Sunday, February 6, 2011

Who Knew? -Unique Ways of Recycling-

When I moved to Dunlap, IL from Japan, I experienced a lot of changes. The houses were larger. We used a school bus to go to school. We ate in a cafeteria, instead of the classroom. And, gasp! There was no recess!
One of the things I had a hard time adjusting to, though, was the way one throws their trash away in the US. In Japan, we had two bins we used every day; one for burnable, and one for unburnable trash. Apart from that, it was normal for a household to have separate bins for plastic bottles, cans, glass bottles, and newspapers/magazines. So, being accustomed to separating trash in a certain manner, it was a revelation to me that Americans threw their trash all in one garbage bin (unless, of course, you explicitly went to a location where you could deposit all of your recyclables).
This difference made me wonder: how exactly are these recycled goods recycled? Here are a few interesting results.
These airplane trolleys are reused as bookcases, bookshelves, desks, and much more.

Unwanted clothes are stitched together to create a simple carpet system that can easily be cut into any size.

This building block called BituBlock is extremely strong and durable – despite the fact that it consists of post-consumer recycled products such as ash, glass, and even sewage.
Lastly, glass bottles are crushed to be mixed into cement, which reduces the amount of cement used, not to mention making the road a more pleasant site to behold. I know they do this a lot in Japan, and since cars aren’t used as much in this country, I was always dazed at how the road sparkled while I walked with my friends.

It is amazing how so many materials can be used in such an original, innovative way. And no doubt there would be more to come in the future.

Sites used:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Whaling - Good or Bad?

Whaling has been a popular issue of debate for about 3 decades now. And especially now that shows such as Whale Wars helped to bring the issue more up front, pressure against the pro-whaling countries are getting higher by the minute. And frankly, I have mixed feelings about this.
On the one hand, I fail to see why pro-whaling countries such as Japan still cling to whaling so tightly. Though Japan kills whales on the pretense of research, it is a known fact that they sell the meat to the market after their research is done. Of course, all this action is legal, so you really can't argue with that. But I know that most of the Japanese population don't even eat whale meat anymore, so why do the Japanese catch more whales then neccessary?
On the other hand, though, I understand what the Japanese may feel when other countries such as America and Australia pressure them to stop whaling. They feel threatened that an outside country will take away their right to practice their culture.

All in all, I think what the anti-whaling people should have done was to go about this issue in a more gentle, logical way. This would have taken some time, but it would have definitely convinced the mass population of Japan to stop whaling. But instead, some of the active parties went for a more direct protest, going to the point of throwing stink bombs at the ships, and taunting them. This would only make the Japanese side more defensive of their actions, thus leading to the way we are now. One way to move this issue forward is to stop these aggressive attacks on whaling ships, instead focusing on convincing the Japanese government to stop whaling.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

キノの旅 (Kino No Tabi - Kino's Journey)

Japanese cover
 I stumbled upon this book while I was browsing a secondhand bookstore in Japan. I had heard of this book before, because it was made into an anime (Japanese animation show), but never really got into it. But when I saw this book at the store, I said to myself, Why not? and went ahead and bought it. I am glad to say I didn't regret this decision. Kino's Journey changed the way I view certain issues, and opened up a new way of thinking for me.

Kino's Journey takes place in a fictional world where the countries are surrounded by walls, and the rest of the land is a barren terrain where bandits lurk. Each country is very unique, with its set of culture and people. Our protagonist, Kino, is a girl in her teens, and travels around the world with her talking motorado (a 2-wheeled vehicle; in short, a motorcycle) named Hermes. She has one rule that she always follows upon traveling: to stay in one country for only 3 days and 2 nights. Kino insists that that is enough to get to know the country. For protection and hunting, she carries around 2 guns that she named "the Cannon" and "the Woodsman", as well as multiple knives.

The structure of this book is interesting; it is made so that one chapter equals Kino's stay in one country, and also is non-continuous, meaning that the time at which she goes to a certain country is very mixed up and random. But it is not the structure that made me want to write a review of this book. It is the philosophy that comes with each travel Kino takes.

"The world is not beautiful. Therefore, it is."
This is the one phrase that keeps coming up in this novel. It almost felt like that phrase was pushing me to think harder, deeper, about its meaning. My interpretation is this: The world is filled with oppression, tragedy, and hate. But that is what makes the happy, peaceful days all the more precious. And this is a theme well covered by the author, Keiichi Sigsawa. Throughout the book, Kino goes to countries stained with what we view as unnatural, immoral behaviour, as a result of following through what those people thought was right.

Kino with Hermes

In one country, the people believed that one could fully understand the other by understanding their pain, and their thoughts that go through their head, and invented a substance that allowed you to hear another person's thoughts, as long as they drank that substance as well. The result was disastrous. Couples fought when they realized that they disagreed with your hobby or taste in music, and broke up. Relatives went mad when they heard the frantic thoughts of a man who was dying. Politicians in the same party found out that they were actually trying to get rid of the other, and got into a big fight. Finally, everyone avoided each other by living alone, and far apart, because that was the only way they couldn't hear each others' thoughts.

