All posts by Hsien Vin Yong

Japan Performing for the World- “SoftPower” of Manga and Anime

Fig.1. Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe in his Super Mario costume at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Olympics by REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov via Tokyo 2020 and Japan’s Soft Power

The term “soft power”, a concept developed by Joseph Nye of Harvard Unversity to describe a country’s ability to shape preference of an individual or society as a whole by engaging their hearts and minds through cultural and political values, where it emphasizes the ability to attract rather than by coercion (hard power).

Organizations such as the Softpower30 created an index to measure countries’ soft power by combing objective data across six categories (Government, Culture, Education, Global Engagement, Enterprise, and Digital) and international polling, providing a comprehensive framework for the analysis of soft power. Japan is ranked 6th in the Top 30. More on Japan Soft Power Ranking via Softpower30:

Lam (2007) explains that due to Japan past militarism and other times as a predatory “economic animal”, there was an image problem in East Asia, in which Japan acquired a new ‘pop-culture of anime & manga’ image which tried to supersede the negative images of the past. On one hand, East Asian especially Chinese and Koreans view negatively toward Japanese war atrocities. On the other hand, East Asian consumers have embraced Japanese culture such as sushi, karaoke, zen-inspired architecture, J-pop, J-fashion, electronic games (Sony Playstation 4 and Nintendo), television dramas, manga (comics) and anime (cartoons).

Lam (2007) argues there are certain limits to Japan’s “soft power”, Japan would be unlikely to truly spread their comics and cartoon to the hearts and minds of the Chinese and Korean people without a historical reconciliation with China and South Korea. Furthermore, Japan “soft power” can easily be undermined by insensitive statements of a new generation of nationalistic leaders over politically sensitive issues regarding Japan’s past militarism.

Fig.2. Doraemon accepting its position as Japan’s Anime Ambassador from former Foreign Minister Komura Masahiko via Japanese Soft Power

Japanese anime is broadcasted over a hundred countries and over ten billion of manga have been sold worldwide. It is often said that the quality of manga and anime where all generation people can read or watch it- from young to adults. The Japanese government exports Japanese culture and industry as “Cool Japan” to the whole world, and they hold Japan expo over the world. The influence of globalization and social media play an important role to spread the anime and manga culture to the world- where there are Facebook post who wrote about their favorite anime, people cosplaying and an anime club in almost every educational institution such as UBC Anime Club.

In May 2007, Tokyo established the International Manga Award and the First International Manga Award Executive to honor manga artists who contribute to the promotion of manga abroad  in which the last one was on 2015 which was the Ninth International Manga Award.

Furthermore, referring to Fig.3., a total of 4,345 contracts were made in overseas markets according to the survey responses from 16 companies. By country, United States came first and China in second, followed by Canada, Korea and Taiwan. As a continent, the rate of contracts were led by Asia (36.9%), followed by Europe (25.8%) and North America (12.3%). The Anime Industry Report 2016 mention that the Japanese animation industry is now enjoying the 4th Anime Boom which is attributed to “increases in market channels , including Internet distribution, Pachinko and Pachinko‐slot and Live  Entertainment, over the past decade”.

Fig.3.Japanese Animation in Overseas Markets via Anime Industry Report 2016

More information of Cool Japan:

One key lesson from the Tokyo show (can be viewed below), is to not diverge away from what is already popular but to embrace it. However, what works for Japan may not work for other countries, but it make sense to leverage if such assets exist in their countries. Despite a steady increase of popularity of Japanese manga and anime in the world, but there are other markets such as the African and Middle East market in which Japanese organizations finding difficulty to penetrate into. Key point is, Japan is emerging or already is perceived as a cultural superpower- as seen as performing manga and anime to the world.

Fig.4. The closing ceremony of the 2016 RIO Olympic Games. By Show Fever (2016) via Youtube


Iwaki, H. (2012, July 3). Japanese Animation and Comics as Soft Power. In JAPANsociology. Retrieved December 1, 2017, from

Lam, P. E. (2007). Japan’s quest for “soft power”: attraction and limitation. East Asia24(4), 349-363. Retrieved from

Watanabe, Y., & McConnell, D. L. (Eds.). (2008). Soft power superpowers: Cultural and national assets of Japan and the United States. ME Sharpe.

