amazing earthset/earthrise videos

Kaguya mission logoThe Japanese spacecraft Kaguya, on a mission to the moon in what is described as the most significant moon exploration since Apollo, has delivered incredible HDTV-quality videos of the Earth rising and setting over the lunar horizon. These are unbelievable, like special effects in some movie, but they are real.

Earthrise from the moon

Earthset from the moon

The (english-language) homepage for the Kaguya mission is here. Kaguya is named for a princess in the Japanese folk tale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

Sayonara, Ling Ling

Japan’s giant panda, Ling Ling, has died of natural causes:

TOKYO – Japan’s prime minister said Thursday he has asked to borrow some giant pandas from China after Ling Ling, one of the best-loved animals at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, died of old age this week.

Ling Ling, the only giant panda owned by Japan, died Wednesday at the age of 22 — the equivalent of 70 in human years.

His death came just days ahead of a landmark visit to Tokyo by Chinese President Hu Jintao during which zoo officials are hoping for an agreement that will bring another panda to Japan.

China has a long tradition of offering giant pandas as gifts to foreign governments to improve ties, but now only leases the animals abroad as they are an endangered species.

I’ve only seen a panda once, at the San Diego Zoo. I wanted to visit Ling Ling that one day I had in Tokyo a few years back but just never got around to it.

genma saotome in panda mode

Lost in translation

I saw Lost in Translation yesterday via Netflix. This movie was really a surprise, I think I was just expecting a light comedic drama without any real heft to it. The premise of the movie seems like a setup for comedy: an old actor and a young newlywed both arrive in Tokyo, stay at the same hotel, and experience culture shock together. But there’s so much more to this movie, especially as a commentary on marriage and relationships, that it transcends the level of ordinary pseudo-romantic comedy and enters into Artistic territory.

I haven’t seen Rushmore so this was my first exposure to Bill Murray playing a complex lead, and his performance was just .. well, there was no Bill Murray, there was only Bob Harris. You get inside his head and really, really understand him and who he is, even though 90% of his lines are wisecracks, and the lines themselves are only 50% of his acting. His expression, as he sees the elevator doors close on Charlotte at the end… I don’t think there are many actors who can communicate that kind of emotion with just a look, but you read it on his face like it was printed there.

The other half of this film is Scarlett Johansson, and she probably ranks as my favorite actress right now on the strength of her performance in this movie alone. Not just because she spends a few scenes sitting around in her underwear, though this helps. She has that kind of vulnerable courage in this film that I used to associate with Sandra Bullock. Again, with her performance, you simply understand her as Charlotte, like an open book – one which none of the other characters except Bob even bother to read, least of all her husband John (played with remarkable restraint[1] by Giovanni Ribsi).

Tokyo itself, and the hotel in particular, are vibrant and fleshed out and almost characters in their own right. The movie does a masterful job of exposing the characters to all the wierd and wonderful, but unlike some critics I did not find it disrespectful. In fact there was an odd beauty to it, like the teenager simultaneously dancing while playing a video game, or the crazy talk show host, or even the hysterical scene in Bob’s hotel room with the call girl[2].

I think I’ll take another run through this movie and grab some screenshots later. It was really one of the best movies I have ever seen. This film isn’t one that is content to play by the rules of romantic comedy. The two characters don’t do what you would expect them to do, which actually is how it would be in reality. And the two characters don’t keep up the facade about themselves that you expect them to, and which you yourself might maintain as well. And that too is more real, particularly in the context of the isolation that they both share, one exacerbated by being in a place so foreign, but still primarily deriving from their spouses’ neglect. I won’t spoil the ending but then again, the ending is almost impossible to spoil.

[1] Dude, you’re married to Scarlett Johansson sitting there in her underwear and all you can look at is your camera?? ahem.
[2] “lip my stocking!” omfg rofl. I laughed so hard I choked.


