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Energy: Empowering the Consumer?

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Dieter Helm: The Carbon Crunch

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Sunday, November 14, 2010


For some unexplained reason, on Thursday, November 11, twenty-four of you visited my blog despite the fact that I wrote absolutely nothing. In fact, I usually don’t even get twenty-four visits on a day when I publish an entry. In other words, there must be some special spell which caused twenty-four people to visit my blog despite me not writing anything. Thus first, thank you for visiting my blog! Second, when I am already at it, I may as well tell you more about the visitors of this blog, yourselves. So far, exactly six hundred different people from twenty-one different countries have visited this blog. About one third of the visitors come from the US, another almost third from the Czech Republic, and about one fifth from Japan. On average, about 240 different people visit this blog per month, of which about 130 are returning visitors. Over a half of the visitors stay on the page for longer than one minute, in other words they actually read my posts. