October 21, 2013 3:13 pm
In Japan, men and women are declaring, “Mendokusai!”—”It’s too troublesome!”—about relationships, reports the Guardian. Women are avoiding relationships of any kind, because there’s no support for them to skip getting married or to balance a family with a career. Men, on the other hand, are feeling pressure to fit into a model of the perfect breadwinner. The local media has its own name for these choices, according to the Guardian: “celibacy syndrome.”
The Guardian reports a few statistics that back these assertions up:
The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world’s worst nations for gender equality at work.
Japan’s Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is “preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like”.
A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.)
According to the government’s population institute, women in their early 20s today have a one-in-four chance of never marrying. Their chances of remaining childless are even higher: almost 40%.
These problems have come to a head over the past couple decades. Women are increasingly earning college degrees and pursuing careers, but the country’s policies and company cultures have not kept up. Few employees provide adequate maternity leave or daycare. Women in some companies say it’s impossible to earn a promotion after getting married because bosses assume the woman will soon get pregnant and quit the job.
Married men, on the other hand, are supposed to slave away for up to 20 hours per day, often in the stereotypical “salary man” office job, in order to earn enough to support an entire family. Japan, however, is no exception to rising costs of living, and supporting children on a one-person salary is often impossible.
So, what does this all have to do with sex?
A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.
Some women and men told the Guardian that they steer away from sex in order to avoid developing long-term feelings that may lead to a serious relationship. For women especially, casual flings or one-night stands aren’t an alternative, as they fear being harshly judged. Men, on the other hand, say they don’t have enough money to play the dating game. As a result, many people simply chose to go without.
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October 4, 2013 12:02 pm
In certain tracts of ocean, divers know to look for “underwater crop circles,” ornate symmetrical patterns temporarily carved into the sandy sea floor. But since 1995, when they were first discovered in Japan, no one could explain these phenomena. Now, the mystery has been solved: pufferfish are the culprits. The team of researchers behind the finding declared that the “huge geometrical structures” play a role in this species’ mating rituals.
Males, LiveScience explains, create the structures to attract females.
Males laboriously flap their fins as they swim along the seafloor, resulting in disrupted sediment and amazing circular patterns. Although the fish are only about 12 centimeters (5 inches) long, the formations they make measure about 2 meters (7 feet) in diameter.
It takes about seven to nine days for the pufferfish to construct the circles.
Although some other fishes construct mating mounds, the pufferfish’s creation is unique for a number of reasons:
First, they involve radially aligned ridges and valleys outside the nest site. Second, the male decorates these ridges with fragments of shells. Third, the male gathers fine sediments to give the resulting formation a distinctive look and coloring, [lead author Hiroshi] Kawase said.
Females base their decision about whether or not to mate with a male upon his construction skills, although the researchers still don’t understand what it is, exactly, that females are looking for in their ideal circular pattern, LiveScience says. If things go well, however, the female will lay her eggs in the center of the circle, and then, like most fishes, the males will fertilize those eggs externally.
There is a chance that it’s only the fine sand the females are after, not the formations’ intricate patterns or symmetry. “The beautiful lines and structure could serve only to channel those particles to the center, and have no aesthetic purpose,” one of the researchers told LiveScience.
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October 4, 2013 9:27 am
Every 20 years, locals tear down the Ise Jingu grand shrine in Mie Prefecture, Japan, only to rebuild it anew. They have been doing this for around 1,300 years. Some records indicate the Shinto shrine is up to 2,000-years old. The process of rebuilding the wooden structure every couple decades helped to preserve the original architect’s design against the otherwise eroding effects of time. “It’s secret isn’t heroic engineering or structural overkill, but rather cultural continuity,” writes the Long Now Foundation.
2013 is one of the reconstruction years, and people in Ise are busy preparing for a ceremony to mark this event, called Shikinen Sengo. Japan for Sustainability’s Junko Edahiro describes the history of the ceremony at length and reports on the upcoming festivities:
This is an important national event. Its underlying concept — that repeated rebuilding renders sanctuaries eternal — is unique in the world.
