December 31, 2009

2010, a a sad beginnig for Finland's international image

It's not that long from the previous incidents, the school shootings, that painted some dark irremovable stains to Finland's international image as a country loaded with guns. Now, only a day before year 2010, we had to witness it once again! Here in Japan Yumiko, her family and I got to know about it in a shocking way. Let me just quickly explain how it happened.

After seeing the end-of-year musical, eating long soba, and wishing a very happy new year for everyone the year changed. It was all terrific. We were still watching TV just like most Japanese at their homes. There was the first news of 2010, starting at 0:00. And well, you may guess what was the first news of year 2010 in Japan about?! In Finland, 5 killed in a shooting in Helsinki area. It is absurd, in fact unbelievable to hear about it here in Japan at the 1st day the year on the very first minute!

Probably about 90% of the Japanese people probably saw the news. One can imagine what kind of picture of Finland will be burned deeper in to peoples minds, and not only those of Japanese. It probably doesn't have much notion or help but let me just say that the suspected shooter was a male from Kosovo and apparently he possessed an unregistered gun.

Despite this incident, may this year be enjoyable for everyone. There's always place for improvement, only a faint hope for better times might not do.

This is very saddening.
More at CNN:

December 26, 2009

Oita today

Today, 26th of December, +11 degrees, sunny. Doing a bunch reading at the river side.

This is a good learning environment. Chilly weather keeps the sleepiness away.

Emperor's birthday

A warm and sunny Wednesday. Cant it really be December? Yes, it is 23rd of December and a national holiday right before the actual Christmas vacation. On this day, the current emperor, presumably an important figurehead of Japan Mr. Akihito (76) was born. So it is Emperor's birthday! Happy birthday Akihito!♪

The holiday is a well earned present for every Japanese hard-working citizen. But in fact, the image I perceived was that most did not acknowledge the reason why they had a day off. Instead of celebrating Akihito's b-day, masses of people gathered to Bay of Beppu to enjoy Christmas Fireworks Fantasia (which I think was a lot of fun).

Akihito's heir will have his (or her!) birthday definitely on another day, not on the 23rd, right before Christmas. It will be interesting to see what kind of celebration the new birthday will be connected with. Imagine, for example, if the new emperor's birthday is somewhere between March and February, would it change the event in Beppu to "Beppu Easter Fireworks Fantasia".

What else happened on Emperor's birthday? These military-look-alike cars appeared in every major city of Japan. Who they are, and why they drive around the city center making a terrible noise with their megaphones all day along? They are the extreme right wing party, the political group that respects old system and values, and wishes to get back the times where Emperor is head of state and holds the ultimate power. They shouted many messages, one for instance was like this:

This day is close to Christmas. Maybe everyone's happy because of that. But don't forget that it is Emperor's birthday!!...

What they really would love to see in Japan is: All the power to Emperor and no dependence on America, (kick out the American military bases in Japan). Foreigners, particulary Chinese, and Koreans aren't their dearest friends. Finns maybe ok.

Now, what I baldly wonder about the extreme right group is how can they admire a lifestyle and a society in which they have never lived? For them the old system is a dream. But like all dreams, once they come true they're no more dreams. This metaphor might not be the best fit, but if the extreme right got their ideal system as a present from Santa they would be happy only for a while. Receiving same present next year would be boring.

Judging by the reaction of the people in the street (or no reaction), no one really cares what they say. Moreover, the political blabber is so unclear that it's difficult to understand even one tried hard. Hmm... Does the Emperor care about these?

December 22, 2009

One lecture away from christmas holiday

Close to three months in University. Feels longer than it is. Not that it would have been boring-absolutely not, but because we've done such a heap of things and attended several events, alongside with ordinary studying.

The Christmas holiday started already for quite many students. Officially it begins on the 25. of December, and last until the 7th of January, so close to two weeks in total. Many of the exchange students use this time to travel around Japan, some even fly overseas or return home to rejoin with their family. A common direction to take from Oita seems to be north to Honsu, and therein Osaka-Kyoto-Nagoya-Tokyo. For the holiday, Yumiko and I have modest plans:

  • 23th, view the Beppu Christmas Fireworks Fantasia,
  • 24th, go for a restaurant date in Oita,
  • 27th, see and listen TAO, a group of taiko-drum performers in Taketa-city near Oita,
  • 28th, visit Yumiko's family in Nagoya for the New Year. Hopefully we can help them in the grand-cleaning, 大掃除.
Even though I've had it many times, it is slightly wistful to think of end of year celebrations in Finland. Being with family, enjoying calmness and traditional dishes, seeing everything covered by bright newly rained snow. Now it's time for end-of-year in Japan. It said to be one the largest festival, if not the largest in the whole of Japanese calendar. Let's enjoy it with open mind!

