Sunday, February 24, 2002

Star Princess

In Osaka for a Seicho-No-Ie Public Lecture, I greeted the morning on the 48th floor of a hotel there. I opened the curtains and the sweeping view of Osaka Bay appeared hazy due to the clouds that had spread out across the sky. I remembered that the weather report on TV the night before mentioned that, while it would be cloudy in the morning hours, it would clear up in the afternoon. I freshened up, changed my clothes and went out for breakfast. After eating, I came back to my room, glanced through the morning paper, and checked to make sure that the presentation I would be giving using my laptop was all in order. While doing all this, I happened to look up and saw that the clouds that had covered the sky had broken, and a soft ray of light shone down on the harbor and the rest of the city. In the middle of this, partially hidden in the shadow of a bridge, I saw a large white passenger ship anchored in the harbor. Comparing it to the buildings and bridge nearby, I could tell that it was quite a large ship. It's unusual to come across such a large passenger ship.

As a young newspaper reporter in Yokohama, it used to excite me when these passenger liners would come into the harbor. In those days, I used to belong to the "Yokohama Maritime Affairs Reporters Club" which was located on the first floor of the Yokohama Customs office. We dealt with the various events that developed in the port of Yokohama and surrounding areas, and this club was a "hangout" for us reporters. This club was nicknamed, "Umikura (Ocean Club)", and, in reporting on customs-related events, we'd write on the import of unusual items or unmask contraband. And, in the Third Division of the Maritime Safety Headquarters, which is under the umbrella of the Maritime Safety Agency, we would write about shipwrecks and other accidents at sea or about refugee boats that would drift ashore. We would also receive lists of incoming and outgoing ships from the Yokohama Port Authority that patrols and takes care of the port of Yokohama, and write about them.

Since there weren't that many ocean-going passenger ships that would come in during those days, when one did, the harbor would come alive with activity, with the Yokohama City Fire Department Band giving a welcome performance at the port on Large Pier, and Miss Yokohama giving a floral presentation to the captain of the ship. When that happened, we reporters, pretending to be "on assignment" would board and enjoy the gorgeous atmosphere of the ship. Being able to take a peek at the inside of the largest and foremost passenger ships of those days, the Queen Elizabeth II (QE2, 67,140 tons) and the Canberra was a true "emolument." And, when the Ministry of Transport fleet of training sailboats would reach shore, and carry out their sailing drills all at once, the harbor and surrounding areas would be jammed with people.

In the morning, immediately before the Public Lecture, when I saw the cruise liner, all those memories came back to me, and I thought it would be a nice idea to go to the harbor and take a look at the ship following the lecture. But, in order to do so, the ship would have to remain in port until evening. I had my assistant look into that, and we found out that, fortunately, the ship would be there until that night. We found out that the ship was the "Star Princess." I couldn't recall ever having heard that name, but I guess that's understandable since it's been more than 20 years since I was a "Ocean Club Reporter."

After the Public Lecture, I asked the driver to park the car on the opposite side of where the ship was docked. It was right by Universal Studios Japan. Despite that, compared to the commotion and excitement of the times when a cruise liner would come into Yokohama Harbor, I was amazed to see that there were unbelievably few people around. It was where ferries from the opposite shore arrive and depart, and, when the ferry boats did arrive, there were several dozens of people going in and out. These people would look up at the gorgeous ship and ready their cameras. Not wanting to get in the way of their picture-taking, I climbed up on a fence that was a little higher up and began sketching. I couldn't help but be even more surprised at the tremendous size of the ship.

The Star Princess is a huge 10,900 ton, 951 foot long, 201 foot wide, amenity-filled passenger ship which made her inaugural debut in February of this year. To make it easier to understand, it's taller than the Statue of Liberty, and longer than three football fields placed side by side. It has 16 decks so that makes it as high as a 16-story building, and it has 1,300 cabins that can accommodate 2,600 people. The crew in and of itself numbers 1,150. P&O, the owners of the Star Princess, have other ships which are also named "Princess": "Grand Princess", "Golden Princess", "Ocean Princess", etc. for a total of 12 ships. Together, they are called the "Princess Fleet." The Star Princess is a sister ship to Grand Princess, and is the largest in the fleet. This was the maiden voyage for the ship. She left Singapore on February 13th, and went on to Thailand on the 15th, Hong Kong on the 19th, Taiwan on the 20th, and Okinawa on the 21st, arriving in Osaka on the 23rd. After this, she is scheduled to go on to the United States, be in Hawaii on March 2-3, and reach its final destination, Los Angeles, on the 8th. I don't know how many Japanese citizens can go on that kind of cruise, but, as I left Osaka behind, I couldn't help but think, "Man certainly has made something really unbelievable."

