HESO Magazine

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Tag: Japanese culture (Page 2 of 3)

Freakonomics the Movie

Freakonomics The Movie

In the recently released documentary film version of Freakonomics, economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner find their written musings on “the hidden side of everything” skillfully brought to the screen by an all-star team of modern young documentary film makers: Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp), Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger), and Seth Gordon (The King of Kong).

Despite the quirky popularity Freakonomics has found, trying to create excitement and recommending this film to potential viewers can be difficult:

“Sure, it’s about economics, but it’s kind of fun too…”

Freakonomics the Movie

Freakonomics Film PosterThe reason that Levitt and Dubner’s effort in bringing this seemingly arcane minutiae to screen is successful mostly depends on the same success the book Freakonomics found in 2005 in selling four million copies worldwide. The book is well-thought out and well-researched, and slim, parsed up into easily-navigable bitesize niblets of esoteric economies, which rather than drag on, end with the reader wanting more. The film too manages to pull this aspect off spectacularly, especially Alex Gibney’s segment Pure Corruption, which switches emphasis from the almost impossible-to-detect cheating ways of teachers and sumo wrestlers Levitt and Dubner describe in the book, and focuses solely on the sly corruption of modern day sumo wrestlers and the larger story of the stoic association that backs them.

Illustrating the numbers game of sumo wrestling by interviewing experts who delve into various mini-lessons on Japanese culture–Shinto, Tatemae and Honne, hazing in the sumo stables–Gibney asks, “What happens to markets when people cheat?”

Roughly a twenty-three minute long expose, the skilled director is forced to break out the big guns early in a not-so-veiled shot at the Tower of Babel that is the Nihon Sumō Kyōkai (Japan Sumo Association). Riffing off of Levitt’s economic breakdown of Yaochō (match fixing) as not only evident, but rampant in the secret world of sumo, this is a perfect forum to showcase Gibney’s talent at exposing corporate greed and government collusion (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the recent Casino Jack and the United States of Money). “What keeps us from seeing corruption is the illusion that our economy is a rational system, a free market, open to all. The fact is that rigging markets, and matches, is good business, if the rigging is hidden from all but a few.”

The only way to undo corruption is to change rules to undo corrupt incentives. The irony of our analysis of Sumo wrestling was when it became public, the Sumo wrestlers stopped cheating. Not for good, but that is the answer of how you… Click To Tweet

Although he does tenuously stab at the recent Wall Street financial meltdown with allusions to Bernie Madoff and other crooked CEOs, showing that as in “the realm of high finance and the world of sumo both demonstrate that the illusion of purity can not only hide corruption it can help to make it possible,” the segment does not allow enough time to fully explore any real connections, the gaping flaw of the film itself: none of these subjects could support much more than 30 minutes of hardcore film documentation.

Freakonomics is about being short, sweet, and up-to-date. Featuring footage of recently retired Yokozuna (Grand Champion) Asashoryu and current Yokozuna Hakuho (who just won his 18th Makuuchi Division title), Gibney interviews former Yokozuna Akebono and Ozeki (Champion) Konishiki, who talk about the rigors of the twenty-four hour a day lifestyle that being a sumo wrestler entails: training morning to night six days a week for six yearly tournaments while nursing injuries, caring for other higher ranked wrestlers, and maintaining the tough exterior necessary to rise from the depths of the lowest pool of wrestlers to the top, an almost impossible feat for the vast majority who undertake it.

Freakonomics the Movie

Rikishi taking a morning break outside the stable in Tokyo © Manny Santiago

Each tournament lasts fifteen days with each rikishi (wrestler) performing once a day for a possible record of 15-0. If at the end of the two-week exhibition an athlete has a winning record (8-7) he advances in rank, which brings more money and respect, whereas a losing record (7-8) will bring demotion, and its associated humiliations. Therefore the difference between winning and losing is as huge as some of the wrestlers themselves and many who teeter on the edge of the precarious line may be willing to do that much more to advance.

Yet no matter how much the rikishi on the outside of the ring looking in wants to win, it takes two to wrestle. Levitt points out that “two wrestlers I would expect to have an even match, when one of them needs the eighth win and the other one doesn’t, the one who needs it wins 75% of the time, rather than 50% of the time. That is a huge deviation.”

Dubner states, “A rikishi entering a tournament’s final fifteenth match with a 7-7 record has far more to gain from a victory than an opponent with a record of 8-6 has to lose. The next time those two wrestlers meet, lo and behold, the 8-6 wrestler almost always wins those matches.”

Gibney talks to more than skeptical westerner researchers. Surprisingly, his team uncovered a few Japanese experts to testify to Sumo Association ills. Freelance journalist Yorimasa Takeda muses that Yaochō is rampant and match fixing rates can run from as little as a carton of cigarettes in the lower ranks to 1-2 million yen or more for bouts that decide championships. Former editor of the Shukan Post Akihiko Takeuchi states that the continued denial of the existence of Yaochō by the Sumo Association is an example of Honne and Tatemae, the Japanese terms for truth and facade, respectively. Ex-CIA agent Barry Eisler explains the importance of these ideas to Japanese society, “The tatemae is going to be a great spectacle of honest competition, but in the service of creating that pleasing facade the actual players are engaging in a form of corruption. To have the honne exposed produces discomfort.”

The Untouchables

Dohyō-iri - Ring Entrance Ceremony

Dohyō-iri - Ring Entrance Ceremony © Manny Santiago

Few and far between, whistle-blowers are reticent to talk to outsiders for fear of being cast out of the village world lifestyle of sumo wrestling, which does not allow for rocking the boat, but only going with the waves. Other insiders who talked have either been discredited and stripped of the only community they know or have wound up dead. The fact that Gibney can only assemble a freelance journalist, an ex-newspaper editor, an ex-cop and a foreigner–all individuals without ties to the establishment–goes to show how powerful the forces of Tatemae are in keeping in check those who speak out against societal corruption.

Takeda says, “To come out and expose everything was shattering a taboo in Japan’s shadow society…Not only the police, but Japanese society as a whole tend to view the Sumo world as untouchable, as if they are somehow outside the law.”

But in 2007 when the Tokitsukaze stable hazing scandal came to light and onetime Sumo hopeful Takeshi Saito’s corpse was found mutilated and littered with bruises and cigarette burns, and the Tokyo Police said the boy died of natural causes, something had to be done. The boy’s father came forward, demanding an autopsy, which found he had been beaten to death. The Sumo Association elite seemingly had to come clean, yet despite public opinion turning against the Sumo world, they countered with lawsuits against Takeda and proclaimed their Shinto-based purity.