December 14, 2009

Internship in Japan starting Feb. 15

Today, Finland is enjoying some real -15 °C winter. Brr... I can be happy for confirming a practical training placement at Research and Consulting of Regional Science Co., Ltd. for the following 5 months after the exchange.

Finding an internship from Japan was seemingly easier than I thought it to be. Company web-sites, job advertisements or fairs did not play a role in the seeking process. It was much more straightforward thanks to the active professors in University.

Our economics teacher was kind enough to pull some strings with his companion, and arrange an introduction to the company. Having a proxy to introduce you gives great momentum for a range of issues in Japan. The question now is, will I will be ever beholden to them?

December 13, 2009

Quinni in Japan

Quinni in Japan is a blog written by one fellow exchange student from Germany. Lots of interesting posts about our exchange life in Oita. In the most recent post, she tells about our tea-ceremony experience at the Japanese Culture class. Please go and have a look at:

December 10, 2009

大崩山, Okue-yama and Wakuzuka trail

In to the wild. Three exchange students half awake half a sleep in a mountain cottage. Temperature both outside and inside +2 degrees. No one has a sleeping bag or a sleeping mat. That is how it was when a Dutch, a German and a Finn decided to make a two day off season hike at the Wakuzuka trail.

Let me explain more. On Sunday morning we drove south to Miyazaki prefecture and through Nobeoka continued to Sobo Katamuki Quasi-National Park, an area of rare untouched nature and true wilderness.

The first day was pick-nick like. The walk to cottage was effortless-barely a half an hour of length. Real hike awaited on the sunrise of the following day.

The reserve area is mother nature's art room. Not only this twisty tree branch but all the surroundings from riverbed rocks to streams have been formed free of human touch and are very beautiful to an eye.

When the rainy season is not on the enormous river rocks reveal. Quite tempting (and dangerous) sport is to jump from one to another. The trail, more or less, goes along river and streams, this being the main stream.

One can only imagine the strength of the mountain river when rainy season hits in. These huge tree trunks were conveyed by seasonally strong current over time.

Sausages and potatoes wrapped in a foil. Cup of aromatic pine tree tea. Chattering around a fire until dark. All fun. During the teeth rattling night everyone had slept few hours in some miraculous way, a surprise for each of us.

So rested we awoke. It was around 7:00 am as we left and already at the very beginning the trail offered a terrific view to mountains we'd later on climb.

First high peak and a fantastic lookout point down to the valley.

The nine hour hike was still young. When sun was half up we headed higher.

I can never get enough of the depths of these wide scale views.

The freezing level was not really high, therefore from time to time we encountered frosty rocks and icy waterfalls.

Best part. It doesn't show from the photo but the most beautiful section of the hike was this riverbed at the end of the day. The trail can be hardly said to exist there, so difficult it is at times to see the marked path.

This Wakuzuka loop is said to have the highest rate of lost hikers of all Japan's trails. In many situations the wandering hikers have been found by a rescue helicopter but there are cases were hikers have been found dead, or have never been found and remain lost till today. Quite worrying, huh?

November 30, 2009

Otobarunotaki (乙原の滝), a waterfall almost secret

Surprisingly near. Only a stone throw away from Beppu city, behind this nearly abandoned amusement park, one can find an astonishing 60 meter high natural waterfall.

Surprise! This waterfall is created by an underground spring up at the top of the cliff.

Slippery and wet stones aren't for sitting. The surrounding ground is extremely damp and the nature and vegetation around it is relatively rich in variety.

Refresh yourself! Falling water makes a breeze strong enough to raise your coat and hair up. It maybe quite refreshing during the hot summers of Kyushu but at this time the breeze seeps quickly into bones.

If the waterfall is beautiful so is the pathway up there.

At this time of the year many of the deciduous trees have dropped their leafs.

We were fortunate to see some of them still in bright autumn colors. Thanks goes to our dear active upstairs neighbors! They suggested the trip.

