Kyushu Shinkansen commercial

A few days ago I learned about this fantastic commercial celebrating the completion of the Kyushu Shinkansen in 2011. I finally watched it today.

View video here: Kyushu Shinkansen CM

I have followed news of the train line’s construction on and off for nearly a decade. I was in Japan in 2004 when the first leg opened between Shin-Yatsushiro and Kagoshima. At that time I saw many news reports about both the celebrations and the controversial siting (and construction) of stations and tunnels along the line. Some cities wanted stations with the hope of increasing business and tourism, while others worried that the location of new stations distant from their downtowns (necessary to accommodate the long, specialized cars) would only speed the economic decline of the existing business district (possible in places like Minamata). 

More problematic were all of the people who must live in the shadow of the railway’s immense concrete columns, or next to new tunnels and tracks suspended ten or more meters in the air that cut through communities, thereby not linking these mountainous communities to the rest of Kyushu, but only emphasizing their remoteness. 

Of course, the commercial does not address any of these controversies. It shows inaugural run of the entire line from Kagoshima to Fukuoka. This opening ceremony was celebrated by thousands of people along the route who stood out in the cold to wave to the passing train. At the end the narrator thanks everyone and hopes that the Shinkansen will usher in a new era for Japan:


On that day, thank you for waving.
Thank you for smiling (or laughing).
Thank you for coming together as one.
The Kyushu Shinkansen line is now complete.
A new energy is born in a united Kyushu.
From a united Kyushu, Japan should become more enjoyable.
The Kyushu Shinkansen, with you, is now complete.


Let me make one thing clear, I love this commercial. I watched it five times in a row upon first encountering it this morning. I cried every time. There is something about the spirit and creativity of people coming together for a public display (in any country) that pulls on my heartstrings. And as the train passes these thousands of people, I recognize those urban and rural landscapes. They speak to me, reminding me of hundreds of hours of cycling past rice fields and hot houses. I recall my farmer friends and acquaintances. I also think about the general excitement that comes from the completion of most large construction projects in Japan, whether they are really necessary or not. There is a party atmosphere. 

But then I think back to the controversies and think about all the people who did not come out to wave. I suppose that is inevitable with any large project. There will always be people who receive no benefit, or even whose lives are made worse. 

What is more interesting about this commercial, though, is that it did not run on television. In fact, it now has more than 800,000 hits on YouTube, but the celebration was not aired on normal television, as was originally intended. The reason is that this opening ceremony took place on March 12, 2011, one day after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. As the Tohoku region was reeling with aftershocks, searching for lost loved ones in the rubble, and keeping an eye on the deteriorating situation at the Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, it was deemed inappropriate for people in Kyushu to be exhibiting so much … joy. 

That does not deteriorate my enjoyment of the video, but the broader perspective of the timing of its creation is fascinating, don’t you agree? 


By the way, the theme song in the CM is “Boom,” by Maia Hirasawa, a half-Japanese, half-Swedish singer/songwriter. What a rockin’ song! Gotta love a band with a tuba.

Reclaiming land, reclaiming the future

Isahaya is a small city in Nagasaki known for very little. Its claim to fame is the land reclamation project that reduced the size of the bay of its namesake and has led to a handful of landmark legal battles, pitting neighbors against one another, area cities and towns against each other, and the prefecture and city against the Tokyo government. I wrote about the background to this project in this post last year.

This year’s plan followed last year’s quite closely, and the students eagerly engaged city officials, asking questions about their role in the opening of the gates, local wildlife threatened by the land reclamation project, and other points. Interestingly, in April 2011 a group of citizens in Isahaya filed a lawsuit in a Nagasaki prefectural court to demand that the dike gates remain closed. They argue that there is insufficient evidence that opening the gates will result in improved water quality and fish harvests in the Ariake Sea, and they claim that instead opening the gates will unnecessarily threaten their livelihoods and farmlands. They argue that the state has already compensated the fishermen for their trouble, and that the state now has to fulfill its responsibility to the rest of Isahaya’s population by maintaining the integrity of the dike.

