday, November 30, 2001

Let's Stop Smoking

The third round of discussions, being held in Geneva, amongst nations that are, for the first time in history, trying to reach an agreement regarding health issues through the "Framework for the Cigarette Restraint Regulations Pact", ended on November 28th. It was reported in the evening edition of yesterday's Asahi Shimbun that the 191 countries of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to sort the points in question, and it seems that opinions are intensifying to go in the general direction of banning of cigarette vending machines. Japan, where influence of the "cigarette promoting forces" have been strong and, therefore, the vending machines are virtually unregulated, are trying to keep this to "regulating", rather than "prohibiting" the vending machines. But, since the United States, too, supported the "ban", based on some conditions, these forces seem to be in a difficult situation. Cigarette advertising in Japan is generally given free reign, but, under this agreement, it looks like it will either be banned, or subject to "appropriate regulations." It seems that Japan is behind when it comes to awareness in this area.

Amidst this, it is only natural but, at the same time, pleasurable that the Japan Medical Association has officially acknowleded that "Cigarette smoking is harmful." We should also give credit to the fact that an increase in tobacco tax is being considered. According to one report, revenue from cigarette taxes is approximately trillion yen annually, while overall losses by society, which include cigarette smoking-related medical expenses, is about 3.2 trillion yen. In other words, although some companies may profit by cigarette sales, the people of Japan as a whole are suffering losses. Non-smoking areas in public places are becoming more predominant. For example, three-quarters of all trains are non-smoking and airplanes are all non-smoking. Despite this, though, I see people who've been affected by this, light up a cigarette as soon as they step out of the train stations and go walking down the street, a cigarette hanging from their mouths. And, of course, they throw the cigarette butts on the streets, ignoring the Tokyo, Shibuya Ward "Regulation Against Littering""

I started smoking while I was in college. I'm not sure what actually got me started? Probably because people around me were doing it, so I thought, "Oh, yeah, right," and began smoking "Seven Star." That's the brand that was popular at the time, and I myself liked the design. Looking back at this now, though, I think there's a problem with this "smoking for some reason or another" attitude. This doesn't mean that there is no reason, but, rather, that one isn't conscious of a reason. Most all of the actors I liked at the time all smoked in their movies. The young, naive subconscious in me thought that was really "cool." I also had that old conception that "Cigarettes are proof of adulthood." In novels, comics, and in advertising, there were always scenes of people "stylishly" throwing the cigarettes butts away. Moreover, there was the incorrect information circulating amongst young people that, "Smoking prevents weight gain." In other words, you began smoking in order to show off and from sheer ignorance, which is probably the case with young people these days, too.

So, adults today must teach young people what they know. We shouldn't have that, "I did it, too, so it's okay" attitude. Only adults can say, "I did it and it was wrong, so you shouldn't." Along this line, I think the Board of Education in Wakayama Prefecture made a wise decision when they decided to make the grounds on all elementary, junior and senior high schools non-smoking areas. President of the Board of Education, Mr. Youji Koseki, said, "Smoking amongst minors has gone from starting at junior high age to the elementary school age children. Even with the traditional separation of smokers and non-smokers you cannot avoid second-hand smoke. Smoking prevention is the first and most important fact of education, with the effects on education being tremendous." You don't have to be an educator to send out the same message. The youngest of the former Beatles, George Harrison, died on November 29th of cancer of the larynx--A much too early death at the age of 58. He was a heavy smoker.

- MT

Monday, November 26, 2001

Cloned Human Embryo

It seems that the human embryos have been cloned for the first time. Just as when scientists cloned Dolly the sheep, a single adult cell was fused with a nuclear-derived egg and tricked into behaving like a newly fertilized embryo. If this is implanted into the uterus, a child would be born, and that is, in essence, a clone. Therefore, scientific technology has brought mankind to the brink of producing a human clone. Although the purpose of this experiment is said to be the development of a way of obtaining embryonic stem cells matched to patients for tissue engineering and transplantation medicine, what is concerning is that, once technology develops, there are many instances when it is used for an entirely different purpose than originally planned.

Researchers from Advanced Cell Technology in the United States used somatic cell nuclear transfer in which the nuclear DNA in an egg is replaced from an adult cell and then fused to form pre-implantation embyos. Of the 19 eggs used, three went on to develop to the six-cell stage. According to the evening edition of the Asahi Shimbun, in a separate experiment, researchers used a technique in which an egg cell is activated without being fertilized by a sperm cell. A special chemical was added to 22 egg cells and six of them reprogrammed themselves to develop blastocoele cavities. That means the embryo had developed an inner and outer group of cells--the inner cells being the potential source of embryonic stem cells. This technique is called "parthogenesis."