The Sengu is such a large event that preparations take over eight years, four years alone just to prepare the timber.
Locals take part in a parade to transport the prepared wood along with white stones—two per person—which they place in sacred spots around the shrine. In addition to reinvigorating spiritual and community bonds, the tradition keeps Japanese artisan skills alive. The shrine’s visitor site describes this aspect of the Shikinen Sengo ceremony:
It also involves the wish that Japanese traditional culture should be transmitted to the next generation. The renewal of the buildings and of the treasures has been conducted in the same traditional way ever since the first Shikinen Sengu had been performed 1300 years ago. Scientific developments make manual technology obsolete in some fields. However, by performing the Shikinen Sengu, traditional technologies are preserved.
As Edahiro describes, oftentimes local people will take part in the ceremony several times throughout the course of their lives. “I saw one elderly person who probably has experienced these events three or four times saying to young people who perhaps participated in the event as children last time, ‘I will leave these duties to you next time,’” she recalls. “ I realized that the Sengu ceremony also plays a role as a “device” to preserve the foundations of traditions that contribute to happiness in people’s lives.”
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September 6, 2013 12:28 pm
A massive volcano the size of New Mexico or the British Isles lurks deep beneath the Pacific, about 1,000 miles east off the coast of Japan. Called the Tamu Massif, scientists just confirmed that it is not only the world’s largest volcano (sorry, Manua Loa) but also one of the largest documented volcanoes in the solar system.
Researchers began studying the Tamu Massif, which is part of an underwater mountain range, about 20 years ago. But until now, they couldn’t determine whether it was a single giant or a cluster of multiple smaller volcanoes. A team from Texas A&M University (“Tamu”—get it?) confirmed the Tamu Massif was a single volcanic entity by studying its past patterns of lava flows and analyzing geochemical samples from the volcano.
National Geographic describes what we know about the volcano:
Tamu Massif is a rounded dome that measures about 280 by 400 miles (450 by 650 kilometers), or more than 100,000 square miles. Its top lies about 6,500 feet (about 2,000 meters) below the ocean surface, while the base extends down to about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) deep.
Made of basalt, Tamu Massif is the oldest and largest feature of an oceanic plateau called the Shatsky Rise in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The total area of the rise is similar to Japan or California.
Luckily for us, the volcano was only active for a few million years, NatGeo points out, going “extinct” about 145 million years ago.
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September 3, 2013 2:24 pm
Japan announced two weeks ago that a tank full of radioactive water at its damaged Fukushima nuclear plant had sprung a leak. A few weeks prior, Tepco, the company operating the plant, confirmed that around 300 tons of water used for cooling the reactors had been seeping through the ground and into the ocean each day. Now, the Japanese government has stepped in and announced that it will invest $500 million to help contain these problems. The majority will be spent on building a giant underground frozen wall around the contamination site.
Under the government plan, a wall of frozen earth will be created around the reactors using pipes filled with coolant to prevent groundwater coming into contact with contaminated water being used to cool fuel rods.
Dr Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, told the BBC that the situation at the nuclear power plant was an “unprecedented crisis” and that it was “getting worse”.
He said the plan to freeze the ground around the site was “challenging”, and a permanent solution was needed.
No one has ever tried to contain radioactive waste with the frozen ground method, the BBC writes, and it has only been tested on much smaller contamination sites.
Around 400 tons of water are still needed on a daily basis to keep the damaged reactors cool. All of that contaminated water has to be stored somewhere, but the BBC says that Tepco is quickly running out of space. Given the leaks and storage issues, in the long run, Tepco and the government are considering investing in new technologies that would treat the water for radioactive particles, the Guardian writes. If the water could be returned to legally acceptable levels of radiation, it could then be dumped into the ocean, where it supposedly would be harmlessly diluted, or evaporated.
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