- MT

Saturday, February 16, 2002

"Gold, Silver, Bronze" and "Pine, Bamboo, Plum"

For the first time in the history of the Olympics, a final decision in the awarding of medals was overturned at the Figure Skating competition of the Winter Olympics being held in Salt Lake City. Because there were some serious controversies regarding the Gold Medal which was awarded to the Russian pair, it was decided that the Canadian pair, who had been previously awarded the Silver Medal, would share the Olympic gold with the Russians. In other words, there are two gold medals and no silver. In the initial decision, out of the nine judges, five, Russia, China, Ukraine, Poland and France, placed the Russian skaters in first place, and four, Canada, U.S., Germany and Japan, placed the Canadian skaters first. Controversy arose from the actions of the French judge. Looking at the judging, there appears to be a "pattern/scheme", with the former Eastern Powers voting for Russia and the former Western Powers choosing Canada. Moreover, it's somewhat like the Aesop fable, "The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts", with France, which, during the Cold War, emphasized its relationship with the Eastern Powers.

The true spirit of the Olympics is actually devoid of political relationships, emphasizing only true ability. However, in many instances, it may be that this very spirit is all too often clouded over. Incidentally, dividing the medals into gold, silver and bronze, based on socio-economic value, clearly defines ranking. Gold is better than silver, silver is better than bronze, and bronze is better than 4th place--This is the thinking behind it all, and, no matter how narrow the margin is between first and second, there is a clear distinction of which is superior. That's probably why, in the 500 meter speed skating, Hiroyasu Shimizu, whose time was only 3/100th's off of the person who came in first, looked so very disappointed. We in Japan also focused on the "gold" and "silver" more than the difference of "3/100th's." The headlines in the papers was "Shimizu--Silver""

In Japan, however, there seems to be some resistance against such clear, cut-and-dried, definition of rank. I think that's when the categories "pine, bamboo, plum" are used. Isn't there a "kind sense of caring" in the names "pine, bamboo, plum"? It's like saying, "First, second third all have good points, everyone tried their best, let's not put clear ranking labels on everyone." I'm in Kyoto today for a Seicho-No-Ie Grand Lecture, and that's exactly what Takamasa Kusakada, a writer for the Kyoto Shimbun local news desk wrote.

According to this article, in sushi restaurants, one of the terms "pine, bamboo, plum" is used to name the types of sushi, from the most to the least expensive. The President of The Association of National Sushi Guild for Sanitation in Tokyo says that, around 1952, these terms replaced the "jyou (best), chu (medium), nami (ordinary)" that had been used previously. There was too much of a distinction in the terms "jyou, chu, nami"--so much so that one ordering "nami" might be embarrassed and say apologetically, "Uh, excuse me, I'd like an order of the "ordinary" sushi, please." So that's when they began using "pine, bamboo, plum" which are considered lucky. These "rankings", however, are not used consistently throughout the nation. The finest Japanese meal in a restaurant in Higashiyama Ward of Kyoto City that specializes in Kyoto cuisine is called "plum."

The idea that the terms "pine, bamboo, plum" are propitious apparently came from China. The reason for this is that none of these three plants die even in the coldest of winters. "Pine" is a must when it comes to New Year decorations. "Bamboo" remains a luscious green even in the thick of winter and is also used for New Year decorations. In order to retain that luscious green, they just redid the entire old bamboo fence in my father's yard next door. But, in contrast to the pine and bamboo which do not flower in the winter, the plum tree blossoms brilliantly and fully in the cold wind. So, it's not at all surprising that the plum be considered the best amongst the three. In other words, it's really difficult to distinguish these three plants in ranking.

The mislabeling of the place of origin of beef has surfaced recently and become quite an issue. This type of falsifying information on items sold for consumer consumption is a very serious matter. If they're going to write a bunch of lies on the food, it's better not to write anything at all. How about throwing away the "Japanese beef", "Made in the U.S"", or "Made in Australia" labels, and just use "Pine", "Bamboo" and "Plum"? No matter where the cow is from, its life is valuable and precious. The problem is that humans go around and, arbitrarily and willfully and put labels on things, calling them superior or inferior. From that perspective, it does seem that the Olympics are a very "human" event.

- MT

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Is This World a "Work of Man"?