Hiromasa Saikawa, ex-police officer, speaks out against the ever-widening gap of Honne and Tatemae in regards to Japan’s unbelievable conviction rate (96%), “This number does not reflect reality and every single police officer is aware of this. In the case of both police officers and athletes, their efforts are measured in numbers…As long as he’s producing impressive numbers, there’s a tendency not to dig deeper to find the truth. They employ all sorts of schemes to raise those numbers.”

Retired Komusubi (fourth-highest rank) Keisuke Itai publicly admits to partaking in Yaochō and adds that, “If the rikishi are really taking Sumo seriously, there is an element that is sacred to the sport. Even now, if I see a good match, it moves me. And if I see yaochō, I am disappointed. All of us in Sumo can tell just by looking.”

Despite the the depressing truth of the regimented hierarchical reality of Japanese power structure’s unflinching dedication to living a superficial lie, it is heartening to know that not just western economists, journalists and other like-minded outsiders, but some individuals living inside the beehive collective nature of Japanese society are brave enough to risk coming forward to decry not just the overwhelming numbers of match fixing in Sumo, but the human cost of corruption as well.

“The only way to undo corruption is to change rules to undo corrupt incentives. The irony of our analysis of Sumo wrestling was when it became public, the Sumo wrestlers stopped cheating. Not for good, but that is the answer of how you stop cheating. As Louis Brandeis said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.'”

A Magnolia Films presentation of a Green Film Company production, in association with Cold Fusion Media. Produced by Chad Troutwine, Chris Romano, and Dan O’Meara. Executive producer: Seth Gordon, Damon Martin, Jay Rifkin, Michael Roban. Segments written and directed by Seth Gordon, Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney, Eugene Jarecki, Rachel Grady. Written by Peter Bull & Alex Gibney (Pure Corruption), Jeremy Chilnick & Morgan Spurlock (A Roshanda by Any Other Name), Eugene Jarecki (It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life), Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady (Can a Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed?), Seth Gordon (Intro & Segues), Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner (book).

With: Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.
Watch the Trailer.

Fujirock Festival – Sideshows Steal The Show

Two questions are typically asked surrounding Fujirock: “Are you going?” and “How was it?” Recently the answer to the first has been yes, while the answer to the second generally begins with “Wet” and gets more complicated from there. Despite the weather perpetually being an issue during the three-day megafest in the mountains of Yuzawa, a little known town in rural Niigata, the mainstay of the now 13 year-old music festival is almost always the sideshows. So a fan would be excused if they were lured to the expensive midsummer exposition upon hearing that the likes of Oasis, Weezer, and Franz Ferdinand were headlining, but despite often disappointing sets by Green stage acts it’s the smaller, more carnival stages which hold the real untold treasures, just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid, if muddied, troubadour festival-goer.

Fujirock Festival – Sideshows Steal The Show

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Swedish gypsy punk band Räfven electrifies the audience at Fujirock

Truth is with over two hundred acts spanning the twelve or so stages it’s impossible to see everyone you would like to, or even a fraction of the talented musicians from all over the globe coalescing in the pine tree scented paradise of Naeba. So you pick, you choose, you try to schedule, but often you end up guessing or just plain stuck due to traffic jams, sudden downpours and mud delays. Sometimes these forays into chance take you toward the mini Naeba Shokudo stage on the edge of the Oasis foodcourt, sandwiched between the massive Green and more club-like Red Marquee stages, to happen upon bands like The Inspector Cluzo, a duet of drums and guitar who seem to have the classic bluesy-soul guitar rock highlighted with vocal bird call arpeggios sound down to a beautiful science. Or to the Orange Court, the farthest of the big stages (which was to host All-Night Fuji on Friday but had been turned into a field study in rainwater collection) to discover the gypsy jamband folk-punk stylings of Räfven (who performed an astonishing nine times), a infectively rabid band of street musicians all the way from Gothenburg. The Orange Court is also a place where someone like Juana Molina’s immense talent and ethereally disturbing voice and intricate instrumentation goes unappreciated on Sunday afternoon. Yet on Saturday evening in the more intimate Gypsy Avalon, it’s perfectly accompanied with a bit of wine from the nearby Organic Village and a space on the- shock and awe- semi-dry grass!

By far the best place to be a fan in the front is the Red Marquee, which was the only dry place in town all weekend. Potential electrocution might explain why Dinosaur Jr., who unloaded at least five more Marshall stacks on top of the already well-endowed PA equipment on hand, was scheduled to close the covered tent Saturday night. Not only is J. Mascis’ guitar – a massive wave of undulating sound wrapped in distortion in perfect time and balance to bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph- the loudest thing I’ve ever heard, it’s one of the most beautiful and melodic. Sadly, a few songs before they undoubtedly encored, I made a break for Public Enemy at the White Stage, headlining arguably the best stage / lineup combination of the entire weekend (Melvins, Zazen Boys, Bad Brains). Despite missing Flava Flav and Professor Griff due to “visa problems”, Chuck D promised a “real hip-hop show” and if the audience’s reaction was any indication, him promising to play their second studio LP It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back in its entirety (broken up only by a tribute to MJ, name dropping various websites – publicenemy.com, rapstation.com, and introducing a new artist) was the performance they were waiting for.

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Band Member Teaches Crowd to Live Tweet During Bright Eyes final show at Fujirock

Starting off well is paramount to lasting on your feet all day and into the night, and the best way to do that is by taking the Dragondola, which claims to be the world’s longest gondola lift (despite that not being true), for a ride. Lasting about 15 minutes and not only soaring 5.5 km toward the 1800-meter high Mt. Takenoko, it provides a much needed and breeze-filled getaway from the muddied hordes milling about like so many insects below. As the early afternoon creeps closer and the big names crawl out of their luxury hotel suites to fulfill their 50-minute sets, hitting the airlift back down the hill and grabbing a couple of the tastiest and cheapest beers at the festival from Tokyo Brewing Company is a must before braving the over-crowded walkways for the likes of frenetic rock Nordlander Ida Maria and her succinct pop-punk ditties or the fragile-looking Nick Cave cohort Rowland Howard whose snaky, smoky, whiskey-honed voice will do things to you long after he exits stage left. And then there’s Bright Eyes who, according to Conor Oberst, is not a band anymore. So their appearance at Fujirock was part of a “one-night world tour”, and will disband after the release of their next album. All this didn’t seem to bother the largely perplexed and oddly small audience gathered to hear the strong Saturday afternoon set in the Red Marquee tent. What was confusing was the attractive young lady sitting in a chair, texting, twittering, and occasionally giggling, next to the caterwauling Oberst (who can pull some truly interesting sounds from a simple acoustic guitar), working the crowd up into mini Midwest tornadoes of passion, ennui and release until finally, our mystery lady pulled out her voice -alongside Mike Moggis’ Cornet- and stole the show. Sayonara Bright Eyes.