November 28, 2009

One man's point of view of a society

I went to Japan to learn about Japanese way of living. I also wanted to learn why Japanese think the way they do. In the following I'll try in my best way to explain what I have observed about Japan. I want to emphasize the fact that I'm writing entirely from my own point of view, there may be many other opinions and point of views, they may differ or be similar. As with my own view, it can't surely be taken as universal fact. This is a a lot of text but no need to worry, you can stop at any time, it may be even recommended. So here I go and unfold my mind.

Concept of ie. Today, 27.11, our lesson about the concept of house (家) responded to many of my own thoughts about Japan, Japanese way of life and problems sourcing from the Japanese society. I hope I can describe these observations well enough in English. If I fail, at least give credit of taking the challenge.

A conversation with our upstairs fellow couple brought up thoughts and opinions about Japanese family. Opinions that were in a way incubated in my mind for quite a while and are now ripe to write out.

I said loosely Japan is suffering form an illness. Japan is ill, and the illness is called concept of ie, the familyhood. Illness sounds a rough word to describe whole nations way of behaving but somehow at the same time it seems appropriate word and not exaggerating the situation at all.

Before going to core of my topic, I need to explain some more background information. Ie is what we learned today at the Japanese history, culture and society class. Our teacher can be said to be a very talented teacher particularly in a topic concerning culture of Japan, for she has lived in Canada for several years, therein finishing her studies on comparative literature. I could say that, instead of being one with Japanese society, she has more of an observer's aspect to Japanese life, gained from living abroad for a long time. My intention is to use her story as an example to get the text going, so please forgive me, for at the beginning there's no discovery of miracle revealed.

Talking about our teacher, she is not married, nor has she got any children. She is the oldest in her family of three daughters. That would mean there is no male, a man, to carry on the long family line, or in practice, there is no one to carry on the family name. Both of her younger sisters are not able to continue with inherited family name, because they're expected to take on their potential husband's sure name, what ever it may be, and continue husbands kindred. It is true that in a marriage both parties can hold on to their original family names but when it comes to children, to truly progress in the family tree, both need to have same family name. What can our teacher then do? She's probably at her 40s and yet not married.

Why I ask such question? Well, what we learned about concept of ie is that, one the worst things that a descendant can do to ancestors is to not continue their family line, but to end it. Not marrying and out of babies, simply put, the family line could terminate at the dot. No more family - and grand parents would be let down.

She has a way out though. As the eldest daughter, she should get together with a man who is not the first-born of his family, and upon marriage is ready to take on a new family name. The eldest son of any family wouldn't do because he is the person continuing his own familyhood with his own family name, and therefore not ready to adopt anyone else's family name, but only ready to keep his own. In our teachers case, only imagine the rationale of questions on a first date with a husband-candidate or the number conditions that would be needed to submit to a dating agency. So to keep our teacher's family line going she as the eldest should do the righteous thing to respect ancestors' desire and to keep the ancestor-relationship good - marry and breed a child, ideally a son, with a man who's upon marriage able to adopt her sure name.

Sounds probably complicated yet not impossible. But what one could think is, what's the big deal here? Why it is so important to continue the same family line? What are the implications that may occur if one fails to continue family hood? Will it be the end of world, will the long dead ancestors return to the face of earth - to the material world, and haunt their children or grand children? If such a thing should happen, why would they ever do it - under what motive? I mean aren't that sort of thoughts, "my family line is the one which is to continue", rather selfish, and against basic Japanese values. Okay, right, let's assume that worst scenario would happen and misfortune would fall over descendants life, only to be on the safe side on these assumptions.

Having this said, I can easily add that one doesn't need to be a physicist to tell that a lot of pressure is placed over the eldest son or daughter of the family. And as a matter of fact the pressure relates more earlier stage of family life as well. What if the mother of the family isn't able to produce a son, or a child at all, for she has miscarriage or because of any other reason? In that case a lot of pressure would fall over her life too. She wasn't doing the right things, praying enough in the right shrine and failing in what ever one can do to assist birth. And even the father may feel pressurized, though he might hide it, it isn't too difficult to notice neighbors and colleagues at work gossiping around about his or his wife's inability to bring out a son to continue family line. The way I see it, brining new life to world is awash with pressure.

