Calendars, diaries and pocket notebooks for 2015 are sold at a bookstore in Fukuoka on Nov. 19. (Kaname Kakuta)
VOX POPULI: Season for new diaries a time to reflect on past, prepare for future
One of the most famous first sentences of Japanese classic literature is that from “Tosa Nikki” (Tosa Dairy), written by Ki no Tsurayuki (ca 868-945), a reputed poet and court nobleman of high rank.
Tokyo Station on the Marunouchi side (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Tokyo Station turns 100, carrying proud past on journey
In a piece titled "Toki wa Henkai su" (Times have changed), author Hyakken Uchida (1889-1971) recalled the day a Japanese National Railways official visited his home.
Cuban baseball player Yulieski Gourriel holds his national flag during a news conference to announce his contract with a Japanese professional club, DeNA Baystars, in June. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Restoring U.S.-Cuba relations good for both nations--and for baseball
“Buena Vista Social Club” is a critically acclaimed 1999 documentary by Wim Wenders about elderly Cuban musicians performing Cuba’s traditional music. I saw it when it was released in Japan that same year. I remember being pleasantly surprised that there were still such cool, old men in the world.
Michiya Kumaoka (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Veteran NGO worker underscores impact of Japan’s pacifism
A 15-year-old boy lost his right arm and right leg. A 9-year-old lost his left eye and suffered complicated limb fractures.
The Mirai fuel-cell vehicle released by Toyota Motor Corp. on Dec. 15 (The Asahi Shimbun)
VOX POPULI: 'Ultimate' eco-car edging toward affordability
In his 1976 book scathingly titled "Machigaidarake no Kuruma Erabi" (Choosing your car for all the wrong reasons), Aritsune Tokudaiji raised a host of pointed questions, including the following: Why are there no compact, no-nonsense cars in Japan like there are in Europe? Why do Japanese car owners trade in their vehicles for new models even when they are in fine shape?
A voter casts his ballot in Osaka’s Miyakojima Ward during the Lower House election on Dec. 14. The election’s voter turnout rate was 52.66 percent, a postwar record low. (The Asahi Shimbun)
VOX POPULI: Low voter turnout reflects lack of alternatives
In the early 1960s, urban neighborhoods in Japan still had plenty of vacant lots and open fields where children could play. Novelist Mari Akasaka makes an interesting observation in "Ai to Boryoku no Sengo to Sono Ato" (Love and violence in postwar Japan and after): She notes that in cartoons depicting that era, every vacant lot invariably has three clay drain pipes stacked like a pyramid for children to climb and crawl through.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe checks out an e-mail from his wife, Akie, while results of the Lower House election keep coming in at his Liberal Democratic Party’s headquarters in Tokyo’s Nagatacho on Dec. 14. (Shinichi Iizuka)
VOX POPULI: Abe win not a mandate, should not ignore opponent's voices
The winners in the Dec. 14 Lower House election, namely Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruling parties, chuckled to themselves about their overwhelming victory over ill-prepared opponents. The losers, most opposition parties, felt bitterly vexed that they had been caught off guard by Abe’s surprise move to call a snap poll.
"Moyashi" bean sprouts (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: 'Abenomics' pushing up prices of much-loved food imports
Novelist Makoto Shiina wrote some time ago that "moyashi" bean sprouts are used in every vegetable stir-fry dish served at Chinese restaurants, even when the dish's main ingredient is cabbage or napa cabbage.
An "election cafe" set up at Ehime University's dining hall in Matsuyama (The Asahi Shimbun)
VOX POPULI: Students taking active role in election process bodes well for future
A public advertisement shows a young man saying to a young woman, “Let’s create our future together.”
Holding placards, people sit in to protest the state secrets protection law in Kumamoto’s Chuo Ward on Dec. 10, the day the controversial law took into effect. (Kota Hatachi)
VOX POPULI: Secrets law conceals fact that lying is part and parcel of running a state
A lie can do no real harm when it is so outlandish that no one would ever believe it. The person lied to may just laugh it off, and the one who told the fib is not going to be racked with guilt over it. Still, matters can take a serious turn if the liar decides to continue lying through his teeth.