Fujirock Music Festival

Fans Reach Out to Touch Peaches as She performs an out of her ind set at Fujirock

Other notables were Tortoise, DJ Towa Tei, Longwave, Simian Mobile Disco and the standout State Circus of Mongolia. Glam and electronica rocker Peaches wins for most mouth-wateringly fruitlike S&M-ish costumes, fuck you swagger and stage presence, the longest stage dive (that I was witness to) while maintaining the song’s chorus (“Harder, harder”) perfectly, and just overall raw sexual energy and love of music. As the forty-plus year old Merrill Nisker (backed by the Herms) deftly maneuvered her hour-long set to the audience’s rapt glee, in support of her latest album, I Feel Cream, no one was thinking, “Hmmm, who’s on at the Green stage?”

Holy Fuck opening for the Airborne Toxic Event on the White Stage was an auspicious beginning to Sunday which turned out to peak with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s powerful set (see full gallery of CYHSY photos) of first album classics interspersed with a few newer tunes before petering out with Animal Collective’s introspective- at times masturbatorial- and overly hyped performance. By the time Röyksopp Nordic electro-magnetic vibes began spewing forth I had the good fortune to catch a guitarless Rivers Cuomo crooning the classic “My Name Is Jonas” while simultaneously being bitten by several ticks before passing out from three days of mud and blood, sweat and bugs, and of course lots of great side acts who deserve main stage attention. Like Räfven, Juana Molina, Diplo, Comeback My Daughters, Wilko Johnson, Justin Nozuka, Soil & “Pimp” Session, The Inspector Cluzo, Zaz and Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, among many others, who made multiple showings across three days in what feels more like an attempt to fill time slots than any genuine desire on the part of the lower echelon of artists’ to extend their stay. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but among other possibilities, it could be they weren’t invited to play at Fujirock’s sister festival in Korea, the Jisan Valley Rock Fest, like scores of other larger names were. Enough politics, the fans scream, give us more music. No problem.

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Patti Smith live at Fujirock

Ebony Bones takes home best costumes and most color amid the rock-steady downpours of Friday at the Green Stage. Despite hearing that Oasis wasn’t that bad (I couldn’t bring myself to actually watch) and stripping White Stage headliners The Neville Brothers of any audience whatsoever, the Green Stage redeemer is by far Patti Smith, who put on one of the more powerful performances I’ve been witness to at a festival. Shame that it came on Friday afternoon, as she seems as confident as ever, spitting and smiling alongside longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye and surprise guest Tom Verlaine. She sang as sure of voice as the wind pushing the sheets of rain down on the thousands gathered, watching her stomp through guitar romps and shake her trademark black beanie in the air declaring, “this one’s for the children!” amid dedications to Haile Selassie and MJ. Ending with the explosive “Rock and Roll Nigger,” aided by Verlaine’s intricate guitar work, Smith can still go blow for blow with the biggest names and walk away smiling.

Rumor has it Naeba’s days of hosting the popular festival are over and the days of Fujirock being nowhere near Mt. Fuji may be at an end. Who knows where the roving Japanese festival will end up? Likely I will be asked, “Are you going?” to which I will undoubtedly say yes (if I can hitch a ride out there…) and to the always difficult to answer, “How was it?” I’ll likely say, worth the time, effort and extraneous cash, if you should have it.

Letter From The Editor – Digital V. Analog

Digital V. Analog

Digital V. Analog

“It now appears that books in the form so beloved by Uncle Alex and me, hinged in unlocked boxes, packed with leaves speckled by ink, are obsolescent. My grandchildren are already doing much of their reading from words projected on the face of a video screen. Please, please, please wait just a minute.

At the time of their invention books were devices as crassly practical for storing or transmitting language, albeit fabricated from scarcely modified substances found in forest and field and animals as the latest Silicon Valley miracles. But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and texture and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes and then our minds and souls in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.”

– Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Timequake

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Timequake is largely concerned with the loss of the imagination, the loss of story telling, the loss of free will. To back up a bit, before Guttenberg transformed handmade manuscripts with movable type, books were largely cared for by monks and not meant for common people. Information, as it remains today, was power. Teach a blacksmith to read, suddenly he doesn’t need the pope’s interpretation, he can think for himself. Enter Martin Luther and his 95 theses. This is revolution. Thus, out went blind Homer’s oral tradition and in came the written word. The Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation. These are all direct results of the written word becoming law. This major paradigm shift took millennia to transition. What once took centuries now takes nanoseconds, whatever those are. Now you can google The Odyssey (1,550,000 results) in 0.18 seconds. Today books are becoming commonplace, overlooked, cumbersome, even impractical in a world in which atom-sized microprocessors hold the entire Library of Congress in your telephone/computer/stereo/address book/movie theater, ad nauseum. How we are communicating is changing. Changing so quickly that before Kurt Vonnegut Jr. passed from the earth in April of 2007, he felt we were missing something, he felt it necessary to tell us to “Please, please, please wait just a minute.”

Digital and analog. Cause and effect. Origin and outcome. Inevitability and free will. Moirai and Erinyes. Look at the big picture and get a sense of the generic. Zoom in and focus on details. Go too far and the grain (pixels, what have you) blurs beyond recognition. Get too wide and we’re in danger of missing the nitty-gritty. There is a sense of contradiction inherent in any magazine these days. What once was set by hand is now placed by a cursor. What once was inked and pressed on wood and metal is now plated via pdf. The outcome is the same: the HESO you hold in your hands, which tells you via meticulously placed type, at the top of every page to check out http://hesomagazine.com.

I have a fat manilla envelope full of stationary from the many hotels, hostels and inns I’ve stayed in over the years. Envelopes and clean white leaves of paper pressed with letterhead, logos and contact information. Largely a collection of souvenirs to commemorate my various travels, as well as to confuse hell out of anyone I write a letter to from say, Barcelona using stationary from Jakarta, they have always represented potential to me. It’s come to the point that, besides packs of fresh boxer briefs and white Fruit of the Loom tank tops, this is one of the only things my mother can give me for Christmas which she knows will tickle me pink.

We don’t write anymore (except Stephen King), we post, we tweet, we update our status. Letters passe, email is the mode du jour. Greeting cards are getting scarce, e-cards are simply too easy. What happens when the newspapers go so bankrupt as to finally disappear? Will bloggers do their own research? Will we breathe easier with all the excess trees growing untouched throughout the world or will the Japanese buy them all up for disposable chopstick production?


