Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I was recently in Japan and never imagined I would be visiting the extreme northern area that was hit by the devastating tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Seventeen months ago a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit off Japan’s northeast coast triggering devastating 20 meters tsunami waves and a subsequent radiation crisis. Ishinomaki was one of the hardest hit towns along the northeast coast. My friend Netty and I were invited to a concert in the town of Ishinomaki by ARI, the Association for the Revitalization of Ishinomaki to raise awareness for the victims of the tsunami.  The concert was by pianist Takako Mikoshiba and soprano Saori Suzuki and was held at a local community center.
The center serves as a support and awareness-raising activity for children and a place where victims of the tsunami can participate in workshops and receive information for assistance.
One of dozens of piles of rubble after the tsunami
I can’t overstate the impact of what the massive waves did to this town. The head of the organization, Mr. Fujita told me that 3000 people from his town died (including his entire family) and nearly 3000 more are still missing. He said the waves from the ocean came
without warning and he had just minutes to run to the second floor of his home. “The waves covered our town and inundated us with water a meter high for more than three days”. Thousands of people are still in temporary shelters and still using portable toilets.

Mr. Fujita also said that they are still suffering from lack of services and unemployment in his town is very high; more than half the population (160,000) in Ishinomaki’s prefecture is still not employed. He said the running water and sewer system are still not working in most of the areas, and he feels that the government is not doing enough to help them; they are more concerned about Fukushima and not focusing on us.

We took a tour of the town and it reveals the power of the tsunami and the extent of the clean-up and rebuilding. Many nonprofits and governments agencies are working in the towns and settlements determined to rebuild lives.

Empty lot where homes once stood
Walking around this town more than a year later I realized how strong the force of nature is. Damaged buildings are everywhere and mounds of debris are piled up in designated area around the town. In many areas along the coast where homes once stood, only the cement foundations remained. Toys and shoes of children and a lot of personal belongings are still visible throughout the area. In one area where damaged automobiles are stored you can still see personal items left behind from the victims of this tsunami. It’s very startling to see all this damage of what once were homes and businesses

Mr. Okumura and his team said that they are working to make their town even better than it was before. Ishinomaki was most famous as the home for the Ishinomori Manga Museum, in honor of the local manga artist,
Shotaro Ishinomori, who wrote titles like Kamen Rider and Cyborg 009. Works by Ishinomori still decorate the streets of this devastated town.
As we were getting ready to be seated for the concert two older ladies from the town greeted us with very high spirits and were eager to know where we were from.  The concert and the performance by these two young Japanese women to lift the spirits of the people in this town was an inspiration to them.

The atmosphere in Ishinimaki after this great disaster is unity and moving forward.

I was amazed and inspired!

If you are interested in helping “ARI” financially, please be kindly advised that our bank account is with "Japan Post Bank" or "Yuucho Ginko" with the branch number 818 and the account number 0528712. And here is their website:

View slide show of Ishinomaki, Japan

Monday, August 20, 2012


Because I love to read and share, my aim is to promote reading and sharing one book to one person at a time. The name "Book Nook" came from a used bookstore I used to frequent in Tel Aviv while living in Israel.


Lu Hsun Selected Stories

Just hanging out with my new friend!

Most of these stories are fictional, but still requiring a decent background in Chinese history and some ability for literary analysis. I'm not even close to a complete understanding of many of them, but the insight these stories have given me into Chinese history have been among the most pleasurable.

This book is indispensable for anyone who wishes to understand China; Lu is a great Chinese writer.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Hiroshima Day, 67 years - Shelter for the Souls of the Victims

The A-Bomb Dome. One of the very few building left standing after the devastating attack on August 6. 1945. After the war a decision was taken to preserve the shell of the remains as a memorial. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in December 1996, the remains are floodlit at night, and have become a grim symbol of this city's tragic past. The A-Bomb Dome is now a beloved Hiroshima landmark.

August 6, 2012, at 08:15 Japan time, marks 67 years since one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the mankind, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hi
roshima. Approximately 80,000 people died instantly and many more following the blast and the firestorm caused by the bomb.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was built near the hypo-center of the nuclear explosion, to honor and remember the victims. There are over 50 monuments located inside the park; this arch-shaped shelter, designed by famous Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. Named “Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims", the monument represents a shelter for the souls of the victims and inside it there’s a stone chest holding 77 volumes with the names of all those who died immediately and in the aftermath of the nuclear explosion. A total of 221,893 names of the victims are sealed on record. As the inscription says:

Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Japan is famed for its elaborate fine dining and eating experience. And when I say “experience” I mean everywhere, even in department stores. The country is also a mecca for high-quality cuisine from all over the world, so you can look forward to a truly international dining experience.

Japan is a place of many traditions, foods and etiquette. Everything in Japan has its own way to be done and if you do something differently, everyone will look at you in amazement. If you don't know how to do something just look around and wait or if you are with a Japanese friend, just ask the best way to go forward. Tourists coming to Japan are amazed by the large variety of  good food available. There are also some basic table manners that foreigners should know so that they don't feel like a fish out of water.  People start a meal by saying "itadakimasu" ("I gratefully receive") and after finishing eating they say "gochisosama (deshita)" ("Thank you for the meal") with a bow. It is crucial for you to say these phrases, especially when you are invited for a meal or someone cooks for you. Netty and I were invited to a Japanese meal and all I said was "Thank you very much", and bowed profusely.