Well, one could think, with a child or two, things would be wonderful and there should not be a sign of worry. If this was the case, I wouldn't be writing this, or even thinking about this kind of things. When a child is born, truck load of extra pressure is poured and mixed into family context. Issues can rise especially of the way the child will be raised in the future.

In an edged example, the Japanese head of family, later I want to tell more of head of family, is working for a company, or more accurately, he's a fighter of the company. Going to work early, returning late, making him spend barely any time with family or children. It's not even probably in his wish to spare a minute with them, so he's happier to be out of house. Unsurprisingly the social distance between father and children can extend to distant lengths. Father doesn't know how to behave or to talk with his own kind, nor does his kids know how to relate to their father. Father is the one who you see little and talk to even less. He is still a father and represents the image of father - is this how father should be?

Father being at work or anyhow out for most of the time, the demanding task of raising children is left entirely as mother's responsibility, which is presumed also by father. The mother-child relation ship will grow strong, both trusting and understanding each other, but totally imbalanced when compared to father-child relationship. Some mother's are able to relate to their children with an objective stand point, seeing both their good and bad sides and reacting to them wisely, while others, the major part, develop to over protective and over caring, denying all the negative sides, while only cheering the positive sides, all ways being on child's side, and every time avoiding confrontation with them - even in situations where confrontation would be much needed to steer to right path and distinct right from wrong. This they easily neglect to carry out, while thinking their status as mother is to educate and care about their beloved ones. Name that has been given for these kind of people, especially male, is mother complex, an over-dependent relationship to their mothers.

I see that many of these issues in society go as far as Japan's history can be traced. At the early times no such thing as family, as we know it, existed. Since Nara and Heian periods the men of the country were engaged in something as lightly tying as visiting marriage. Lucky for the men, they only needed to visit women to dust some sheets, after which it was up to the woman to breed, raise and bring out a child ready who is ready to face the world. At the same time men might have as many as four lovers, with whom he would exercise same mating habits, all of whom would later breed children of his kind. One man could have as many women as he wanted, limit was simply set to the amount he could possibly handle at once. Exhausting? - probably, but according to every mans sole needs.

With the old visiting marriage tradition Japanese continued until Kamakura period. Then the lawmakers introduced a law of family. Roughly I could describe it as rising the status of man to a master of the house with all the possible physical, mental and legal power. For examplem, from being able to decide who he's children were to marry, to if he wanted to declare a divorce. Woman had no say in divorces. All they could do was to obey husbands order. This law of change in family format was brought by neo-Buddhist, but ran quite same lines with visiting marriage. Still men could have their lovers and make love with them whit out a hint of bad conscious. And wifes were to accept this, after all it was a law and law should be obeyed over anything.

Laws are not always however the best things to guide our lives. In Japan's case, the twisted laws made country ill - so ill that it even today suffers from the aftereffects of those laws. Something that seemed right for the law makers back then produced so many unseen problems in the far future. This is my view and therefore one could think otherwise, but I see that the law makers truly had no clue what was best for the people of the nation, instead they were more concerned of their political regime and its future state.

What I mean by future state? Let me briefly explain. In the early Meiji period, the concept of ie took its solidest from. This was because the leaders of the country steered whole Japan to be the world's superpower. The ambiguous constitution of great empire of Japan was introduced and with it the nation as whole started to prepare for conquering surrounding countries, namely to follow the example of several other countries at the time, which were hastily colonizing powerless countries around the globe. Japan didn't want to be left aside on the race and there they went, sailing around pacific, rumbling around Korea, China and Russia, in their great adventure to redraw the borders of Japan. Big headed they started, but when all this had to end in drama and destruction at the end of second wold war, they were exhausted and ready to stop.

What had happened on that time between and especially after? Japan had made all the effort to mobilize every capable human being in the nation to fight the war they had so keenly engaged into. From elementary school students to house wifes and their husbands, everyone was needed to contribute to common good, decided by the mighty leaders of the nation. For a moment the plan worked and produced the much wanted result. Men were ordered to make their duty by dedicating their life to work, that is to work for any company outside their home, leave early, come back late. Women were ordered to take care of household and children, raise them well and provide a good base for them to grow as future fighters, loyal to their nation. And that's what they did, 356 days a year. Taking care, tendering, loving, teaching, driving and so forth, housewife's tasks were so broad they could be sated as more full time work. And the children grew and become loyal fighters for the future great empire of Japan. At the same time men didn't need to stick on one woman, a way that allowed even larger number of children to born. A really terrific baby boom of the time was created. Today it is impossible to keep up the large generations as they retire.