I received a lot of questions concerning my morning lecture from those who attended the Seicho-No-Ie Grand Lecture in Chiba Prefecture. I received more than 20 forms with questions. Due to time constraints, I could not answer them all, but I was grateful to see that there was such a tremendous reaction to what I talked about. There was a mixture of different questions, but those that are more complex require more time to answer. Knowing that, there was one question that, although I thought it important, I decided not to answer. It was a question that went something like this:

"There was something in your lecture that referred to this world as being the 'work of man.' Couldn't this expression easily be subject to misinterpretation? I think it would be better to say that we ourselves (including other living things) are being sustained by this Earth. The fact that there is Life that exists on this planet is thanks to the life called Earth."

According to the form on which she wrote her question, this was from, Ms. "T", a designer living in Ichikawa City. Basically, I think what she is saying is correct. The statement that "This world is a "Work of Man" could easily be misconstrued. Even then, however, the way it is stated is also true, so we cannot say that it is incorrect. This is where it gets difficult. If we're talking only about things that are "right/correct" when it comes from a standpoint of common sense, then it doesn't necessarily have to be religion. Then again, if "common sense is correct" then we don't need religion. And, while all this may be true, religion should not lack common sense either.

The phrase, "This world is the work of man" is used on page 51 in the book, Seito Shino Oshie (Lessons on Life and Death)* by Rev. Seicho Taniguchi (Nihon Kyobunsha). This means that all events that occur in this world are a reflection of the mind of Man, and, once you understand this, you will realize that it is a "lesson" to Man. That's what the written words amount to, but it would take one or two volumes to explain in its entirety all that is contained within these words. Despite that, I am trying to explain that within a one-hour lecture. It's probably not surprising that those who are listening get a little anxious and frustrated.

Which brings me to the question of the "correct expression" to which Ms. T referred, the realization that "Man's life itself is sustained by the Earth." Is this that much different than "This world is the work of Man"? To me, it seems that the former is explaining the latter in greater detail. Allow me to explain: What I would like you to note first is that, to render the recognition, "Man is sustained by the Earth", valid, we must be able to recognize that we are "human", different than any other category of living thing on the Earth. In other words, if there were not a "consciousness" or "self-consciousness" that exists within us, the concept or notion of "self" or "human being" would not be possible. Next, even amongst humans, very few have actually seen the planet "Earth", so it's extremely doubtful whether there is anything other than humans who know that the planet called "Earth" exists. For example, chimpanzees probably don't say, "I'm a living thing belonging to the life on the Earth." Chimpanzees apparently have the ability to differentiate between "me" and "you", but do not have a vocabulary that includes the terms "the Earth", "living things", or "a member of"" It's hard to think of them as being conscious of the world in the same way that humans are.

Moreover, "sustained by" is probably something that only humans can understand. The term "sustained by" can only be used with the premise of "cause" and "effect." For example, saying that ""Man is sustained by the Earth" means that the present global environmental condition is the cause for our existence, and from that comes the effect that within that environment, Man breathes the air, and is able to get water and food. The ability to grasp this type of advanced cause and effect relationship based on scientific knowledge, is probably not something even a smart chimpanzee can do. It's probably safe to conclude that things that primates with brains as developed as the chimpanzee can't do, cannot be done by other living things that are considered to be of a "lower level" either. If that's true, the idea that "Man is being sustained by the Earth" is something that cannot exist other than within the mind's of Man. Saying that it is "a work of Man" to describe something that exists only in the minds of Man is really not that absurd.

So, the realization that "Man himself is sustained by the Earth" is something that belongs "to Man", not to chimpanzees, gorillas or dolphins, but to Man only. We can say that all these types of realization/recognition/thinking, believing that one is "right" is "a work of Man"" And isn't it that Man often times refers "all the things that he feels or recognizes as being right" as "this world"? It follows, then, that "this world" is a "creation of Man""

I thought it would be easier to understand if explanations such as these regarding logic are explained through the written word rather than at or through a lecture. Of course, it's not that this fully explains all the vast meanings behind the phrase "This world is a work of Man." That's why I would be grateful if you, the readers, would consider this only a partial explanation taken from only one point of view regarding this subject.

- MT

*Not available in English

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Spare Body Parts

As one gets on in years and you use your body, different places, different parts start getting bruised, worn, and start to unravel. At the end of last year, I wrote about the infection I got in my front tooth and gums, and the horrible details that ensued. In order to repair the damage, I had to have the "nerve" removed. Having the "nerve removed" in a dental procedure, involves more than simply removing the nerve cells. In the center of the "tooth pulp", there are, not only nerve cells, but capillaries and lymph nodes as well, and it's through them that the tooth receives nutrition and is protected from microbes. In other words, teeth are "alive." To "extract a nerve" means that you are extracting the entire pulp. So, after the procedure, the tooth no longer receives any nutrients and does not fight against bacteria. And, in time, it is worn down from eating and chewing, becomes dark and discolored, and falls out. In other words, the tooth that I had treated is much like a prisoner sentenced to death some time in a few years. There are "caps" and "crowns" available nowadays, but this, too, is a type of "false tooth." So, if someone were to tell me that my "living tooth" could be brought back to life, I would be overjoyed.