After a lot of reading about the Pacific Theater in World War II, I’d come to roughly this conclusion, succinctly stated by Steven (whose expertise exceeds anyone else’s I’ve yet met):

The point is that WWII was a war of attrition, not really a war of maneuver. Even the Pacific campaign was more of a war of attrition, and what mainly was subject to attrition was equipment and trained personnel.

This is why I remain conflicted about the decision to use the atomic bomb. I know there’s a healthy debate about it to this day, and unhelpfully the debate tends to mirror the left-right political divide in America, adding to the murkiness.

I think I have to admit that it’s ok not to have a dogmatic opinion about it, but rather to see the decision to drop the bomb as just that, a strategic decision. We can assess the morality, strategy, and potential influence upon modern policy quite separately from the question of whether it should have been dropped or not.

Next time I go to Japan, I will visit Hiroshima. No running away this time.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

I had a chance to visit Hiroshima when I visited Japan a few years back, but ultimately chickened out and went to Tokyo. I’ve regretted it since. This may be why I find myself drawn to this title by Fumiyo Kouno, which is really a story in three parts. Town of Evening Calm follows Minami, a young Hiroshima girl in 1955, whereas Country of Cherry Blossoms follows (descendant?) Nanami in 1997 and 2004. What the work tries to do is describe how the bombing Hiroshima left imprints on daily life, without trying to “understand” the entirety of it. As the review at AICN puts it,

What Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms does is allow one to process the bombing. They are two different subjects and two different artists, but like how Don DeLillo’s Falling Man offered a vantage point for comprehending the effects of immediately experiencing 9/11 and how those reactions weathered over the years, Kouno offers sets of eyes through which the effects of Hiroshima can be viewed. If you read John Hersey’s Hiroshima or watch a documentary, there’s a danger of the horror of the bomb registering as history. It becomes a historical abstract or a political abstract, something to provoke debate in a social studies class.

Paradoxically, Kouno gets closer by moving away from the event. It doesn’t degrade the sadness, anger or confusion, but by setting the stories at least a decade out, Kouno allows a reader to grapple with the repercussions without the perspective being dwarfed by the entirety of the scope.

I think it’s safe to assume that we as Americans are still too “close” to 9-11 to have the same kind of perspective yet on the longer-term repercussions (speaking personally, not politically). So in a sense I also am drawn to this because I think it has personal relevance to me as an American. I’m not trying to put a moral equivalence between Hiroshima and 9-11 but simply recognize that both were traumatic experiences for their respective nations, irrespective of everything else. Will my children see 9-11 as just another historical event? I hope not, even though in another sense I hope so.


I spent all of one day in Tokyo on my trip to Japan a few years ago. In that day, I barely scratched the surface of Akihabara and Shinjuku, where I spent most of my time. It’s a city that is impossible to summarize or to understand. Prior to visiting Tokyo, the largest mega-metropol area I’d ever been in was New York City, and even as I felt awed by Manhattan I was still able to come to grips with it in a sense. Tokyo was just on another scale. This is why this travel article in the WaPo seems to familiar to me, even though I essentially saw zero of the Tokyo described therein. The introduction does a fine job of painting Tokyo in wide statistical swaths:

As a megacity, Tokyo has no rival. It has more buying power than Brazil, more people than Canada, more concrete than can be imagined.

With about 35 million people, greater Tokyo is by far the world’s most populous metro area, with nearly twice the people of greater New York. There are 80,000 restaurants here — six times as many as in New York.

Although it is the political, economic and cultural center of Japan, Tokyo itself has no real center. It’s a jumble of densely populated districts that are themselves big cities, hubs for the frenetic inbound rush and exhausted homeward retreat of millions upon millions of subway and train commuters.

The article itself is just a placeholder though, for three videos that focus on unique aspects of Tokyo micro-culture: Goth-Lolita girls, salarymen, and the Tokyu Food Show. In some ways, these videos give a better context for me to “fill in” the background of anime, supplementing my own personal experience.