Show Fever (2016). The closing ceremony of the 2016 RIO Olympics [Video file]. Retrieved from


Mini- & Micro-Hydropower Projects in Japan 2017

In this blog post, I have decided to discuss regarding renewable energy projects in Japan specifically mini- & micro-hydroenergy after the collapse of public trust in nuclear energy following the Triple Disaster in 3rd March 2011. Mini- to Micro-hydropower’s advantage does not include damming up large rivers (which is not necessarily environmentally friendly-Pros and cons of dams) but rather harnessing the power of flowing water – in spite of whether it is a natural river, stream, public reservoir or even the power of wave currents in oceans.

More information about the Tohoku earthquake & Tsunami in 2011:

Fig.1.The Momura Micro Hydro Power Plant in Japan via Mini-Hydro Power Plants in Irrigation Canals

Five years ago, Japan introduced a feed-in tariff (FiT) system — a policy that helps accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by having the utilities offer to purchase electricity at predetermined rates from renewable energy producers in long-term contracts. In 2017 quarterly statistics for Japan placed the total share of renewable electricity production at 20.7%. These were divided into five categories: in which hydropower (10.2%) contributed the majority of all other renewable energies.

Environment Ministry in Japan defined “Large” hydro-power plants as generating more than 100,000kW, “Medium” generate between 10,000 kw and 100,000 kw. “Small” hydro plants  generate between 1,000 kw and 10,000 kw. “Mini” hydro plants generate between 100 kw and 1,000 kw, and “micro” hydro plants are those that generate less than 100 kw.  Mini-hydropower is beneficial in rural areas with rivers and streams where mini-hydropower plants can be built and deliver electricity easily. Compared to other energy forms, mini-hydro has received noticeably less official attention. “Localized electricity production is efficient as it generates electricity at the site of consumption, without using large amounts of energy connecting to, and then being distributed from the transmission grid” (Suwa, 2009).

Dai Nakajima, a spokesman for the National Small Hydropower Association reckoned that the cost of mini-hydro electric power ranges between ¥15-¥100 per kilowatt-hour which is quite expensive, other problems facing mass introduction of hydropower plants including finding specific locations that has suitable water flow and legal regarding land- and water- issues pose a problem as well.

More on Pro & Cons of Mini-Hydro Power Plants in Irrigation Canals:


Project Sea-Horse

Fig.2. Seahorse wave breaking device (2017) via CleanTechnica

Japan is keenly attuned to the problem of land erosion and has 30% of its coastline protected from the sea by wave breaking devices. Professor Tsumoru Shintake of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology University has proposed to redesign those devices to incorporate small turbines that generate electricity from oceanic water movement. Shintake has spearheaded a project labelled Sea Horse which aims to places turbines (full-scale turbines will include blades about two feet in diameter) tethered to the ocean floor to utilize ocean currents to generate power. The turbines are designed to withstand the tremendous force of ocean waves and safely operate in the surrounding marine environment inherent to Japan. The blades rotate at a carefully calculated speed to allow marine life to escape if they get caught among them. Sea Horse turbines are designed to have a minimum lifespan of approximately 10 years. 

Micro hydro plant in Hiekawa

Fig.3. Micro hydro plant in Hiekawa (Japan) via TechnoTurbines Powering Water

The Micro hydro plant is located in Hiekawa (Japan) which channels water from the river through a pipeline, and needs a turbine to generate energy. This micro hydro plant produces enough energy in a sustainable way to sell it to the grid.  The Tecnoturbines provides a Hydro-regen turbine to generate energy on a small scale and distribute it to the grid. This reduces dependence on nuclear energy, and encourages balanced distribution networks. Generating power from this micro hydro plant would reduce Co2 emissions by 485 ton CO2-eq.

Small Hydropower plant in Toyama Prefecture

There is a small hydropower plant in Toyoma Prefecture uses water flowing into rice paddies to generate electricity. There are 36 such facilities are operating in the prefecture in which Hiroo Minami is in charge of developing generation systems at a company there. Hokuriku Seiki (Minami’s firm) makes generators that can be used in canals where cascades are small. A generator may costs up to about $350,000 depending on its size and it’s very easy to install. This small power generator can be installed in streams where it can supply power to a place, which is off the grid – providing power to rural communities. Minami’s firm receieved an order from the Japan International Cooperation Agency where it will supply 2 of its power generators to a farming village about 500 kilometers from Myanmar’s largest city Yangon.