Will we forget how to read and write? English (26 letters, 10 numerals and 8 or so punctuation marks) is relatively easy, but what about Gaelic and Welsh, Estonian and Finnish? Japanese people regularly confide that due to the exponential growth and use of mobile phones and computers, they are losing their ability to quickly and correctly write complicated characters. In the face of gradually becoming unable to fluently write an admittedly difficult system, those I’ve talked with seem largely apathetic. The term Shoganai (“Nothing can be done”) is often heard in this context. Despite all this, Asō Tarō’s- the current Japanese prime minister- recent (and largely blogged on) gaffes reading Japanese characters on his teleprompter during press conferences is at least indirectly responsible for a boom in sales of study guides.


The world is still largely analog, that is to say related to nature. Digital as it may seem, there are still holes in the net. It is from this imperfection that life forms, that originality comes, that the divine breeds. In the world of electronics the “on” circuit is a closed loop. Turn on the light and the loop closes, flip the switch off to break the cycle. Closed is to running current as open is to stasis. From the looking glass we perceive a reverse image. From the negative a positive. From nothing something, from something nothing.

Without the analog we lose all context of who we are, where we came. We become emotionless numbers on a grid, switches for the puppet masters to flick on and off. Without perception of the surreal, reality becomes meaningless, empty 1s and 0s floating in a vacuum, bereft of true value.


Find a mythology relative to the times in which we live. If none exists relevant to your life, make one up. Don’t accept what the screen and its talking heads pour into your eyes.


I have long believed that humanity’s greatest quality is adaptability. And yet the changes in our current modus operandi are constant and quickening. How do we keep up with the Joneses and their cloneses? How do we properly perceive whatever it is that is going on around us? String theory? Through the many simulacra we invent to connect us, to keep us close? In one sense it’s a good thing: you need to know what’s happening in the derivatives market to understand what may happen to the price of rice in China. But do we really need 300 satellite channels of the same garbage – Now available in HD!- or realtime updates of what outfit such and such celebrity had on when they checked into rehab, again? Or do we, at a certain level, trust that paper and ink still have value, start writing letters again, sending poetry to faraway loves, pull out that yellow legal pad, ala Vonnegut, and finally write your novel the old fashioned way, illegibly?

In Timequake, the whole of humanity loses free will for 10 years, what Vonnegut Jr. terms the “rerun”. He goes on, “There was absolutely nothing you could say during the rerun if you hadn’t said it the first time.” The thought that still nags me to this day, more than 10 years after I first read the book, and two years since Mr. Vonnegut has passed into the ether, what I always wanted to ask him was, “Did they realize it while it was happening, or only after, or even at all?” Like most important things that happen in realtime, I don’t think they did.

I trust your responses to this missive will be written in Esperanto and sent via carrier pigeon.

The Second Coming of Shôjo

The Second Coming of Shôjo

The Shojo - Yoshiya Who is the shôjo? There are two separate answers to that question, depending on your perspective, inside or outside shôjo culture. Although shôjo is usually translated into English as “girl” it is much more specific than that. The idea of the shôjo begins with Japan’s modern period, when for the first time there was a gap, a waiting period between childhood and adulthood (for the upper classes at least) and girls were sent off to school for a few years before marriage. The Meiji schoolgirl in the 1880s and 1890s became a symbol of everything that was changing in Japanese society. The Meiji schoolgirl, with her high pompadour, flying ribbons, and hakama, was both alluring and frightening to the men who observed and wrote about her, such as Tayama Katai. Around 1910 he wrote several novels about respectable men disgracing themselves by chasing after schoolgirls, in the grips of an obsession he called shôjobyô: girl sickness.

These early shôjo became the driving source behind many of the trends we now associate with modern culture, including the development of modern women’s language, according to linguist Inoue Miyako. The Meiji schoolgirl was the flower of bourgeois girlhood brought out in public for the first time, but with her Westernized, politicized education she posed a real threat to male control of public and private life. It’s hardly surprising then that descriptions of girl students in Meiji literature is full of this double vision: she’s sexy but dangerous, not only to the man who falls for her, but to the Japanese nation as a whole. This way of viewing girls has persisted from the “modern girl” of the 1920s up through the impossibly busty sweethearts of moe-obsessed otaku. While the tendency to draw big eyes may have come from shôjo manga, this is still an outsider’s view of the girl. Like a porn star or a whore, she is both idolized and degraded. Japan is still suffering from shôjobyô.

The Second Coming of Shôjo

But girls don’t see themselves this way, and never have. There is a wholly separate image of the shôjo that arose in the 1920s in all-girls schools, which were a temporary haven from the pressure of an arranged marriage that awaited girls after graduation. The two main forms of expression of shôjo culture were the all-girl Takarazuka Revue, and girls’ literary magazines, such as Shôjo No Tomo (The Girl’s Friend). The stories in these magazines were never about dating boys; instead, the focus was always on friendship between girls. Both in the magazines and in real life, girls formed passionate (and perhaps occasionally sexual) relationships with other girls, called S kankei. In the pages of girls’ magazines, novelist Yoshiya Nobuko (who maintained an S kankei relationship throughout her adult life) and illustrators such as Takabatake Kashô and Nakahara Jun’ichi created the look and feel of the ideal shôjo: upper class and cultured, pure and innocent, meaning she had no experience with boys. Times have changed, of course–now many Japanese, particularly older people, will say, with a disapproving glare at those vulgar kogals, that there are no more shôjo today. On the other hand, young women who refuse to marry and have children, or even those who do but who want to remain part of this innocent and idealized world, will refer to themselves as eien no shôjo, forever shôjo.

While S kankei have become less common in postwar Japan where co-ed schooling is the norm and dating is no longer forbidden, girls’ preference for homogender romance remains. Those prewar magazines were gradually replaced postwar by shôjo manga, but instead of girl-girl stories, we now have bishônen, shônen-ai, and yaoi, all stories of love between beautiful, feminine-looking boys. Even stories of S kankei are making a comeback, with manga such as Maria-sama ga mite iru, and in Takemoto Novala’s efforts to bring Yoshiya Nobuko to a new generation of girls. The prewar shôjo, with her chaste, refined ways, may seem quaintly old-fashioned now, and far removed from the hard-core porn of yaoi, but it seems many girls still find refuge in a homogender world when heterosexual relationships prove frustrating.