In the Seicho-No-Ie Japanese magazine Hikarino Izumi (Fountain of Light), I have already expressed my opposition regarding fertilized eggs produced from the union of egg and sperm for use in creating stem cells and other purposes. However, the cloned embryo in this case is not created from a fertilized egg that would eventually develop into a fetus. The egg cells are, of course, "alive", but they are, if left unfertilized, destined to die. It's difficult to say, then, that using this for medical purposes is entirely unethical. On the other hand, however, if cloned embryo created through techniques such as this are transplanted into a uterus and the process of creating humans is established, the cloned embryo would be extremely similar to "normal" fertilized egg or embryo. To use this as a means to create human organs, I think, brings forth some ethical questions. In other words, at this point, it's still unclear as to how to determine the ethics of embryo cloning. That's why the "Human Cloning Law" created by the Japanese government this summer does not prohibit to create a cloned human embryo itself.

According to news reports, successful cloning of human embryo have been reported in Korea in 1998 and in China last year, but no details have been disclosed. This is the first time that the "know-how" has been announced. If, from this announcement, the cloning of embryo is facilitated, the use of stem cells and human cloning may become easier as well. In this sense, I think there is an urgent need to expedite the establishment of a worldwide moral/ethical standard for this field.

- MT

Thursday, November 22, 2001

From Mad-Cow to Cow-Dreading Disease

A second case of mad cow disease has been found in Japan during a nationwide inspection of all cows. Since this inspection of all beef focusing on that for consumption began on October 18th, 87, 872 were negative, so that means that 1 out of every 88,000 (0.00114%) has been infected with the disease. If we include the first infected cow discovered on September 22, the ratio would be 1 out of every 44,000 (0.00228%). Approximately 1,300,000 cows are said to be slaughtered annually in Japan, so that means there is a possibility that anywhere between 15-30 infected cows may be found within the next year. In that case, then, it may be possible to control the situation with the system of nationwide inspection of all cows now in place and prevent human infection. There are predictions, however, that it may not be all that easy.

Presently, the government suspects the source of infection to be contaminated animal feed made from meat-and-bone meal imported from England and other contaminated areas. The two infected cows found so far (1) are both five years old, (2) were both born in Hokkaido, and (3) are both Holstein dairy cows. Since meat-and-bone meal increases the milk in dairy cows, the possibility of feeding it to dairy cows is greater than beef cattle, and, since the incubation period is so long (two to eight years), cows that have been given this animal feed long enough and have grown old are finally killed for human consumption, then tested "positive." However, there is also data that contradicts this. That is, in each of these two cases, those raising the cows deny having given them any of this animal feed. The government blames the lack of thorough administrative guidance for the situation, but, if what the breeders are saying is true, that means there is a source of infection other than the meat-and-bone meal.

One possibility that has been given is infection from mother to child. In the cases of this disease found in England, approximately 10% are thought to have been passed from mother to child. If that is the case, then, the second infected cow found in Japan has already had three calves, so it is possible that one of the three is infected with the causative agent, a prion or abnormal partially-proteinase K-resistant protein. Dr. Richard Lacey, authority on Mad Cow Disease commented about this parent to child infection in the December issue of Bungei Shunju as follows, "The blood is the most suspicious route for prion infection." According to Dr. Lacey, "In many instances, there have been confirmed cases in which the protein antibody has been inherited from mother to child, so we can conclude that prion, which is a type of protein, can be passed through the bloodstream from mother to child. Even in areas of the body other than those known to be dangerous, as long as there is blood circulating through that area, we cannot say they are entirely safe." If we can't say that the blood is safe, then we cannot say that steak or barbeque meat are safe either, so the problem is quite serious.

Since the government issued assurances that homegrown beef was safe to eat, consumption of beef was slightly on the rise, but, with this second confirmed case of Mad Cow Disease, it will more than likely decrease once again. "Mad Cow Disease"" where the brain of the cow is affected, has become a "Cow-Dreading Disease" in which humans are now afraid of cows. As I have written before, I would like to encourage readers to take this opportunity and stop eating beef altogether. Eating beef not only has these safety issues, but it isn't good for the preservation of the environment, nor is it desirable from a religious perspective either.

- MT

Sunday, November 18, 2001

A Mother's Strength

In my April 20th entry, I introduced the results of a study on how, during the years before entering kindergarten, children who spend long periods of time in daycare facilities and such, away from their parents, often times become more aggressive and rebellious than those who have been brought up by their parents. This was the finding of a psychological study of 1300 children, and a recent study in the field of neuroscience concludes that there is a possibility that the brain of children whose mothers do not look after them in early developmental stages, may not develop normally. This was confirmed in an experiment with mice, and specialists believe that the same may be true for the human brain. These findings were published in the November 15, 2001 issue of New Scientist.