Pico & Micro Hydropower System by Nakayama Iron Works Ltd

Fig.4. Layout of compact micro hydro system via United Nations Industrial Development Organization

The “Micro Hydropower System” developed by Nakayama Iron Works Ltd., is a type of hydroelectric system that can produce a few kW to 1MW of electricity. This technology can produce electricity using small streams as a main resource for power generation. The company offers different types of hydro turbines that work under different range of head and discharges, hence being flexible, they are able to offer suitable turbines for respective sites. Some of its competitive advantage include the low cost to manufacture the micro turbine power system and the reduced cost for power generation by this system, which is significantly low compared to the cost by conventional power generation systems.

An Off Grid system would include an application of micro hydro turbine power system  (or comined with photovoltaic power) within household network. An ON grid system would be installing the micro hydro turbines in rural areas that would help to connect to the Electric grid- which is an interconnected network of several power sources, such as solar, wind, and hydro electric plants.


Hanley, S. (2017, October 2). Wave Power Renewable Energy Project Underway In  Japan. In Clean Technica. Retrieved from                            

Johnston, E. (2017, October 14). Balance of power: Shift toward renewable energy appears to be picking up steam. In thejapantimes. Retrieved from

Micro hydro plant in Hiekawa (Japan) (n.d.). In Technoturbines Powering Water. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from

Pico & Micro Hydropower System: Low-Cost Hydroelectric Generator (n.d.). In United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from

Suwa, A. (2009, December 12). How Things Work: Micro Hydroelectricity in Japan. In Our World. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from

Small Hydropower Devices Making Big Waves (2017, January 26). In NHK World. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from

Social Exclusion in Japan

Fig.1. A mother and her children at a shelter via getty images

Social exclusion is the process in which individuals or people are systematically blocked from (or denied full access to) various rights, opportunities and resources that are normally available to members of a different group, and which are fundamental to social integration and observance of human rights within that particular group (e.g., housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, and democratic participation). It is important to say that income poverty is not necessarily the cause that introduce vulnerability to social exclusion. There are other factors such as involuntary layoff, divorce and gender which have an effect towards (or promote) social exclusion. Unfortunately, the Japanese government has been reluctant to acknowledge poverty and social exclusion as a social issue.

There are several studies dedicated to Social Exclusion which are demonstrated through this file : Selected Empirical Studies of Social Exclusion

Income, Social Factors and Social Exclusion

In Japan, social exclusion has resulted from economic poverty and the decline of informal mutual aid which in 2013, the Japanese government recorded relative poverty rates (population living on less than half of the national median income) of 16% which was the highest on record. It has been seen that the decrease of low-rent dwelling, company residences and social housing is the prime reason behind the lack of access to suitable housing for the low income group. Furthermore, living alone or just the size reduction of household contributes to increased in vulnerability to social exclusion. However, even the age group with the highest vulnerability showed a discrepancy between income poverty compared and social exclusion. There are other factors like involuntary getting fired and getting a divorce contribute to social exclusion.

 Child Poverty and Social Exclusion

With regard to poor children in Japan, it has been estimated that 3.5 million Japanese children – or one in six of those aged up to 17 belong to households that are experiencing poverty. There seems to be a strong causality when it comes to a lower standard of living or child poverty leading to social exclusion in adulthood. As disadvantages at earlier stages of life seem to have influence on social exclusion, even if they have stable income, job and a decent household to stay in.

Childhood disadvantages such as family structure, occupational class,  employment of father and financial hardships are correlated with negative adult incomes. Especially at the age of 15, a low standard of living have a significant effect on basic needs (food, clothing and medical care) despite even after having stable income, job and household, and having dealt with experiences of divorce, getting fired, illness and injuries. This shows that poverty hardship at a young age creates a path where childhood poverty and adult social exclusion directly.

Gender and Social Exclusion 

Fig.2. Poverty rates of the working age (20 to 64 years old) classified by employment status and sex (2007) via Poverty and Social Exclusion of Women in Japan

Fig.3. Poverty rates of the elderly classified by employment status and sex (2007) via Poverty and Social Exclusion of Women in Japan

1 out of 3 Japanese women in the age group of 20-64, and those who live alone, were living in poverty in 2010. There is an increasing data that shows the poverty risk of women is rising. Before “the working poor” was recognized only when it started to affect man, poverty among working women were already a common problem. In cases of men making all important decisions about the community where no women are present could be interpreted as being excluded from social participation as a group. Furthermore, women tend to engage much more in informal social interaction such as pornography than man, but is the opposite when it comes to formal social participation (e.g. political activities) shows that they are socially excluded from the mainstream society.


Abe, A. K. (2012). Poverty and social exclusion of women in Japan. Japanese Journal of Social Security Policy9(1), 61-82.

Aoki, M. (2012). Poverty a growing problem for women. The Japan Times [Website]. Retrieved from

Aya K, A. B. E. (2009). Social exclusion and earlier disadvantages: An empirical study of poverty and social exclusion in Japan. Social Science Japan Journal13(1), 5-30.

McCurry, J. (2017). Japan’s rising child poverty exposes true cost of two decades of economic decline. TheGuardian [Website]. Retrieved from

Okamoto, Y. (2016). Japanese social exclusion and inclusion from a housing perspective. Social Inclusion4(4).

Improving the Improved: Tokyo Railway Systems towards Olympics 2020


Fig.1. Tokyo Subway Route Map, obtained from

David Harvey Time-space compression which is an idea rooted in Karl Marx’s theory of annihilation of time and space relates to any phenomenon that alters the qualities and relationship between space and time, often occurring as a result of technological innovations (example of Japan Shinkansen and its transportation system). In Tokyo, Rail is the primary mode of transport. Greater Tokyo has the most extensive urban railway network and the most used in the world with 40 million passengers (some tallied twice) in the metro area daily.

As we are approaching Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the Japanese government and the Japanese Olympic Committee would need improve their already improved railway system to cater their daily amount of passengers but with addition of influx of athletes (12,000) and tourists from expected nations of 207. The Tokyo metro system and JR East have been named the official partners in the Tokyo 2020 Sponsorship programme where their goal it to contribute to the growing enthusiasm of The Olympics by providing safe and comfortable transportation services. Here are just some of improvements in regards to railway transportation that the government is implementing towards Tokyo 2020 Olympics:

The Inauguration of the Japanese Maglev- World’s Fastest Bullet Train

Although the Maglev is not planned to enter commercial operation until 2027, it is set to make its debut at the Tokyo Olympics. Maglev has broken Japan’s own high speed record as it could reach speeds more than 600 kilometers per hour. This will prove to compressed time and space with high speeds which were thought to be an impossible task during the Tokyo 1964 olympics.

In current times, it would take around 100 minutes (currently the fastest) to reach Nagoya from Tokyo on the Nozomi train. Fortunately, the Chuo Shinkansen line is planned to link Tokyo and Nagoya by the year 2027 in which the trip would only take forty minutes – a staggering improvement of 60% in speed.

Fig.2. Maglev bullet train prototype, obtained from

Improvement of Japan’s Harujuku, Sendagaya and Shinanomachi Station

JR East has confirmed to upgrade Harujuku Station on the Yamanote Loop line and Sendagaya and Shinanomachi stations on the Chūō-Sobu Line. Upgrades  (total cost of 250 billion yen or US$ 2.3 billion) include implementation of new barrier-free facilities and expansion of concourses and ticket gates, are expected to be completed in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This new plans are designed to improve passenger flow and dramatically alleviating congestion. The new designs of the stations will include a wider concourse and ticket gate area, along with elevators and new and more spacious amenities.

Fig.3. Proposed design of the new Harujuku Station, obtained from

Adding a new Station on the Yamanote Line

This new station will be located between Shinagawa and Tamachi Stations slated for completion in spring 2020, and will provide access to Haneda Airport Monorail and the JR Keihin-Tohoku line.

This new station will be four stories in height and the public area will have a large screen for the viewing of the games. This new station is set to open up the region to the global as this project was set to be part of the urban revitalization plan for the Sinagawa area to be the Tokyo’s genkan (reception area) to the world.

Fig.4. Architect Kengo Kuma has designed the new station on Tokyo’s JR Yamanote Line, obtained from

Full Mobile Access to Tokyo’s Subway System

One of Tokyo 2020’s plan is to provide universal mobile access in the Tokyo Metro subway system that would add further momentum to their efforts to leverage innovation in the world’s most technologically advanced major capital. One of the current phase of mobile expansion included extending the access on the Ginza and Marunouchi lines in the heart of the city.

International guests are able obtain a wide variety of Tokyo 2020 Olympics information through the closed-circuit TV which are available in most subways stations and railcars.

Fig.5. Tokolo, Asao. Tokyo 2020 logo. 2016, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

Overall, Japan has contributed to the advancement towards railway infrastructure strategically to accomodate tourists, visitors and atheletes etc. in the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics, while providing innovative transportation that is safe and comfortable for everyone.