The Yayoi Museum (to whom we are thankful for use of these images) houses an impressive collection of art and resources related to magazine culture and the shôjo. No English support is available, but don’t let this deter you from visiting. It is visually stunning!

113-0032 Tokyo, Bunkyo-ku, Yayoi 2-4-3
tel 03(3812)0012 fax 03(3812)0699
e-mail [email protected]

Fujirock Festival of the Future and Past

Fujirock – Festival of the Future and Past

Fujirock Festival of the Future and Past

The Boardwalk During a Rare Uncrowded Moment

The Buddha said that life is about contradictions. Vegetarians wearing leather. Environmental bumper stickers on SUVs. The Fuji Rock Festival being nowhere near Mt. Fuji.

Truth is, Smash (the organizer promoting the 3-day, 130,000 strong festival) did try to hold it at the foot of Mt. Fuji in its inaugural attempt back in 1997, but a typhoon famously, disastrously swooped off the sea and cancelled the show. Hence Mt. Naeba, a ski resort in Yuzawa, Niigata, a large rural prefecture located on the northwest shores of Japan (Yuzawa is the setting for Kawabata Yasunari’s classic Snow Country), has been hosting the country’s largest music festival since Hidaka Masahiro started it in 1999.

Fujirock – Festival of the Future and Past

Boasting musicians the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Grand Master Flash, Bootsie Collins, Spearhead, Ian Brown and Primal Scream, this year’s lineup is eclectic to say the least. It includes many seemingly peripheral acts, though acts that have been delivering strong, rock-steady performances before some of these young concert-goers were out of diapers. Other plusses are the community spirit and low crime despite the close quarters (camping’s the norm unless you book a hotel a year in advance). Corporate sponsorship remains low, despite the relatively blasé attitude most Japanese have toward ever-advancing consumerism, and the banning of fliers and product campaigns with their annoying bullhorn approach to sales is almost as refreshing an experience as the near constant rainfall which seems to annually bless or plague (depending on your religious affiliation) the festival. Another aesthetic asset is that the festival aims to be “the cleanest festival in the world” and seems to be on the mark. Although garbage and recycling stations are relatively far apart, your young, well-behaved and environmentally conscious attendees are generally diligent about toting their own portable ashtrays and plastic bags (given out by the staff at the entrance) for hours at a time.

Minuses are the rocky pathways, which though peaceful and serenely set in a beautiful wooded area, are generally overcrowded and one-way, making getting to the Green Stage, for example, in time to see My Bloody Valentine headline Friday night from the Special Others (a great Japanese jamband) playing the Field of Heaven stage logistically impossible. Thank Buddha for press passes. But wait, the press doesn’t actually get anything resembling press passes at all, save for a lime green mesh photo jersey in which to sweat profusely. No press tent, no lockers or storage for necessary camera gear, no wi-fi. It’s truly roughing it.

The biggest, most internationally friendly event in Japan has come a long way since ’97 and still has a long way to go. I for one would like to see a more concerted effort to introduce a bit of anarchy into the three-day carnival atmosphere, but unless it occurs organically of its own volition, well, that would be a contradiction now wouldn’t it.

Ed Rodriguez of Deerhoof plays guitar live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Deerhoof Tokyo Interview

On paper they read like a relatively run-of-the-mill, up and coming alternative rock band: two guitars, bass, drums, female vocalist all playing their hearts out for an eclectic independent label from backwoods, USA. Yet Deerhoof is not your typical San Francisco band. Nor is KRS (Kill Rock Stars) your typical label. Though somehow the two are a perfect fit, Deerhoof ranking as the all-woman-run, Olympia-based label’s oldest and best-selling act. Originating as a drums and guitar duo in the mid-90s, it has taken over ten years, ten albums and ten (or so) musicians rotating in and out to solidify the current four-member lineup (Drummer Greg Saunier, Satomi Matsuzaki (Vocals/Bass), John Dieterich (guitar) and Ed Rodriguez (guitar)) into the band that Radiohead, for one, likes listening to.

The classically trained Greg Saunier, fresh out of Conservatory, got into the Bay Area music scene with Nitre Pit, a short-lived quartet, where he met bassist Rob Fisk, the other founding member of what would eventually become Deerhoof. Nitre Pit broke up and, suddenly a rhythm-heavy duet, they nonetheless fulfilled their remaining dates, one of which had a young Slim Moon, the founder of Kill Rock Stars, in the audience.

In typical Rock and Roll Dream fashion, they were signed after the show to produce the first of Deerhoof’s numerous recordings. When HESO sat down with the band on their recent mini-Japan tour, Greg had this to say about how many lives has the band been through.”A zillion (laughs). If we count the time some guy came dressed as Milkman (Milkman, Kill Rock Stars 2004) to a show and jumped on stage, that’s its own lineup for one night. Every time we do a record or make up a song it actually does feel like we get a new life, radically changing the way we work.”

It wasn’t until 1996 or so when the band set into place the distinctive skeleton of the modern Deerhoof by adding the diminutive Satomi Mastuzaki, just off the Tokyo boat to San Francisco and looking for adventure. Besides Matsuzaki’s high-pitched voice adding a pleasingly disjunctive aspect to the duet’s oft-improvised artrock, she tempered their tonal testosterone with a demure yet powerful cuteness, not to mention a rhythmic bass once Fisk left in 1999. Thus beginning the band’s love affair with Japan.

Satomi Mastuzaki of Deerhoof plays Live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Satomi Mastuzaki of Deerhoof plays Live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Deerhoof Tokyo Interview/h2>

HESO: How many times have you toured in Japan? And what are your overall thoughts about touring here?

DH: “6 or 7. Usually more than once per album. Including Fujirock (2007) this is our third tour on this album (Friend Opportunity, Kill Rock Stars 2007). Japan’s music world takes care of a band in quite a different way. There’re more stagehands than people in the band and the room is what would pass for a smallish venue back home, but the PA system and lights, just incredible care. We have a very skewed perspective on it. We get invited and everything’s taken care of. We are the honored guests.”

Deerhoof are notorious for not giving straightforward answers to interviewers, though when HESO met them on a strangely cool June day in Shibuya, they were all ears and mouths, talking incessantly about their new album, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars 2008) and whether creating new material, songs, albums, is a process of touring or more this revolving lineup or both.

“It’s not necessarily to do with touring, since music comes from someplace that’s unpredictable‚ it’s a matter of allowing your music to follow where your imagination is telling you to go and having an idea of what that’ll be tomorrow.” said Greg.

John Dieterich, who entered the band in 1999 and whose savant-esque guitar gave rise to the creation of their next album, Reveille, which caused many seminal bands the likes of Sonic Youth and the aforementioned Radiohead, to take note of, added, “It’s also affected by who you see every night. You have to react. If you feel something, you’re constantly reevaluating how you approach it‚ we’re touring with the Tenniscoats and XIU XIU right now and they’re such different bands. But the most valuable experience as a musician, for me is touring and seeing new and different bands all the time. You get to see different kinds of depth. You’re experiencing it as it happens and it’s penetrating all other aspects of your life, not just playing or recording, but it’s life. It’s human.”

HESO: How do you guys come to an album? Is it a collaboration or does, for example, Satomi always come with lyrics?

Greg: It’s magic if we come up with anything at all. If we finally think it’s good, well, why is that? I don’t know how we stumble upon it. Trying a different process every song‚ I’m always amazed that the well doesn’t run dry. I always think, well, that’s it. That’s probably my last song. I wouldn’t know how to find it if I had to, there are no rules, no system, no precedent to follow. Just guessing and making it up as you go along.

John: It’s an intuitive process. In any given city in the US, there’s no system set up other than family. Theoretically there’re schools indoctrinating everyone, but that’s completely different for everyone.

Greg: In my school 2 + 2 is 4.

HESO: Well, being left-handed we had to write that backwards. I didn’t like that.

Greg: Tom Cruise said that Scientology cured his Dyslexia. (Laughs)

Deerhoof in Tokyo (Manny Santiago)

Deerhoof in Tokyo

HESO: He probably meant that Dyslexia cured his Scientology. Moving on. Ed, what was the process of you entering the band?

Ed: John and I have known each other for about 15 years, been playing music for about that long and we were in a band
together in Minneapolis. The first time I heard Deerhoof was when he sent recordings. I was so happy John was playing, it was so perfect. That was 1999.

HESO: Do you walk into the studio with a time limit, say two weeks, to get it all done?

John: Instead of going for a long stretch of time, we went in one day in March, and our original idea was to record the whole album and we were sure it would be so easy. We ended up getting four (tracks), one of which we canned. We ended up going back in a month later and recorded and went through the rest of everything.

Ed: The thinking is that we should really do everything ourselves. Greg & John have such a developed sense of mastering sound and working with recordings that as a band we try not going outside of it as much as possible. It seems incredibly foreign, the idea of putting that much care into writing material and recording and then hand it to someone else, wait a while and get it back. If you can dedicate yourself to all aspects then.

John: It’s pretty amazing the things you can do.

Deerhoof’s latest album, Offend Maggie, comes out in October and they already have January dates in Japan to support it. Why not support them?

Check out the Interview with Deerhoof and a review of their latest album La Isla Bonita.

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo – Photos of the Indie band Deerhoof live at The Liquid Room in Ebisu, Tokyo

This Is Cornelius – Interview with Oyamada Keigo


Cornelius is not a man. Nor, for that matter, is he an ape (though the name comes from Planet of the Apes). Cornelius is a musical group founded by Oyamada Keigo (小山田圭吾) in the early 90s after his Shibuya-kei duo with Ozawa Kenji, Flipper’s Guitar, split up. Suddenly a solo act, Oyamada spent the next five or so years crafting his persona and honing his production skills, a sabbatical ultimately culminating in what made it all worth the wait—the music.

1997 saw Cornelius break into various European and American indie scenes with the infectious Fantasma (Matador Records, 1997), a melodic blending of traditional and esoteric poprock elements alongside sounds of nature wrapped candylike around backdrops of digital wash. I remember driving down Venice Boulevard toward the beach when my friend first put it in the CD player, mentioning something about “addictive…” In the strange part of my mind which catalogues beauty, I’m still on Venice Blvd, heading toward the beach, listening to “Chapter 8: Seashore and Horizon.” I’ve never turned back.

Recently HESO Magazine sat down with Oyamada at his Nakameguro studio. Between sips of Oolong tea, cigarettes and stealing glances at his massive cd collection, we chatted about his defunct label Trattoria, his plans after Sensuous, and the supporting Sensuous Synchronized Tour (the final Japan performance of which HESO attended at the Grand Cube Concert Hall in Osaka), back in Japan after finishing up some dates in Europe. When asked about his success abroad, he laughed and demurred, talking about other bands. But in the end, he added, “on this past tour, quite a few people came out to see me in the US and I even played at Disney Concert Hall. I’ve been doing this now for ten years, and finally I get to play live in a hall—I thought that was pretty good.”

What he sensuously synchronized in front of that audience was an audio-visual extravaganza. A veritable smörgåsbord for the senses. Imagine two hours of expertly crafted electro-rock music synched to an ever-changing reel of nebulous videos featuring miniature landscapes a la Hieronymus Bosch, walking fingers, children and animals, and a million other things you will have to buy the DVD to catch.


Cornelius Live at Grand Cube in Osaka

Cornelius Live at Grand Cube in Osaka

This Is Cornelius – Interview with Oyamada Keigo

HESO: I’m guessing you’ve probably been on tours all over, but which has been the most interesting place so far?

Keigo Oyamada: Anyplace I’ve never been before is interesting.

HESO: I think most bands tour in the US and Europe, but Björk for example goes to places like China and Indonesia. Have you ever been to any places like that?

O: Haven’t been to China yet. I’m going to Korea for the first time next week. That’s about it in Asia.

HESO: What about South America?

O: Never been to South America, either, though I’d like to go. I’ve been invited to Brazil, but it’s half a world away. Taking all my equipment there would incur enormous expenses, so it’s near impossible to do.

HESO: The last date of your Sensuous Synchronized Show was in Osaka I think…

O: Actually, we have a few more dates in Korea, but yeah, the last in Japan.

HESO: What are you thinking about doing after the tour? Collaborating with some other artists or making a new album?

O: I haven’t made any decisions yet. Well, maybe a few small things. I’m making a jingle for Tokyo FM.

HESO: Do you have any plans to exhibit your videos at any galleries or art institutions?

O: I made a DVD with images from my live performances using 5.1-channel sound. It’s already out in Japan, and will probably be out in the US in the summer. It’s coming out from Everloving, my label. That, and a tour DVD called Point from about five years ago. I’ll be showing those two at places like museums.

Flippers Guitar - On Pleasure Bent

Flippers Guitar – On Pleasure Bent

HESO: Are you doing all that by yourself? Or are you collaborating with anyone?

O: I have a film director for the video, Tsujikawa Koichiro. We’ve been working together for a long time. He made nearly seven or eight tracks. There’s also a film director in Kyoto—Groovisions. And then the Kyoto artist Takagi Masakatsu, who made one track.

HESO: Speaking of collaborations, you recently put out an EP titled Gum.

O: That was only in the U.S.

HESO: That’s right. And wasn’t Sakamoto Ryuichi on that third track?

O: Sakamoto did the chorus for me on that one. Hosono Haruomi is another of the members of YMO. It’s something Sakamoto and I did for a tribute album for the leader of YMO.

HESO: You were on tour with Hosono, weren’t you?

O: Yeah, as a guitarist.

HESO: If you could work with any artist you like, who would it be?

O: A band? Someone recent?… (He thinks for a while) He’s not very recent, but Takemitsu Toru—you hear a lot of him on film soundtracks. He’s from the 1950s or 60s. I listen to a lot of people who do contemporary Japanese music or film music.

HESO: Really? Recently, I’ve found the There Will Be Blood soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood to be pretty good.

O: Oh, I listen to a lot of Radiohead myself—In Rainbows for one.

HESO: If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would it be?

O: Hmmm… dinner? Alive or dead?… People I would want to eat with?… My own family (laughter).

HESO: What first got you interested in music?

tenorionO: When I was about 7 or 8, we did taiko (Japanese drums) at school. In class, we would all dance, but the sound of those drums probably made me want to make my own music.

HESO: When did you first start thinking about becoming a musician?

O: Becoming a musician… I did music because I liked it, but I never really thought I could be a professional so I never really thought about becoming one. But then someone from a record company heard our band and asked us to put out a record. It was completely by accident.

HESO: It seems like your music draws influence from all over. You can hear natural sounds and Zen-like sounds like wind chimes. There’s a lot of East and West. With each album, do you think about which direction you are going to take it? Or do you simply listen to all kinds of sounds and go from there?

O: I love all kinds of music and am influenced by all kinds of music as well. I think most of those sounds just naturally come out. It’s not as if I like rock or only listen to classical—I have a great love for all kinds of music. My father is a musician, and I used to look through his record collection. It’s all because my father’s got some great records.

HESO: You mix sound and visuals and even produce it yourself—the DJ mixing, too.

O: It’s multi-media, isn’t it? I don’t do the DJ mixing, but I do kind of act like a VJ for the live shows.

HESO: I recently heard one of your old Breeze Block mixes on BBC’s Radio One…

O: Ah… I do radio programs. NHK, too. Now that you mention it, I was a DJ on NHK. I don’t DJ at clubs.

HESO: A friend asked me recently to sum your music up in a word and I couldn’t. What kind of music would you say do? How do you define your music?

O: Mmmmm, that’s a tough one. I don’t really know what to say, but basically it’s just Rock.

HESO: On stage, you play guitar, have keyboards and a Theremin, use a Tenorion with a projection behind you. How is it different from your process of making an album in the studio?

O: In the studio, I am playing most of the instruments myself. Live, I’m playing together with other musicians. I guess I’m basically interpreting the album.

HESO: It’s pretty common in the US, for example, to feature someone on your album, but do you ever play with anyone in the studio?

O: I work alone, but on Sensuous, I worked with the Kings of Convenience. They sang a track for me. Their acoustic guitar duet is kind of like Simon and Garfunkel. Other than that, I don’t really work with anyone else on albums. I do, however, work on quite a bit of collaborations and mixes with overseas artists.

HESO: How did you wind up with Kings of Convenience?

Oyamada Takes Photos of the crowd post show Osaka

Oyamada Takes Photos of the crowd post show Osaka

O: They just came to Japan for a tour and we happened to know each other—I had met them in England before. Hell, they were in Japan so I figured we should just do something.

HESO: It’s pretty damn good. I thought the synchronization between the sound and visuals was particularly strong. How did you start out with that?

O: I’ve been synching sound and visuals for about ten years now, since about the time I put out the album Fantasma. I gradually developed from there, and with the current title Sensuous Synchronized Show, I had the concept of synching everything—the visuals, the sound, the lights—and I’ve been doing it this way for about two years now.

HESO: Who made the videos in your show?

O: My friend Tsujikawa, whom I mentioned earlier, made about ten of them. After that, there are several other directors I’ve made some videos with since long ago. I guess I work with several people, but Tsujikawa is the main guy, and he makes most of them.

HESO: Where most other Japanese artists haven’t had similar success outside of Japan, why do you suppose you’ve had such international success? Some of the few Japanese artists with any popularity in America are Pizzicato Five and Cibo Matto.

O: What about The Boredoms?

HESO: Yeah, I guess them, too. And Ozawa Seiji.

O: (laughter) Before I was Cornelius, I was in a band called Flipper’s Guitar. It was in Japan, when I was about 20. There were only two members, but one of those members was Ozawa’s nephew!

HESO: Was it one of the so-called Shibuya-kei bands?

O: It was before Shibuya-kei. It was a little before that word “Shibuya-kei” came out. After we broke up we were labeled Shibuya-kei.

HESO: To finish up, what do you like to eat?

O: (laughter) What do I like to eat? I like rice.

Cornelius – Live in Osaka

Tokyo's Monorail runs over reclaimed land stretching for miles

Urban Heat Islands – Heating Up Japan

Japan is most widely known for islands of the geological sort, but unfortunately the country is also the world’s premier spot for a completely different sort of island: Urban Heat Islands. Even if you’ve never heard of an Urban Heat Island, chances are you live on one if you reside in Japan. Technically known as the “Urban Heat Island effect,” the term describes how temperatures in inner city cores are abnormally higher than temperatures in surrounding, less densely developed areas. The underlying mechanisms behind Heat Island formation are rather complex, but they are formed by excessive waste heat emissions from human activity, heat-trapping geometries of concrete city blocks, and a shortage of the natural cooling-effects from winds, waterways and greenery inside urban space. In Japan, a near dearth of large scale urban greenery combined with high building densities in major metropolitan regions have given the country some of the worst Urban Heat Island conditions found on the planet. While urban heat islands are not unique to Japan, the Urban Heat Island intensity (which describes the temperature gradient between urban centers and outlying areas), tends to be highest here in comparison with other metropolitan regions around the world. For example, the average annual temperature in Tokyo has increased 3 degrees centigrade (5.4 F) over the last 100 years, which is over three times faster than the less-than-1 degree rise in global average temperatures over the same period.

...hotter urban temperatures simply make city-life miserable in a range of ways. Click To Tweet

So what’s the big deal about a few extra degrees? Those hotter temperatures in Japanese cities are behind a host of environmental problems and ecological changes with serious implications for the health of the planet, and for the various economic and social functions of our cities. Recent years have witnessed an explosion in research and innovation to develop architectural products and techniques designed to mitigate urban heat islands, but truth be told, the effects are rather paltry. The true solution lies in cultivating a range of financial and legislative incentives designed to give Japanese cities an eco-groovy face lift that restores rivers and streams, reduces buildings, and provides for more greenery in Japanese urban landscapes.

