Firefighters enter the railway track of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on June 30. (The Asahi Shimbun)
VOX POPULI: The peace of a company of strangers shattered on a Shinkansen train
In his “The Physiology of Taste,” French politician and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) noted that people attending a dinner party must treat one another as fellow travelers heading for the same destination. For everyone to have a good time, any rudeness or uncivilized behavior must be abstained from because it is totally unacceptable.
A memorandum written by cartoonist Shigeru Mizuki, just before he was deployed to the front during World War II (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Japanese speak their minds at halfway point of 2015
The year 2015 is already half over, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. The past six months are indelibly marked with all sorts of happenings. The next six months are still a blank canvas. I pray they will be peaceful.
Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers listen to writer Naoki Hyakuta during a meeting at the party's headquarters in Tokyo on June 25. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: LDP lawmakers becoming hysterical over criticism
The political impact of constitutional scholars’ assertion that government-proposed security legislation is unconstitutional is showing no signs of waning.
Mike Williams, state adjutant for the Alabama division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, carries a Confederate battle flag while shaking hands with young men who arrived at the monument to support the removal of the Confederate flags June 24 in Montgomery Ala. Williams arrived shortly before to protest the flags' removal. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered Confederate flags taken down from a monument at the state Capitol. (AP Photo)
VOX POPULI: Confederate flag should go with the wind ... and never come back
Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” was thought to be the most-read novel worldwide at one time. And the legendary Hollywood film adaptation was a huge hit, too.
A tourist prays before photos of cat stationmaster Tama at Wakayama Electric Railway’s Kishi Station in Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture, on June 25. The feline died on June 22. (The Asahi Shimbun)
VOX POPULI: R.I.P. Tama, Wakayama’s famed feline ‘stationmaster’
My image of “kanshi” (classical Chinese poetry) is of something stiff and formal. But there is a charmingly mundane poem titled “Dedicated to my Cat” by Chinese poet Lu Yu (1125-1210) of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).
Masaru Chinen recites his poem during the memorial ceremony held on June 23 at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman's Mabuni district. (Satoru Semba)
VOX POPULI: June 23 should not be only day when media focus attention on Okinawa
I receive all sorts of questions every day from readers of this column. One of the most-asked questions in recent years concerned the meaning of this poem: “623, 8689815/ Leading to 53/ And we live today.”
The U.S. SETI Institute in California uses radio telescopes to catch and analyze signals from outer space. (Provided by the SETI Institute)
VOX POPULI: Will humans be humbled when ET says 'hello'?
“Mikakunin Hikobuttai” (Unidentified flying object) is the title of a delightfully whimsical poem by Yasuo Irisawa. It starts with the line, “You can’t say a kettle never flies.”
A woman touches names of war victimes on the Cornerstone of Peace on June 23 in Itoman city, Okinawa Prefecture. (Kouichi Ueda)
VOX POPULI: Blood and tears still 'rain down’ on Okinawa Memorial Day
The flowering deciduous tree Erythrina variagata is called "deigo" in Japan. Its red flower, which blooms in early summer in Okinawa Prefecture, is the official flower of this southernmost prefecture.
Lee O-young (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Japan, S. Korea must regain ‘spirit of harmony’ on 50th anniversary of ties
In the summer of 1988, South Korea’s capital was brimming with excitement and anticipation.
A Japanese apricot tree filled with fruit (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Sour but tasty--after plum blossoms comes the Japanese apricot harvest
When the "dakuten" symbol (small 'voicing marks' that change a consonant's sound) is added to the hiragana phonetic letter for "ke" in the word "hake" (brush), the word changes in pronunciation as well as in meaning to "hage" (bald head). Hence this inane old joke: "Hake has hair, hage has no hair."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, responds to questions from Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, in the Lower House on June 17. (The Asahi Shimbun)
VOX POPULI: Abe's sidestepping renders Diet debate futile
In Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” there is a dinner party scene where Mark Antony is asked by Lepidus to describe a crocodile. The lines go as follows:
High school students vote in a mock election at a Lower House office building in Tokyo on June 17. (Tetsuro Takehana)
VOX POPULI: Teenagers now able to vote could lead us into a bright future
The age of 31 is when one ceases to be trusted by young people, and 59 is the last age at which one is applauded as being a middle-aged person. This is according to “The Book of Ages” by English zoologist Desmond Morris.
Customers enjoy Japanese sake at a Japanese cuisine restaurant in New York. (Provided by Takara Shuzo Co.)
VOX POPULI: 'Goldfish sake' transformed into an international star
It is good to be living in this time of plenty. The following poem by Taimu Okamoto (1877-1963) was written during World War II when people had to endure dire shortages of consumer goods. The poem is an acute reminder of how times have changed. It reads: "Even the weak, cold 'sake' I pour myself is more potent than water/ At least it makes me tipsy."
South Korean police officers wearing mask as a precaution against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, stand guard during a rally in Seoul June 14.  (AP Photo)
VOX POPULI: MERS outbreak not just South Korea's problem
"Ganmen sohaku," written in four kanji characters, means "ashen-faced" in Japanese. In 2009, a pun was made on this expression by changing one of the characters to give it the new meaning of "all faces are white."
Workers use a net to catch mosquitoes at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward in April. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Mosquitoes no longer summer nuisance to be taken lightly
In this world, there are a lot of unpleasant things that can jangle one’s nerves.
Yusuke Yokobatake, director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, answers questions June 10 from an opposition lawmaker during a Lower House special committee on national security legislation. (Rei Kishitsu)
VOX POPULI: Abe twists the Constitution to fit a hole of his own making
"It won't get any larger than the size it is now, but it could shrink to the size it was before," may be one way to paraphrase the Shinzo Abe administration's answer to a question, asked in the Diet on June 10, concerning the use of armed force by the Self-Defense Forces.
Takeshi Hashimoto in Kobe in April 2012 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Ministry's directive misses true meaning of education
I am sure some people would look quizzically at anyone who says, “Play and study are one and the same.”
Elderly people chat about the old days in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Tap thoughts of the elderly before embarking on radical new policy
There are various types of memory. For instance, general memory is the memory of information learned in the past, such as the "Mona Lisa" is a work of art painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
An artist's concept of the new National Stadium (Provided by Japan Sport Council)
VOX POPULI: Spending on society might be better than spending on Olympics
English literature scholar Yoshio Nakano (1903-1985), known for his sharp pen, was someone who went his own way. During the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, Nakano escaped the manic atmosphere of the capital city and cloistered himself in the quiet resort town of Nasu in Tochigi Prefecture, where he watched the Games on television at his leisure. An essay he contributed to The Asahi Shimbun at the time was titled “Orinpikku Tohiko” (Flight from the Olympics).
Koji Sato, professor emeritus at Kyoto University (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
VOX POPULI: Dose of sanity needed to preserve the spirit of our Constitution
One student of Koji Sato, professor emeritus at Kyoto University and one of the most esteemed constitutional scholars in Japan, said of him, "I have never heard the professor speak so harshly."

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