Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category


The Battle of Midway (June 4th to 7th 1942) was a sea and air battle between the Japanese and Americans near the island of Midway, a thousand miles (1600 km) west of Hawaii. Japan lost four aircraft carriers, America only one. It was the turning point of the Pacific part of the Second World War, turning the war in favour of the Americans.

The top admirals at the battle: Yamamoto for the Japanese and Spruance for the Americans.

Aircraft carriers:

  • Japanese (4): Hiryu (sunk), Soryu (sunk), Akagi (sunk), Kaga (sunk)
  • American (3): Yorktown (sunk), Hornet, Enterprise

Before the battle Japan had more warships than anyone in the Pacific. America had lost most of their ships six months before at the Battle of Pearl Harbor. But it had broken the secret code of the Japanese and knew they would strike at Midway. That allowed America to put what few ships it had at the right place at the right time.

The battle turned at about 10:20 in the morning: the Japanese were preparing to send out a second wave of bombers, which were sitting on the flight decks of the carriers ready to take off in five minutes. Just then American dive bombers suddenly appeared from behind the clouds and destroyed the bombers and the three aircraft carriers they were on: the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu. Only the Hiryu was left.

The fighter planes that were supposed to protect the carriers while the bombers got ready had been drawn off to fight American torpedo bombers. They destroyed most of them, but left the three ships naked and helpless.

The Hiryu went on to destroy the Yorktown, but in the end it was sunk too.

Before Midway and the Battle of the Coral Sea a month before, sea battles were largely a fight between battleships with big guns. It had been that way for hundreds of years. But now the Americans had shown that it was aircraft carriers and their warplanes that mattered most. The Japanese knew that air power was important in sea battles, but the Americans had an even more profound understanding of this new fact.

Admiral Yamamoto, even after he lost his four carriers, still had far more ships. He might have pressed home his advantage to take Midway. And in the old days he would have. But having lost all his carriers he no longer had any air cover. His ships would be sitting ducks. So he had to pull back.

Churchill had said the British and Americans would gain the upper hand in the Pacific by May 1942. Not bad. He based that on how fast Japan, America and Britain were building ships. Battleships and carriers take years to build, so the loss of four carriers at Midway was a grave one for Japan: for every carrier Japan built, America built two. So once America got the lead, Japan would never catch up.

After the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea, Australians no longer had to fear the Japanese landing on their shores.

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nobel-prizeThe Nobel Prizes are given every year to those who have benefited mankind the most in one of six fields: peace, literature, medicine, physics, chemistry and economics. It is a high honour – and you get a good bit of money too: more than a million dollars American (132,000 metric crowns).

Here are the Nobel Prize winners for 2008:


Martti Ahtisaari, a United Nations peacemaker and president of Finland in the late 1990s. For more than 30 years he has gone all over the world to help make peace, in places like the Horn of Africa, Namibia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Aceh in Indonesia. He is particularly proud of Namibia, whose independence from South Africa he helped to work out after many long years. Namibia made him an honorary citizen.


Jean-Marie Le Clezio, who is possibly the greatest living French writer. Among his better known works are “Onitsha” (1991) and “Wandering Star” (1992), but it was “The Interrogation” (1963) that made his name. He has travelled the world and even lived with the Embera Indians of Panama for a time. It gave him something of an outsider’s view of life in the West, especially life in its big cities.


This one was split between three scientists: Francoise Barre-Sinoussi (a woman) and Luc Montagnier, both from France, who discovered HIV, the virus that causes Aids, and a German, Harald zur Hausen, who discovered another virus, HPV, which is found in nearly all women with cervical cancer


Half of the physics prize goes to Yoichiro Nambu, who discovered the broken symmetry of the universe, and the other half is split between Makoto Kobayashi (not the artist) and Toshihide Maskawa, who applied Nambu’s theory to show that there was an unknown set of quarks, which have since been discovered. Broken symmetry means that the laws of the physics do not work the same way in all directions in space and time. Not what you would expect. All three were born in Japan, but Nambu is now an American.


Won by two Americans – Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien – and one Japanese scientist – Osamu Shimonura – for their work on GFP – green fluorescent protein. GFP, found in jellyfish, gives off a green light. Shimonura found the protein that was causing the light, Chalfie found a way to put it in other animals to study how parts of the body, healthy or diseased, grow and change, while Tsien found ways to make the light stronger and give off different colours.


Paul Krugman, an American economist at Princeton, who has long pointed out what was wrong in President Bush’s policies from the pages of the New York Times. He won the Nobel not for that, but for his work on trade patterns. He has shown how world trade (globalization) has given us huge cities and huge backward regions where people are poor.

For those at home who are keeping score:

  • America: Nambu (Japanese-born), Krugman, Chalfie, Tsien
  • Japan: Kobayashi, Maskawa, Shimonura
  • France: Le Clezio, Barre-Sinoussi, Montagnier
  • Finland: Ahtisaari
  • Germany: zur Hausen

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Ganguro (early 1990s- ), which means “face black”, is a fashion youth subculture among Japanese girls where they make their skin brown, their lips and eyeshadow white and their hair orange, yellow, white or silver grey. It reached its height in 2000, but you still see it. Their look is a take-off on black American singers. Some see it as an effect that hip hop has had on Japan.

Ganguro girls like to wear brightly coloured clothes, platform shoes, tight miniskirts, rings, necklaces, bracelets and hoop earrings. Their platform shoes make them 10 to 15 cm taller than most women.

Their hair is often straight as a pin, like Japanese hair is naturally, but some get it done in an afuro or buraku style – that is, Afro or black.

Their skin: the ganguro girls make their skin brown by going to tanning salons and using plenty of brown make-up. Not just their face, but their whole body is brown.

Some of the magazines they read are Kawaii, Popteen, Ego System and especially Egg.

They also have their own slang.

Though they seem to be copying black American women, they often wind up looking more like tanned Californian white women with their light brown skin, long straight light-coloured hair and the blue contact lenses that some wear.

Darker and more extreme offshoots of ganguro are the yamanba, manba and gonguro styles. Romanba is a ganguro that favours pink clothes, pearls and flowers.

The male counterpart is sentaa or centre guy. They also have brown skin and strangely coloured hair.

The ganguro style is completely overstated and runs against Japanese ideas of beauty. For example, while most Japanese women want their skin to be as light as possible, the ganguros make their skin brown, sometimes even dark brown. The more extreme dark-brown yamanba style is named after an ugly old mountain woman from the storybooks.

Many in Japan think they look ugly and feel sorry for them. The Japanese press and television looks down them. So do employers. So some are just ganguro on the weekends. Most give it up in the early 20s.

They are seen as strange looking, carefree and living for the moment, not particularly deep and with nothing to look forward to in life. They are seen as being more interested in hanging out with their friends than in doing well at school or work.

Some see it as acting out against Japanese society, which puts tight limits on how you can express yourself. This is especially true for schoolgirls, who are required to wear uniforms and have straight black hair.

Some say that being a ganguro girl is an escape: from failure at school, lack of love at home, a boring work life or the lack of freedom in daily Japanese life.

From an American point of view they seem like they want the freedom to be themselves.

When asked why they do it, they say because it is cool and sexy.

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