Friday, August 25, 2006

Kamaishi Steel

Kamaishi City, on the coast of Iwate, is famous for steel if nothing else. Until the Americans shelled the city in the first naval attack on the Japanese mainland in 1945, the city was an important mining and shipbuilding center.

Nippon Steel
[ Nippon Steel Facility at Kamaishi Bay ]

One of the people who helped turn Kamaishi into a modern industrial city was Takato Oshima - 大島高任. He was born in Morioka in 1826 and built the first reverberation blast furnace in Kamaishi in 1858. He had built two others before in Mito in 1855 to make guns for Japan's military but he didn't have the best raw materials to work with. He was finally able to get high grade pig-iron from Kamaishi and made larger high quality cannons. He died in 1901.

Takato Oshima - 大島高任
[ Statue of Takato Oshima in front of Kamaishi Station ]

So after this long and eventful history of iron production, ship and gun making, etc. - what commodity essential to the prosperity of Japan do you think is being produced here in large quantity? PACHINKO BALLS! Kamaishi produces 80% of the pachinko balls used in Japan. Well, that's better than guns I suppose.

Lotsa Pachinko Balls
[ Pachinko Balls ]

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Importance of Being Abe

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shinzo Abe (安倍 晋三), is now a candidate for next month's Liberal Democratic Party presidential election and is considered the one most likely to win.

Abe from VOA copy
[ Shinzo Abe (from]

Wikipedia reports that, "Abe was born into a prominent political family in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture. His father was Shintaro Abe, former secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and his mother's father was former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

"Following graduation from the Department of Political Science of the Faculty of Law at Seikei University in 1977, Mr. Abe studied politics at the University of Southern California. On his return to Japan, Mr. Abe began work at Kobe Steel, and continued there until 1982. He then served as executive assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, private secretary to the chairperson of the LDP General Council, and then as private secretary to the LDP secretary-general."

The Japanese Wikipedia site has more about him that is not included on the English site. One tidbit is that Shinzo Abe claims to be a descendant of Munetou Abe. Munetou Abe was a member of the Emishi Abe clan that was allowed to rule Iwate in the 9th and 10th centuries in collaboration with the Japanese. They made their headquarters in the Koromo Stockade on the North bank of the Koromo River where it meets the Kitakami. The family monopolized the gold, iron and horse trade in Northern Honshu and traded by sea directly with the Asian mainland. They were also innovative in designing a type of stockade able to withstand a long seige.

This stockade proved quite useful when the Abe's attempted to expand their holdings, refused to pay taxes and rebelled against the central government. This conflict came to be called the Earlier Nine Year War and lasted from 1051 - 1062. Muneto won a stunning victory at the Battle of the Palisade of Torinomi in what is now Kanegasaki Town in 1061 but had to surrender the following year after his brother Sadatou was killed in battle and the Abes were defeated. Muneto was exiled to Kyushu with his family setting the stage for his descendants to produce the next Prime Minister.

Abe's claim to be descended from a fierce Emishi warrior could be seen in various ways. He could be suggesting that he is tough and fierce as well. He might also be trying to show that he is not really such a political insider. Ultimately, though, such a claim allows him to show a strong affinity with the people of rural Northern Japan where he is otherwise a complete outsider!

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Island for Sale!

Name: Holland Island
Location: Yamada Bay, Yamada Town, Iwate Prefecture
Description: A very small island (about one square kilometer in size) covered entirely with Japanese cedar trees and very mountainous. There is a small Shinto Shrine on top, two sandy beaches and a dock. There is no electricity and no running water.
Price: 20,000,000 yen (about 200,000 US dollars) negotiable

Holland Island & Yamada Bay
[ Yamada Island in Yamada Bay ]

SOLD - last year by the local fisherman's association to the town of Yamada. I think the people of Yamada got a bargain! I'd like to buy it and live there!

Thanks to my friend M.T. who told me about this!

You can see my photos of Yamada Island on Flickr.

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