Why so warm?

Why is it so warm so far this ‘winter’.

Yes, I know about global warming, but it seems much warmer this year than even last year, or is global warming happening  much quicker than we all think?

Why an increase in electricity prices?

At the moment the price of gasoline is rising quickly. So the price that car-drivers pay for their gasoline is also increasing. This is easy to understand.

But the price of electricity in Shizuoka is also increasing. This I do not understand.

In Shizuoka there is a huge nuclear power station which provides our electricity. It is not a gasoline power station. So why is there an increase in electricity prices?

Why do athletes run counter-clockwise?

This question came up in one of my classes today. All athletics tracks in the world have the athletes run in a counter-clockwise (ccw) direction. It is now a rule of the International Athletics Association, but why did it happen?

There are a lot of man-made things which turn ccw. For example carousels, windmills, revolving doors, the usual direction in which people spin Hula Hoops, most washers and dryers, and baseball runners. So do most things spin ccw?

No, not really. There are many things that move clockwise: phonographs, CDs, Monopoly board pieces, door knobs, pencil sharpeners, and can openers.

This doesn’t get us any nearer an answer. One of my students suggested it is because most people are right-handed (and right-footed), but this doesn’t appear to be the reason, since in track running there is actually more force on the inside leg which is the left one.

The best answer seems to come from the direction we read. Most languages are read from left to right. It is true that Chinese and Arabic are read from right to left and traditional Japanese is read downwards left to right, but these are the exceptions.

For many people the natural way to see things is from left to right. So the spectators at the original Olympics in Greece would want to see the runners run past from their left to their right. To do this the runners would need to run counter-clockwise.

Here is the future Olympic Stadium for Beijing 2008.


Why do stations in Shizuoka have the wrong names?

I think two JR stations in Shizuoka have the wrong names: Abekawa and Higashi Shizuoka.

Abekawa station is not near the Abe River. On foot it would take at least 20 minutes to walk to Abe River from Abekawa station, that’s a long way.

A much better name would be Osada station. Osada is the name given to the area west of the Abe River, an area that used to be covered with rice-fields. Osada is the name given to the elementary and junior high schools in the area, also to the sports centre and the library.

And Higashi Shizuoka is not in the east of Shizuoka; actually it is slightly in the west. Kanbara is in the east of Shizuoka city. I think a better name would be Granship station.

Do you have any ideas for better names for stations, or do you think it is better not to change names?


Why green blackboards?


Before I came to Japan I had never seen a green blackboard. So why are blackboards green? One of my students, Kyoko, kindly told me the answer: because green is easy on the eyes.

It seems very sensible. Another word for blackboard is chalkboard, maybe we should use this word more often.

Actually I hate chalk, and chalk dust. It makes my throat dry, and also my fingers. It gets on my clothes and into my eyes. I much prefer whiteboards. But why aren’t whiteboards green?

Why shampoo?

Do you wash your hair with shampoo? Of course, every day.

But shampoo is bad for your hair!

Would you want to wash your hair in dishwashing liquid? Well, this is what you do. Shampoo is a detergent, like dishwashing liquid or bathroom cleaner, and it is made from oil. The only difference with shampoo is that it is not quite so strong, and has a nice perfume.

It is true that shampoo does clean your hair, but it also removes natural oils from your hair, which help keep your hair smooth, shiny and healthy. Your hair becomes dry and brittle, is badly damaged, and looks terrible.

Many years ago everyone used soap to wash their hair. Soap is made from vegetable and animal fats, and contains natural oils. It cleans your hair without damage.

But soap works best in soft water. Nowadays the water in most big cities is hard and alkaline, and soap does not work well in alkaline conditions.

So companies started making shampoo from detergent, which works well in all kinds of water. The shampoo companies quickly realised that their shampoo was damaging everyone’s hair, so they started selling conditioner, which replaces the natural oils in your hair. But conditioners are made with artificial oils which last only a day or two. So you need to wash your hair every day and use lots of shampoo and lots of conditioner, and your hair’s natural oils are lost.

Soap is much better than shampoo, the problem is the water.

If you live in an area with soft or medium water then it is easy to use soap, and you don’t even need any conditioner.

But if you live in an area with hard water you can still use soap if you put a little acid into the water to balance the alkali. For example you could fill a big jug with water and put a little vinegar (about a teaspoon) into the water, and use this for both washing and rinsing. This small amount of vinegar shouldn’t smell, but if you don’t like vinegar you could try lemon juice or even beer! If the water in your area is really hard then it may be best to use a little conditioner too.

This should leave your hair clean and shiny. You may find that you don’t need to wash your hair every day, sometimes warm water is enough. Your hair will clean itself with its natural oils and look even better.


Coming of age day, why in January?

If you are 20 years old then you will be having your coming of age ceremony tomorrow. In some places it has already happened, but the official day this year is January 8th, and it is a national holiday.

Many congratulations to all of you who are celebrating your 20th birthday; I think it is a wonderful thing to celebrate it all over Japan at the same time, and it seems very nice to have a formal ceremony as you enter adulthood.

But I have two questions, please help me.

Why is this ceremony in January? Why is it a national holiday?

It’s the middle of winter and many places in Japan are covered in snow and freezing cold, it doesn’t seem a good time to enjoy wearing beautiful kimono and hakama.

And many people who celebrate their 20th birthday are 19 years old. Everyone whose birthday is between January 9th and March 31st will be 19 on coming of age day. Can they drink alcohol at the party? Since they are not yet 20 years old drinking alcohol is illegal. So what happens at the party? Do many of those who are 20 get drunk, while those who are 19 sit and drink orange juice and oolong tea?

And why is it a national holiday? I guess it’s good that the whole of Japan has a holiday for the small number who are 20 years old, but I feel that it is probably less trouble to have it on Sunday rather than Monday, in fact I saw many people celebrating today, Sunday.

My own suggestion is to have this celebration on the first Sunday in April. Then everyone will be 20. Then the weather will be warmer. Then most 20 year olds who are still students will be in their hometown. And then you can drink alcohol under the cherry blossom.

Bless you!

Why do many Western people say these words after someone has sneezed? As with many things the origin is so old that it is unclear, though most people agree that it means something like, ‘May God bless you‘, so it must be concerned with something very important.

Some people think that a sneeze causes the soul to be blown out of the body. The words ‘Bless you’ are used to stop Satan (the devil) from stealing the soul, before it can return to the body.

Other people believe the sneeze blows the devil from the body, and ‘Bless you’ prevents the devil from returning to the body.

It was also thought that the heart stops beating for a few moments when someone sneezes (don’t worry, it doesn’t), so the words ‘Bless you’ can help the person return to life.

But the reason most people believe is related to a disease known as the ‘Black Death‘ which killed thousands, perhaps millions, of people in Europe around the 17th century. If someone caught this disease then he would start sneezing. So a sneeze was a sign that this person would soon die, and the words ‘Bless you’ were said as only God could now help this person.

Nowadays it seems that ‘Bless you’ or ‘God bless’ is a standard response to someone who sneezes, just good manners. Staying silent after someone has loudly sneezed seems impolite and unfriendly.

But there is one final point: if your friend suffers from hay-fever you don’t need to say ‘Bless you’ after every sneeze. In this case I am sure your friend would be quite happy if you simply continued with your conversation.