Chopsticks are used widely in all Japanese homes and restaurants and it was difficult for me to use them. Besides knowing how to eat using chopsticks, foreigners have to know some rules when using the chopstick utensil. One of the most important rules is not to pass food with your chopsticks directly to somebody else's chopsticks and vice versa. You shouldn't point your chopsticks at somebody or something. Playing with your chopsticks at a meal is also considered bad manners. It is impolite to use the end of the chopstick you are eating with to get food from a shared plate to your own plate, use the other ends of your chopsticks.

In Japan it is advisable to wait until everyone is served before you start eating. It is also considerate to eat everything on your plate completely. If you are given some extra food; for example a bowl of rice, accept it with both hands. When eating, try not to stuff your mouth. You should separate the large piece with your chopsticks and eat every small piece. In comparison to some Western countries where people are often taught not to make slurping noises when eating soup or noodles, it is considered a normal thing in Japan to slurp. It even seems strange in Japan if you eat noodles without a sound!
If there are alcoholic drinks at the meal, you shouldn't just pour the alcohol into your own glass. You should check your friends' glasses frequently and if their glasses are getting empty, you should serve them first. There are usually no napkins used at Japanese meals, instead you are given a small cold or warm towel to wipe your hands, but not your face.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


After months of contemplation the Government of Belize has finally came to a conclusion to default on its external debt. Earlier in the year, Belize has been discussing restructuring with bond holders. 

Belize has previously posted on the website of its Central Bank both an Economic Memorandum and a set of possible Indicative Restructuring Scenarios for the Step-Up Bond designed to restore Belize to a sustainable fiscal position.

The Belize Default comes a day after a local television station reported on an advisory issued by financial analyst Carl Ross of Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. In the report Mr. Ross refers to the recent expropriation of private telco and electricity companies in Belize, Belize Telecommunications Ltd. and Belize Electricity Ltd. as adding to the country’s debt load.

The report quotes Mr. Ross as saying that “The Belize fiasco is that the 2029 bond is not the main debt problem faced by the government…Rather the compensation that needs to be paid for the nationalizations, combined with amortizations due to multilateral and bilateral creditors, are the most onerous debt obligations over the next several years.” The report goes on to say, “…the government unilaterally nationalized these companies, creating a huge contingent liability…it is difficult for bondholders to analyze this restructuring offer from the government without first knowing the size of the settlements to be paid to the former equity holders of the companies…”

Belize News - Read more:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Stupendous views from the Tokyo Skytree in the most seismically active city in the world. This is the world's tallest free-standing broadcasting tower at 634 meters, and was entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the world's tallest tower on November 17, 2011. 

The Japanese city of Tokyo has long been known for its spectacular skyscrapers, and now a new structure has taken its place in the skyline, the Tokyo Skytree. Built to broadcast television signals, it is not quite as big as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building, but it does have a place in the record books as the tallest free standing tower.


There are several things I noticed about cars in Tokyo. Being that Japan is the second largest producers of automobiles in the world I had to find out about how the people deal with their cars. Firstly, all the cars are incredibly clean and well-maintained; I have yet to see a dented or beaten up car. Secondly, the places where people parked their cars are very small and in the most unusual spots.  I am wondering why anyone would want a car in Tokyo after experiencing the most efficient and modern public transportation system in the world.

I spoke with several people that are living in Tokyo and they told me that owning a car is not as simple as just picking one out like we do in the West.  Going out and buying the car is not as expensive as in the West, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. The real cost comes after you have your money set aside to pay for the car itself. Before you can call the car yours, you have to prove to the department in charge of registration that you have a parking spot for the automobile.  Your space must be registered and your certificate must be submitted to the police. After securing your parking, there are very hefty additional fees such as taxes, insurance, and mandatory periodic maintenance check-ups. If you are renting a space in Tokyo your monthly fee for spaces in posh areas can run as high as 100,000.00 yen ($1265.00 in today’s exchange rate).

There are three taxes that you have to pay when buying a car in Japan; the Acquisition Tax, the Weight Tax and an Annual Tax. The Acquisition Tax is about 5% of the price of the car. The weight tax for cars with engine sizes up to 2 liters are about 56,700 yen, greater than that is 75,600. Passenger cars with a 300 or 33 in the upper right corner of the license plate (including nearly all US cars) pay the highest.

The annual tax can escalate to 34,500-39,500 yen for medium cars to 45,000 yen for 2.5 liter cars and 56,000 yen for 3 liter cars. You also need to pay consumption tax when you buy fuel, and many gas stations don't  even display their prices. Prices can vary and may be up to 15 yen added per liter.

If you live in a big city in Japan such as Tokyo, the costs can be very astronomical; in fact, they're meant to be, as a way to reduce traffic jams and congestion. 

And there you go; it sure isn't easy for a country with the second largest auto manufacturing in the world.