Urban Heat Islands – Heating Up Japan

Urban Heat Islands are influenced by a combination of natural conditions (i.e. amount of sunlight, elevation, cloud cover, wind conditions, soil moisture content, etc.), as well as manmade conditions like the types and distributions of manmade structures, or the nature of energy supply and consumption. A useful way of understanding urban heat island formation is to look at them in terms of three general categories: 1) Urban metabolism, which describes how energy, heat and water circulate in urban systems; 2) Urban fabric, which describes the thermal properties of materials in urban surfaces, and 3) Urban form, which describes how the geometric properties of buildings and roads contribute to heat retention in the city. In big, energy gobbling, concrete-covered, densely-packed places like Tokyo, these three categories combine to create a nasty heat island, especially in summer months.

The excessive heat that fuels heat island formation is caused by higher concentrations of both anthropogenic heat emissions, as well as heat-absorbing thermal mass in urban cores. “Anthropogenic heat emissions” are sources of heat caused by human activity, and refer to the heat given off by car engines, air-conditioning units, various industrial processes like waste incineration, your local taco truck, or anything else that consumes energy and gives off heat. Consequently, the waste heat emissions of a certain city are closely linked to economic and cultural issues as well. Higher urban temperatures in Los Angeles are more likely to be caused by car emissions than, say, air conditioning units, as in the case of Tokyo. In addition to sources of waste heat, Urban Islands also require lots of “thermal-mass” to properly form. This refers to the extensive volumes of concrete buildings and asphalt roads that soak up heat from the sun and the surrounding vicinity. Despite massive amounts of waste heat generated from air conditioning in Tokyo, it is solar heat energy absorbed by exposed road and building surface area that is responsible for over half of the abnormal temperature increase in Japanese cities. In Tokyo, the vast expanses of manmade surface area combined with the grid geometry of city blocks serves to soak up and trap heat. Urban elements like walls and roads become heat sinks while the sun is out, and then become heat sources after the sun goes down, reemitting heat absorbed during the day as thermal radiation at night. In Japanese cities, this is behind a phenomenon called “Tropical Nights,” where night temperatures fail to fall below 25 degrees centigrade.

Urban Heat Islands - Kobe Rokko Island Landfill

Urban Heat Islands – Kobe Rokko Island Landfill

Urban Heat Islands are implicated in a wide range of environmental problems. For starters, hotter urban temperatures simply make city-life miserable in a range of ways. People have trouble sleeping, become lethargic and can loose their wits when exposed to excessive, humid heat environments. While the relationships are fuzzy, studies have shown links between higher rates of crime, suicide and poorer economic performance under higher temperatures. Additionally, Urban Heat Islands alter ecological systems and diminish air quality in cities by affecting plant growing seasons, skewing the sexual distributions of insects, and triggering the chemical reactions that cause smog. However, the biggest concern is that they contribute to global warming by increasing the demand for air-conditioning. In Tokyo, it has been shown that daily energy consumption rises about 1.6 Gigawatts for every 1 degree temperature increase during summer.

Recently, much research and innovation has gone into developing new technologies for mitigating the Urban Heat Island effect and cooling urban structures, but much remains to be done in order to implement such technologies on an appropriately sized scale capable of really making an impact. Some well-known examples include rooftop garden systems, heat reflective paint, or water absorbing concrete. While many of these cooling materials and techniques seem promising, they are not silver-bullets, and actually offer limited hope for making a significant impact on Urban Heat Islands. With rooftop gardens, it has been shown that the surface temperature of a concrete rooftop can be reduced by upwards of 25 degrees. While such numbers might sound impressive, the ability for rooftop gardens to make a large impact on urban temperatures is rather limited. Higher outside air temperatures, not surface temperatures, are behind most of the energy consumption and environmental issues caused by Urban Heat Islands. Lowering the surface temperature of the roof will have little impact on the energy consumption of a multi-story office building. Furthermore, rooftops in Japanese buildings are filled with elevator service units, water storage tanks (this is because the government will only provide water pressure up to three stories; anything above that requires onsite pumps and rooftop water tanks), railings and other sorts of structural bric-a-brac, which limits the amount of space available for rooftop garden systems. While introducing greenery onto Tokyo rooftops has other positive externalities like reducing storm run-off through rainwater retention, providing a natural habitat for birds and insects, and generally making cities more esthetically pleasing, a garden on even half the roofs in the city would reduce temperatures by only a small fraction.

It’s a similar story with other heat Island mitigation technologies done on the building-scale as well. Some impressive surface temperature reductions can also be achieved using reflective paint and water-absorbing concrete, but neither of these technologies, which address the fabric of the city, solve the real culprits: a lack of large-scale natural vegetation and urban forms conducive to heat retention. In fact, studies of temperatures in Japan reveal that “Urban Heat Islands” may be a misnomer, as persistent Urban Heat Islands have been observed on small collections of buildings and roads located in rural areas throughout Japan. It seems the barren, concrete-block-and-asphalt-road nature of built-up space in Japan encourages excessive temperatures.

Tokyo was once crisscrossed by many streams and rivers that provided temperature-cooling wind paths through the heart of the city, but most of these waterways were aggregated into a handful of unsightly concrete culverts, or simply paved over. While much of modern-day Tokyo was laid out in the post-war era, the Japanese actually started engineering local inlets, streams and other waterways to exist on the periphery of urban settlements for several reasons. It may be tempting to blame all the concreted rivers (and by extension, nasty heat islands) on the general construction boom and construction pork barrel politics that has gripped Japan in the last 50 years, but there are actually some very fundamental cultural issues at play that have affected the current river-less state of Japanese cities. In feudal Japan, rivers were not only the places to discard trash, but they were also the location of Buraku communities that were typically engaged in spiritually “tainted” industries like leather working, undertaking, and butchering. Consequently, as Japanese cities modernized around the turn of the century, rivers and all their dirty work were often brushed aside to make way for more illustrious and pleasant things, like roads and buildings. However, with average summer temperatures on pace to rival the likes of Calcutta within the next several decades, Japanese urban planners are faced with little choice but to ease restrictions of building taller buildings (to allow for more inhabitable space on less land), free up more space for parks and natural vegetation, and look into unearthing a few of those subterranean rivers that currently zigzag beneath Tokyo roadways.

Troy Fowler
PhD Environmental Systems,
Yokohama National University

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