Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I spoke to the son of the man who died in or neighborhood. He told us that the doctor mentioned that it was possible that the cancer was caused by heavy metals. The doctor, the head of a hospital nearby, told him that there were dangerous levels of heavy metals in all Japanese water and that this information was being stifled by the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health in Japan is notoriously corrupt and have probably been under investigation for one thing or another for the last 30 years. I totally and completely don't trust them.

I also once met a toxologist who said that toxologists were coming to Japan to study because Japan was immersed in lots of chemicals that were illegal in other nations and there was a lot they could study.

My neighbor checked his well water for heavy metals and found enough to be a long term health concern. However, he was told that city tap water was even worse.

I don't have much expertise in this area, but it sounds like a good reason to leave Japan long term. I can only image it getting worse. Does anyone know more about this?

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Wrote a story in today’s paper about the new section of Charles de Gaulle airport being built for the A380, the world’s largest airliner.

Turns out that the aircraft is so big that it requires a reconfiguration of terminal and in some ways it could be good. The second floor of the aircraft, for example, means that you can have two almost entirely separate sections. For people flying business and first class – not me! - they would walk into a separate part of the airplane that could have separate style of reception.

The airport created a first-ever virtual visit of the new section for us to put on our website.

I wonder what other innovations could come of having such a large number of passengers in the sky? Massive online gaming within the aircraft?

3 days ago, we got a call informing us that the grandfather of the household two houses away had passed away. We knew him fairly well. We live in a small Japanese village with very strong traditional rural rituals. One of them is the funeral.

Many of the adjacent homes have a special relationship called musubiai or kumiai, which means that they will do just about anything for their next door neighbor. In the case of a death in the family, it means 24/7 support through all of the necessary activities. For the rest of the village, it means nearly full support.

The home of the deceased is quickly turned into a base camp of sorts with two outdoor kitchens and dozens of people cooking almost around the clock for everyone. The next day, the wake was set up, villagers (including Mizuka and me) visited to pay respects and the close neighbors ran most of operations.

A side meeting was convened to pick people for the actual funeral support the next days. In the past, the grave digging and other support activities were all chosen from villagers, but for this funeral, the family had decided not to follow this tradition. It was likely that I would have been chosen for this "special duty" had it been traditional. Six men are chosen to dig the grave. They dress in white with a headband that has a little triangle on the front. (The same headband worn by many ghosts in Japanese anime.) There are various roles including a drum person, road cleaner, and others that make up a funeral procession.

This year, because we didn't have this part of the ceremony, the support crew consisting of Mizuka, myself and about 20 other people ended up cleaning the community center and hanging out in case they needed anything. At the end we helped some of the professionals who had been called in, gave or last respects and saw them off.

This was not my first village ritual, but I made a few observations.

The women worked much harder than the men. I was actually scolded and told not to help when I tried to help clean up the food with the women while the men sat around outside smoking. I don't think it was the case with everyone, but some men and women felt very strongly that there were women's jobs. (I also saw a women getting scolded for cleaning up the dishes of a man who appeared like he hadn't finished his food.)

The special relationship with the next door neighbor was probably extremely important in the past, but continues as an important formal relationship. We do not yet have such an understanding with any of our next door neighbors, but in due time it appears that we will probably be formally approached and that we will have to accept. We will have to literally drop everything to help when they are in need.

It was interesting how many functions of a community that I would take for granted in a good community are so highly formalized in rituals and how it isn't written or even precisely known by anyone exactly, but it all sort of functions. We have the shuraku, han, kumiai and various other organization sizes and everyone knows who is in each unit.

I can also see aspects of what causes the somewhat provincial localism of Japanese politics and business where local issues supersede everything else. It was like viewing a miniature version of Japanese national policy. Your next door neighbor before anything else and the village before the rest of the world.

I'm not sure how long I'm going to last here, but it is definitely a good learning experience...

I've been reading all of the news about Katrina and feeling more and more guilty about not being able to do anything to help and not blogging about it at all. I think Xeni and others who have been tirelessly blogging about and doing something about it are doing an amazing job.

Each morning, I've been just choking up reading the front page of the newspaper, not even being able to make it past the first page. I really don't know what to say... so I haven't said anything.

However, chatting with some people and reading some of the blogs, I am beginning to wonder if the government is really doing everything possible. I wonder about the allegations of treating the underprivileged victims as more "expendable". I realize this is quite a harsh allegation, but something that I wonder about none the less. How much airplay is this opinion getting in the US and what is the public sentiment about this?

UPDATE: ("not being able to do anything to help" other than giving to the Red Cross which I have done.)

UPDATE 2: Xeni reports that "An article on the Army Times web page is referring to American citizens in New Orleans as 'the insurgency'."

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Did a story on the closure of the last factory producing the famed pungent Gauloises brunes cigarettes.

In reporting, I noticed that many of the tobacco shops in Paris are called La Civette. I asked a French colleague and here is her theory.

Disgusting footnote: People smoked musk? Sounds even worse than brown tobacco!!!

A "civette" is a shop selling tobacco and especially cigars. The name comes from a famous, fashionable shop which was on the rue St Honoré in the XIX century. It is not clear why that shop was called La Civette. Either because (one of) the founders' name was Civet, or because in these days snuff tobacco was laced with civette, the secretion produced by the animal of the same name. (I don't know what civette, the animal, is called in English, but civette, the secretion, is musk).

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