Japan Rail Pass.** (2017). Tokyo 2020 Olympics With The Japan Rail Pass [Website]. Retrieved from

Mcgee, O. (2016). Japan’s Harajuku Station To Be Rebuilt Ahead Of 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Sora News [Website].

The Tokyo Organizing Committee Of The Olympic And The Paralympic Games (2013). News: Tokyo’s Subway System Launches Full Mobile Access [Website]. Retrieved from

The Tokyo Organizing Committee Of The Olympic And The Paralympic Games (2017). News: Tokyo 2020 Welcomes Two Railway Companies As Official Partners [Website]. Retrieved from


Namazu- The Earthshaker

There is no doubt that Japan is an earthquake country where there are around 2,000 earthquakes that occur every year and minor tremors could be felt on a daily basis and just recently on 26th September 2017, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake occur 55km from Kuji, Iwate Prefecture. During the nineteenth century, an interesting earthquake symbol arises from Japanese folklore where a catfish, Namazu whose movements were capable of causing an Earthquake. Fortunately, the demigod Kashima keeps Namazu under control as he keeps a huge magical rock over the catfish and as long as Kashima maintains this position, there will not be an earthquake. However, when Kashima lets his guard down, Namazu trashes about, causing violent earthquakes. The Namazu folklore originated around Lake Biwa and later spread to the Kanto region, where it likely made it first explicit appearance in 1592, but the link between earthquakes and catfish were not common until the late seventeenth century.

Fig.1. Japanese wood-block print showing a mythic catfish that causes earthquakes. Private collection, Berkeley, California. Courtesy of Ms. B. Bolt. (figure from KOZAK & CERMAK 2010). The depiction shows that the catfish is redistributing wealth from the rich people to the poor people.

Geological background of Japan

Japan is primarily surrounded by tectonic plates where the Pacific plate lies in the east, the Eurasian plate lies in the west, North American plate lies in the north and Philippines plate from the South. On average, the pacific plate is moving west about 8.9 cm per year.

Fig.2. Simplified map of tectonic plates and boundaries in the vicinity of Japan. Four main plates converge along subduction zones (blue-toothed line): North America, Pacific, Philippine, and Eurasia. Purple line = convergence, green line = transform, red line = spreading. K = Kyushu, H = Honshu. Adapted from original map by E. Gaba; obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Modern use

There are a few modern appearance of the catfish in emergency earthquake symbol, songs, games and television shows. Pictures of catfish on early warning devices are used for the Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) by the Japan Meteorological Agency. There is also association of catfish and earthquakes in the game ‘Pokemon’, where a pokemon named Whiscash which resembles a catfish that uses earthquake as its signature move.

Fig.3. Namazu is attacked by peasants and concubines after the earthquake of Edo (modern Tokyo) in October 1855 (image in public domain)

Namazu history and its symbolism

The association between the catfish and earthquake became an extremely popular earthquake symbol during the 19th Century following the 1855 Ansei Edo Earthquake. In short, the notion of a giant subterranean catfish causing an earthquake began to spread during the latter half of the seventeenth century. The earthquake maps produced during that period of the seventeeth century promoted the metaphor of namazu causing earthquakes.

The origins of notions such as the catfish causing the ground to shake, floating islands supported by giant aquatic creatures and the pictures of gods and immortals riding on giant fish that looks similar to a catfish can all be traced back to China.There are various versions of the myth with slight modifications, in which Kashima uses a sword to nail Namazu onto the ground instead of a rock.

It was believed the during the 19th Century and after the October 1855 Earthquake, Namazu causing the earthquake became more of a punishment of human greed as the havoc caused by Namazu forced the people to redistribute equally their wealth with everyone. Kashima and Namazu were popular topics in Japanese paintings, when they were used as talismans during the Edo period to prevent serious earthquakes from occurring. Images of Namazu are still around today, as seen on digital warning devices produced by Japan’s Meteorological Agency.

A version of Namazu controlled by Kashima with a sword (figure from Wikipedia).


Kozák, J., Čermák, V., & SpringerLink ebooks – Earth and Environmental Science. (2010;2009;). The illustrated history of natural disasters (1st;1; ed.). Dordrecht;New York;London;: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-90-481-3325-3

Smits, G. (2012). Conduits of Power: What the Origins of Japan’s Earthquake Catfish Reveal about Religious Geography. Japan Review, (24), 41-65. Retrieved from