According to this report, Dr. Bruce McKewen of Rockefeller University and his team conducted an experiment on newborn mice. During the seven days immediately following birth, a period when they would normally be under their mother's constant care, the mice were separated from their mothers for three hours a day. After this, the team studied the 30,000 genes of the mice and found changes in two cranial areas. Thereupon, they found that, compared to normal mice, the nerve cells in the brain that seemed to connect the genes had changed. Dr. Wayne Brake of the University of California, Santa Barbara stated, "This indicates that the brain is developing differently in the mice in this experiment, and perhaps that the nerve cells are connected differently." A similar change is found in the study of production of dopamine in the brain. It is said that increased levels of dopamine in the brain are responsible for the symptoms of schizophrenia, while decreased levels have to do with depression.

With all the technical terminology, it may be difficult to understand, but, put simply, it means that the brain of the mice who grew up without enough of their mother's love were different than that of those which had not been separated from their mothers. It is very possible that the same mechanism as this works in the brain of a human child. In that case, it is possible that the child might develop schizophrenia or depression. This shows what a tremendous influence a mother has on her child. Therefore, mothers should not use the TV as a means of "baby sitting" and avoid leaving children at a daycare center, particularly in early developmental stages.

After the Seicho-No-Ie Public Lecture in Takasaki City, I went to see a statue called the Goddess of Mercy in a White Robe (AKA Takasaki Goddess of Mercy) in that city. When we hear the word, "Goddess of Mercy", we tend to think of an "affectionate", "child rearing" Goddess -- symbols of "mother" or "women." Looking at this statue, however, for some reason, it struck me as being quite masculine. The mouth was set in a firm, tightened way, and the eyes were clear and dignified. It occurred to me that perhaps it is just this type of strong will, faith and conviction that young mothers nowadays need to bring up their children with.

- MT

Saturday, November 03, 2001

A Detention Center in Harajuku

At a press conference called yesterday, Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, announced that there are plans to build a large-scale detention center in the Harajuku area of Tokyo, very near the Seicho-No-Ie Headquarters. Apparently they are going to build a new Harajuku Police Department building on the site of the old Japan College of Social Work, and, at the same time, build a new detention center that can accommodate approximately 600 people. That property, however, is adjacent to Harajuku-Gaien Junior High School, the Shibuya Ward Central Library, and Togo Kindergarten (Togo Shrine). I can see it, too, from my office at Seicho-No-Ie Headquarters. Local residents have collected 25,000 signatures on a petition to stop this plan, but, according to The Asahi Shimbun, the Governor said, "Tokyo residents want measures for public order. Any opposition to this plan is the ego of the area getting in the way."

The November 2nd edition of The International Herald Tribune--The Asahi Shimbun reported that, due to the increasing crime rate, the prison system is operating at maximum capacity. Officials at the Justice Ministry report that, although the capacity of Japan's prisons is 64,300, the system is now operating at 108%. To explain this in more detail, there are usually six people to a cell in Japanese prisons, but now there are seven, sometimes eight. With these overcrowded conditions come hostility between prisoners. The number of rule violations increased from 3,729 in 1996 to 6,033 last year. Also last year, 29,000 new inmates were imprisoned, 4,000 more than were released, and the average prison term served was 26.4 months, four months longer than in 1991. During the first half of this year, the number of reported crimes was up over 16% from last year.

It seems that an aging society and prolonged recession are behind the increase in crime. Prisoners over the age of 61 have increased; the number of elderly inmates in Tokyo's Fuchu Prison is 13% of the total (2,870), whereas 20 years ago, it was only 4.7%. Immediately after taking office, Governor Ishihara cited the increase of foreign laborers as a major reason for the increase, but it seems from this that there are other reasons.

So, then, should Seicho-No-Ie approve or oppose this plan? There may be many ways of thinking, but, since this jail is not a large-scale condominium complex, there probably won't be any problems with the "Right to Sunshine." It's also a little different from a prison, and it's not a sex-related business nor a nuclear power plant or biological/chemical weapons factory. With the cooperation of the City and Harajuku Police, it might be an opportunity to propagate the teachings to the 600 detainees in the new facility. Is it possible to offer some Seicho-No-Ie "sunshine" to these people? Ummmmmm. What do you all think?

(This photo was taken from the top of the pedestrian bridge over Meiji Blvd. You can see the greens of Togo Shrine in the distance.)