 While traveling to another country, Kino meets a man who says that, in that country, murder is not illegal. He thinks the country is probably a madhouse, and boasts that he will kill all he wants once he gets there. In reality, the country was very peaceful. The citizens there were people who had killed because they had to, not because they wanted to. They knew the wieght of life, and were determined to let no murder occur. Therefore, when the man arrived, got his citizenship, and declared that he will kill anyone who gets in his way, the citizens remove this threat to society by killing him.

The stories in this novel are disturbing, and yet you get drawn into it. I felt like I was a different person, somehow, when I read this novel. It urges you to open a new door to your way of thinking. And Kino's stance to different culture and way of thinking was very inspiring. She doesn't agree or disagree to them; she just takes them as they are. However, if they ever move to harm her, or put her life in danger, she doesn't hesitate to eliminate them. If this book has taught me anything, it is to never reject something, be it food, religion, or even an individual person, without first understanding what it is. In other words, don't judge a book by its cover.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

精霊の守り人 (Moribito - Guardian of the Spirit)

Japanese version cover
Though I've never tried before, I'd like to attempt to write a book review of this Japanese-translated-to-English book, called Guardian of the Spirit, or Moribito. Well, here we go!

This story takes place in a land that resembles ancient Asia, where the natives, the Yakoo, and the immigrants that have taken over, the Yogo, live. The book's protagonist, Balsa, is a 30 year old female bodyguard-for-hire. She is well known to travelers and bandits alike for her breathtaking spear skills, and has lived most of her life side-by-side with death due to her career. This book starts out with Balsa jumping off a cliff to save a boy from plummeting to his death. When she brings the boy back, though, she finds out that he is, in fact, Chagum, the Emperor's second son! Balsa is escorted to the palace, and encounters Chagum's mother, who begs her to take Chagum and flee the capitol, where, according to her, Chagum's life is in danger. As Balsa travels with Chagum and fends off assassins, however, she starts to notice that a mystical, larger force is at their heels...

English version cover
 I loved all of the characters in this book, especially Balsa. She is strong, intelligent, strict, and at the same time kind. She was one of the few female protagonists that actually parred with any other male protagonists out there swinging their guns and swords. And it was nice to see Chagum grow from a spoiled, ignorant but intelligent boy to a caring, compassionate young man. The author's description of this foreign land was also very well done. Throughout the book, I felt like I was walking along side Balsa and Chagum, hearing the things they heard, smelling the things they smelled, feeling the things they feeled.

I would reccommend this book to fans of action, adventure, and fanatsy, in any combination. It was an amazing read, and I hope that more of this series will be translated for more people to read.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Being a Host Family

Today, my family will be doing something we have never done before: being a host family.
However, I should also include the fact that this particular event is not so typical. First of all, we are only having the student for 3 days. I am guessing that this is not so normal, because I have regularly heard of host families having a foreign exchange student for more than 6 months. Second, the student we will be hosting is my mom’s former student. Not that my mom was some kind of professor; she used to teach Japanese as a tutor to some of the college kids who were interested while we lived in Canada. And third, the “student” coming to live with us isn’t a full-fledged student.
Some of you might be thinking, Okaaaay, how does that work? But really, it isn’t that complicated. The young lady coming to live with us actually lives in Japan right now, working as a high school English teacher while attending a university. And now she’s decided to travel abroad for a short while to study how things are in the US. The cool thing about her too is that she speaks 4 languages: English, Japanese, French, and Cantonese, and maybe a little Mandarin as well. She also has done a lot of volunteer work worldwide. I really look up to her, and I haven’t even met her yet!
I must say, I am eagerly awaiting tonight to meet her and listen to her stories.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


For a high school sophomore girl who moved to the US from Japan roughly 4 years ago, homecoming is a unique experience indeed. The students dress up, get together with his/her date or clique of friends, dine, then drive up to the school to dance...after a football game?
True, football is a big American culture, and adorning dresses you probably will never wear again and dancing in a cafeteria must come as only natural to the American teenager. But for this foreign sophomore girl, it is a different story. I must confess, it has taken me more than a little time to get used to the idea.
First of all, there are no such things as school dances in Japan. At least, no decent high school will allow such a thing, nor will the Japanese teenagers have time to attend it. If a school were to even mention, hint at the possibility of a dance party, the parents and school board would swoop at them instantly, demanding to banish such nonsense thoughts from their mind, and how dare they think of such a thing when their child had to study, did they ever think that it was these kinds of thoughts that lead to a loosely disciplined school?
But let us say that the parents did permit the school to hold a dance party. Then the Japanese high schoolers would be able to dance their hearts out and have fun, right? From what I am seeing, the answer is no. Students in Japan, especially high school students, are known for committing all their time for school work. I am kind of glad I moved to the US when I did, because I got to escape the hell that was the Japanese high school life. Anyways, because the students are so into their studies, I suspect most of the students will not be able to go to a dance party.
Having come from a place like that, I was nervous about wearing a dress. Hell, I was nervous about the homecoming dance, period. But despite my fears, the dance ended up being…well, okay. My friends and I dined at Steak ‘n Shake, strolled around the mall, and danced a bit at the homecoming dance.
So, with my fear of homecoming overcome, and armed with my past experience, I would be okay this week’s homecoming…right?