I have also been experiencing some decline in my vision recently. I've been nearsighted since high school, and have been wearing contact lenses for some time now. Nowadays, however, I've begun having problems distinguishing small print--in the newspaper and dictionaries. I've bought a magnifying glass and had a pair of glasses made to help me with this. There's a procedure now where you can correct near-sightedness through laser surgery, but, since the success rate isn't 100%, and because of the exorbitant cost, I'm not interested in doing that. So, if someone were to say that my own eyes could be "regenerated" and vision restored to "as good as new", I'm not sure how long I'd be able to resist the temptation to do something. The same can be said about my thinning head of hair, the elasticity of my skin, my physical strength, memory, and stamina--all of which are far from what they used to be. In other words, the "rejuvenation" of my physical body, and "maintaining youthful performance" are, for me (and probably for most of the readers) an "unreachable dream."

We can look at the development of "spare body parts", beginning with prosthetic hands and legs, as a means of trying to make these dreams attainable. So, there's probably no one who can prevent this, and trying to would not be right. However, sacrificing others in order to realize your own dreams is not right either. If that is the case, then, the question arises as to whether one should take from another in order to receive a spare. The answer to this question may seem quite simple, while, in actuality, it is not. For one thing, the definition of "what is another" differs from person to person. Those who believe that "another" refers to "other people" and does not include "animals", approve of "taking from animals." Then how about "taking from people who are dead?" How about from aborted fetuses? From fertilized eggs? From unfertilized eggs? These are the questions that we who live in these times are confronted with, and, while the answers all differ from person to person, it seems as though technology just keeps going on and on.

In the field of regenerative medicine particularly, there have been one new development after another just in this year. In a previous entry, I mentioned how researchers "tricked" a monkey's egg cells into forming an early embryo--without the use of sperm--that yielded stem cells that then turned into heart, brain and other specialized tissue. According to news reports today, the company responsible for these findings has now said that they have used cells derived from cloned cow embryos to grow kidney-like organs that function, and are now producing urine, and are not rejected when implanted into adult cows. The purpose of this study is not the treatment of cows, but, of course, how it can be used to help humans. Stem cells have been used before to create blood and muscles "tissues", but scientists said that it would be a while before they could create "organs"" With this research, however, we are that much closer to growing personalized, genetically matched organs for transplantation.

In the January 29th edition of the Sankei Shimbun, there was a report on how scientists from Kyoto University's School of Medicine successfully triggered human embryonic stem cells to form human neurons that secrete the crucial chemical, dopamine. The reason for this study is also for eventual use on humans, and has paved the way for use of human stem cells in the treatment of Alzheimers, etc. Moreover, today's Asahi Shimbun ran an article on a surgical procedure performed at Tokai University, in which, using the bone marrow cells from a mouse, blood forming cells in the umbilical cord were caused to multiply and were then transplanted into a woman (a human!) in her 50's who had a malfunctioning bone marrow disorder.

As I've written before, questions of morality come into play when fertilized eggs are destroyed to create stem cells. But procedures have now been developed whereby stem cells and other similar versatile cells can be gained from unfertilized eggs. On the other hand, as in the studies mentioned above, experiments using stem cells to create specialized body parts have been done repeatedly on laboratory animals. So, from now on, it's quite possible that the technology of creating various tissues and organs of the body from the cells of unfertilized egg and bone marrow cells will develop even further. If that happens, we will be able to exchange or replace the parts of our body that have worn down with age with "living parts" created from this technology. If I'm still alive at that time, I may be able to create a new set of teeth, exchange my eyes for "new ones" and replace my old blood vessels.

However, one will undoubtedly have to be prepared to pay a considerable amount of money for this type of treatment. A fraction of people in "developed nations" may be able to do this, but for the overwhelming majority of the people in the world, this would remain an "unreachable dream." And, if the money that it would cost to replace my eyes alone could be used for the people in those countries, we could undoubtedly save dozens--no, hundreds of lives. In this way, when the money that would save one person in a "developed country" could save hundreds in developing nations, I wonder which of the two the conscience of humankind would shout out loud for us to choose?

- MT