Japanese illness is a culmination of many factors. But over anything else, I diagnose it as combination of two; the post-war era and early law makers failures, who baldly engaged Japan into unnecessary violence and distress. Now they need to pay the price in social struggle and problems generated with it; underdeveloped family relationships, domestic violence, social pressure, aging population, only to name some. I pretty damn much hope that the law drafters regret and shame themselves because of the way they managed the nation. Where was the much praised Japanese feature of farsightedness, the quality of seeing the result in long-term? Perhaps current social situation was avoidable but too far to be visible, and perhaps now it's too late to take correcting measures. My naïve belief that is that the society will naturally fix it self, though in extremely very long time. While waiting let's cross fingers for the future and realize that the situation is not actually that bad even now. Now I thank you for reading my whole pouring, even though it was only one man's loose view.

November 27, 2009

Second visit to Saganoseki

The Saganoseki peninsula, near Oita-city with a view to Pacific Ocean hides unexpected beauty inside. Slightly hilly terrain, cozy fishing villages along the coastal road, clear blue water sparkling under the sun, that and more is Saganoseki. Check the rest of the story and you know what I mean. There are a lot of pictures in this post.

Morning dew on a rice paddy, which we passed on our walk Crop had been gathered by reaping and the unneeded straw had been laid on the field.

A reservoir dug in the mid-part of peninsula. Scenic but unfortunately man-made.

Uhm... 'Strange stone' sounds tempting and dangerous at the same time.

This shelter at the top of our climb is an ideal place to do cherry blossom tree viewing but the season is off.

Saganoseki lives through fishing. The first and largest fishing port viewed from the window of a lunch restaurant.

Ocean as far as eye can see. The road to the tip of peninsula opened a view towards Pacific Ocean.

Our day of travel was Monday, and because of the Labor Thanksgiving Day, a public holiday. Many Japanese came to relax and do fishing.

A jam-packed fishing port.

Some random fishes caught by a holiday fisher.

The shore was not sandy but full of small stones rounded by combers.

Lighthouse at the tip of peninsula. In the time of Second Wold War two huts were in the place those trees at the left. Today the stone foundations are still in place.

Lighthouse or white tower...

A chocolate filled bun on an afternoon break. Great snack and best round rolls that a bakery in Oita station offers.

Down at the sea level. The sound of waves in front of endless sea made us look hypnotized.

Who knows, maybe we were hypnotized. Are you?

The sun had enough of the day and started to set.

And here is the final view of the peninsula. Sun set and there was only darkness. We were tired, our feet hurt and ready to go home. But it was a trip well worth doing - I recommend!

November 26, 2009

News links from Oita University

Oita University and Oita Press publishes news in their web pages from time to time. Let's take a look at what events they have covered about exchange students' activities.

2009/11/11, cherry blossom tree planting in Bungotoyooka:

2009/9/30, exchange semester's opening ceremony:

2009/10/17, study trip to do za-zen and mandarin picking:

2009/10/21, visiting teacher from University of Melbourne giving a guest lecture:

November 23, 2009


Me kävimme viime lauantaina bambu-lyhty festivaalilla. Kun me saavuimme asemalle, kaupunki oli valmistettu näin. Odotin minkalainen se on illalla!

Me kävimme katsomassa ruskavärejä linnallekin, koska meillä oli aikaa ennen valofestivaalia. Ruska oli aika lopussa, mutta kuitenkin puut oli kauniita.

Kun meidän kaveripari oli kävelemässa linnan puistossa, japanilaiset joilla oli ammatti kamerat tulivat ottamaan kuvia heistä; oli hauskaa! He tulivat Yamaguchista valokuvakurssin takia.

Kun me tulimme takaisin linnalta, valot oli jo päällä ja paljon ihmisiä oli paikalla.
Bambu-lyhdyn valo oli tosi kaunis ja lämmin valo.

Tien molemmin puolin oli paljon lyhtyjä. Kaikki tiet olivat tosi romanttisia.

Tämän paikan maisema oli mahtava!! Oli tosi tosi kaunis.
Copyright © Better together...