After a short lecture at City Hall, we traveled past the newly reclaimed farmland that is now fully in production. We drove past people harvesting onions and cabbages, and it is only May. One major point of contention is the fact that the current farmers’ 5-year leases will expire at the end of March 2012, and many are uncertain whether they should renew, especially since the government is set to open the gates in December 2013, during the next lease term. These are uncertain times for everyone involved, not least the City officials with whom we spoke. They want to protect their citizens, which becomes a desire to protect “land” people over “sea” people. When asked where he would be on the actual day the state opens the dike gates in Dec 2013, our host looked at me dumbfounded and said he didn’t know. It will certainly be a day of a media frenzy, and it is unfair that public servants should get stuck in the middle of the politics of the construction projects that have been so prevalent in postwar Japan.

Orientation at the Isahaya Bay Land Reclamation Project

Eddie, Adeline, and Huijun (left to right)

Climbing to the wetlands overlook

Later - atop the 7km-long dike separating Isahaya Bay from the newly created freshwater reservoir and farmland.

Visiting Isahaya stimulates many questions in students’ minds, mostly by showing the endless complexity of the mundane. They see that there is nothing simple and straightforward about the work of the state, even construction, which is normally a non-issue in Singapore. This project makes them wonder why they are so complacent to all of the changes taking place at home.


Collaborative mapping project

Given that Huis ten bosch has been lauded for its environmental efforts (see previous post), it seems a shame that more people are not aware of them (although some people may not care, which is another topic altogether). To rectify this gap in awareness, I proposed the following: to create a map that highlights the unseen and unnoticed environmental aspects of Huis ten bosch. Here is the assignment:

Huis ten bosch: a collaborative “alternative” map

In the past, scholars and journalists widely praised Huis ten bosch (HTB) for its “pioneering ecological town planning”, notably its innovations in environmentally-sensitive planning and waste treatment and its vision to “last 1,000 years” (McCormack 1996, p. 98). How are these innovations manifested in the tourist landscape? What is seen and unseen?

In this exercise we will create a map of HTB that represents its ecological efforts, providing an alternative view of the park that are missing from the normal tourist map. First, you will visit your designated area of HTB and walk around its streets, taking photographs of innovations or other things of note that relate to HTB’s environmental awareness. Take 15-20 images and note the exact location of each item. You can also take photos of things that contradict HTB’s stated environmental goals. Following the photography portion, we will map these locations and attach your images in a Google Map. Together we will create a comprehensive “alternative” map of HTB that might be of interest to others who concerned about “ecological town planning” and environmentally-conscious tourists.

To do this activity you need a camera (or SD card), a hand-annotated map, and a computer with internet.


Sakinah, Michelle, Lynn, and Jiin-Shiuan mapping outside the Thriller Fantasy Museum

Watching fish in the canal. 

Colorful recycling bins shaped like Dutch buildings.

Notice there is a separate bin for just PET bottle caps

Eddie, James, and Titus all mapping HTB

The following day we were fortunate to have access to the internet at Nagasaki Wesleyan University, so we could complete the exercise. This involved each team downloading their images onto computers, then uploading images onto a photo sharing site like Flikr, then inserting the images, along with descriptions, into a Google Map.

Downloading images from cameras

Comparing points on paper and Google Maps

Adjusting annotations on the paper map

Inserting images into Google Maps

The final product is a mix of obvious environmentally-friendly objects, and others that students “discovered” through their creativity. To view the final alternative map to Huis ten bosch, please click here. I am incredibly pleased with the final map. Students took it very seriously and it gave them an incentive to explore the park with a purpose. In what is otherwise a somewhat boring space of brick and kitsch, this project really made students open their eyes to other ways of seeing and depicting the tourist landscape.

We will do a similar project next week involving a tiny village in Minami-Oguni village, Kumamoto Prefecture. I expect similarly thought-provoking results.