Smoke billows from the crater of Mount Ontakesan on Sept. 27, 2014. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: 6 months after Ontakesan eruption, heightened vigilance the key
It is no exaggeration to say that an “era of cataclysms” has begun, according to volcanologist Hiroki Kamata in his recently published “Jishin to Kazan” (earthquakes and volcanoes). Kamata, who is also professor of earth science at Kyoto University, believes the Japanese archipelago has entered a seismically and volcanically active period following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.
Peter Drucker (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Be it baseball or soccer, fan enthusiasm exactly the same
Baseball fans say soccer is less exciting because there is not enough scoring. Soccer fans, on the other hand, say baseball games are too slow and tedious. Such put-downs are nothing vehement, of course, but one does not expect sports fans to be impartial when they compare their favorite sport with others.
Yutaka Matsuno (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Want to keep your candidates on their toes? Try e-mailing them
Yutaka Matsuno was surprised on March 20 when he was thanked in front of other members of the Nagareyama municipal assemly in Chiba Prefecture for all the work he has done as the standard bearer of reform.
A supporter of the plaintiffs holds a banner denouncing the Niigata District Court ruling outside the court building on March 23. (Kyota Tanaka)
VOX POPULI: Court ruling meets plaintiffs halfway, but falls far short for many Minamata disease sufferers
Physician Hisashi Saito spent years treating Minamata disease patients in the city of Niigata and later wrote a book about his experiences. In his book, he recounted the following episode: A patient began weeping, saying he refused to be hospitalized because he was treated like a common criminal at a hospital. Saito surmised that he was offended when he told a doctor about a debilitating weakness in his arm and the physician did not believe him.
Toshihiko Yamashita, right, meets reporters in Osaka in February 1977 after he was named president of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., a predecessor of Panasonic Corp. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Corporate leaders who listen to subordinates worth their weight in gold
"An interesting company" was how the author of this column summed up Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (present-day Panasonic Corp.) in 1977 for naming its new president out of left field.
Masaharu Gotoda, former deputy prime minister and justice minister, in 1993 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Gotoda’s warning about amending Constitution must be remembered
The late Masaharu Gotoda, who served as Japan’s top police official and who earned the sobriquet “razor” because of his sharp intelligence, was a staunch advocate of pacifism.
Katsura Beicho is all smiles, flanked by his disciples Katsura Zakoba, left, and Katsura Nanko, in Osaka in 2009. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: In memory of 'rakugo' master Katsura Beicho
When a visitor to a home in Kyoto is about to take his leave but the host asks him to stay for a simple meal of "chazuke" (hot tea or broth poured over a bowl of cooked rice), this is usually the host's roundabout way of letting the visitor know he has already overstayed his welcome. And the host has no intention of treating the visitor to a meal.
Followers of Aum Shinrikyo in Ibaraki Prefecture in May 1999 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Society, not cults, should offer hope to youth
What percentage of Japanese believe in life after death? In a 2013 survey of Japanese character traits by the Institute of Statistical Mathematics, 45 percent of Japanese in their 20s said they believe in an afterlife.
Potato rationing was in effect in Tokyo after the end of World War II. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: The role of the humble spud in a future food crisis
The eponymous protagonist in Natsume Soseki's novel "Botchan" grouses about being served potatoes for supper, day after day, at the boarding house where he is staying.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Putin’s nuclear comment dishonors memory of Japan's A-bomb victims
Spring was in the air when I went to the National Archives of Japan in Tokyo the other day for an exhibition titled "JFK: His Life and Legacy." This interesting exhibition about U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) includes a section on the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962--those 13 days when "humanity came to the brink of nuclear conflict."
Yusuke Suzuki after he broke the 20-kilometer race walk world record at the Asian Race Walking Championships held in Ishikawa Prefecture on March 15 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Yusuke Suzuki sets a new pace in race walking
According to a book by Shizuka Shirakawa (1910-2006), a scholar of Chinese literature, the kanji character for "step" or "walk" represents human footprints. In ancient times, the act of walking was considered a means for coming into direct contact with the spirits of the land.