Mitsuko Sugihara in 1991 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Woman's journey to heal wounds after arson attack
On Aug. 19, 1980, a man torched a bus near the west exit of busy Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, killing six people. I wonder how many people still remember this wanton act of indiscriminate destruction.
Mayumi Taniguchi (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Women marshall flashy look, humor to enliven drab political arena
Lawyer Kenji Hatakeda, 52, bought a leopard-print scarf just so he could wear it to a street demonstration against the state secrets protection law, which goes into effect Dec. 10. With the scarf around his neck, Hatakeda marched the streets of Osaka on Dec. 8 with fellow protesters, some of them his colleagues.
A boy is given a flu shot at a clinic in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward on Dec. 5 as nationwide outbreak arrives three weeks earlier than last year. (Shoko Terasaki)
VOX POPULI: As winter cold settles in, we need to guard against the flu
These days, people exercising and walking early in the morning in the park are all bundled up for winter.
Keiichi Nakagawa, president of Nikka Whisky Distilling Co., promoting his company's whisky products at the Takashimaya Co. department store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district in November (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: In praise of Japanese whisky and drinking in moderation
"Ideally, one should start drinking in the morning and continue drinking until the following morning," wrote author Kenichi Yoshida (1912-1977) in his collection of essays titled "Sake Sakana Sake" (Alcohol, appetizers, alcohol).
Prime Minister Takeo Miki puts a grim look in the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo on Dec. 5, 1976, as the results of the Lower House election show the party had lost its majority. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Recalling the 1976 Lower House election
“Sokuin,” which means pity or compassion in Japanese, is not a commonly used word. I learned this word in 1976 in reference to a power struggle within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that dominated Japanese politics at the time.
People from all parts of Japan watch the liftoff of the Hayabusa 2 asteroid probe in Minami-Tane on the island of Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture, on Dec. 3. (Mahito Kaai)
VOX POPULI: Hayabusa 2 soars into cosmos for historic encounter with distant 'prey'
How awe-inspiring it is to watch a high-flying "hayabusa" (peregrine falcon) suddenly swoop down on its prey in the blink of an eye. Such a display is probably why the term hayabusa is applied in Japan to anything that suggests the bird's boldness and speed.
Bunta Sugawara at his farm in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture, in September (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Veteran actor Sugawara remembered as a master of self-transformation
In "Shoten no Tana Hon no Kehai" (Bookstore shelves, presence of books), Mamoru Sano, a former manager of Tokyodo Shoten bookstore in Tokyo's Kanda district, recalls a customer who always asked hard-to-answer questions about books on highly specialized subjects. The customer would sometimes place orders by phone, but Sano rarely had the ordered titles in stock.
Voters applaud as they listen to a candidate for the Lower House election in Sendai's Aoba Ward on Dec. 2. (Yasuhiro Sugimoto)
VOX POPULI: It's up to voters to carry the 'mikoshi of democracy'
The so-called 2:6:2 ratio is sometimes applied to the composition of members of many organizations, including private corporations. The ratio implies that 20 percent are competent, 20 percent are incompetent and 60 percent are somewhere in-between.
Toshihide Maskawa, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Memorable quotes from November
“I want the government to use the money to be spent on the election for supporting efforts to rebuild areas devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.”
The new designs of 1-, 3-, 5- and 10-yen stamps on the top row, and their current designs on the bottom. The slash on the lower right corner of each stamp is for counterfeit prevention. (Provided by Japan Post Co.)
VOX POPULI: Postage stamp overhaul thrusts humble 1-yen version back into spotlight
In 1990, Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) introduced a song titled "Ichien-dama no Tabigarasu" (Vagrant 1-yen coin) in its popular program "Minna no Uta" (Song for everyone). The song went as follows: "Even a 1-yen coin wants to fall in love with someone/ Even a 1-yen coin has a dream. ..."

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