A plenary session of a municipal assembly. A recent survey by The Asahi Shimbun has found that some members of local assemblies outsourced drafting of their questions during the debate to outside entities by using their political activity funds paid by taxpayer money. (Hiroyuki Kimura)
VOX POPULI: Local assembly members need to mend ways of spending taxpayer money
In a scene in a short story titled “Kaban” (Bag), written by Hideo Yokoyama, a writer reputed for his intriguing police stories, a local assembly heavyweight asks a police officer to prepare a question that he can ask at a prefectural assembly plenary session.
The Hokuriku Shinkansen on its first run in Toyama on March 14. The service links Tokyo and the Hokuriku region. (Kenta Sujino)
VOX POPULI: New bullet train puts dreams of Hokuriku residents on track for Tokyo
"Zero no Shoten" (Zero focus) by Seicho Matsumoto (1909-1992) was published in the late 1950s and made into a movie.
A rendering of Saturn and the Cassini explorer spacecraft (Provided by NASA)
VOX POPULI: Reflecting on an encounter with the unknown while looking at starlit spring sky
The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan holds regular astronomical star parties for the public at its headquarters in the western Tokyo city of Mitaka.
A refuge called an “inochiyama” (mountain of life) is under construction in Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture, in 2013 to prepare for an expected gigantic earthquake and tsunami along the Pacific coast of Japan. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Anniversary of 2011 disaster a strong reminder of need to be prepared
“Inochiyama,” which is written in two kanji that stand for “life” and “mountain,” might make a suitable “shikona” ring name for a sumo wrestler who is strong yet gentle.
Takako Kimura, a clerical worker at Unosumai Elementary School in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, remained in the staff room after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, and perished in the consequent tsunami. (Provided by her husband)
VOX POPULI: 3/11 anniversary an opportunity to look to the future
The name of a place is often used in a phrase as a symbolic reminder of a memorable incident that once took place there. In soccer, "Doha no Higeki" (Agony of Doha) refers to a 1993 Japan-Iraq match in the capital of Qatar that resulted in Japan's failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.
A U.S. military aerial photo shows the Nihonbashi district in eastern part of central Tokyo devastated by large-scale bombing on March 10, 1945. (Provided by U.S. army)
VOX POPULI: Tokyo air raid anniversary a day to mourn all victims of indiscriminate bombings
“Ketteiban Tokyo Kushu Shashinshu” (The Collection of Tokyo Air Raids Photographs) from Bensei Publishing Inc. is a hefty volume that is more than 4 centimeters thick. With scene after scene of the capital city burned down by incendiary bombs on March 10, 1945, it is painful to turn the pages. One particularly heartbreaking photo shows the carbonized remains of a mother and her infant, one on top of the other.
Tens of thousands of cherry blossom-colored LEDs illuminate the Nihonbashi district in central Tokyo on March 5. (Hikaru Uchida)
VOX POPULI: Nihonbashi is reborn with the atmosphere of old Edo
While strolling around Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district the other day, I was taken aback when I saw the huge vertical banner that hung over the facade of Mitsukoshi’s main department store, which is located in the neighborhood.
A group of senior high school students ask teenagers to cast a mock vote in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on Dec. 5, 2014, prior to the Lower House election held on Dec. 14. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Lower voting age a welcome breath of fresh air in stale political milieu
When I write about people from the past in this column, I sometimes need to confirm the ages at which they died. The realization that novelist Soseki Natsume (1867-1916) was only 49 years old when he died left me feeling embarrassed about my own age.
A 'mejiro' perches on an ume tree at a park in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in January. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Unseen 'uguisu' part of masterful blending for ume blossom season
A story set in the Heian Period (794-1185) tells of an ume (Japanese apricot) tree that an “uguisu” bush warbler made its home.

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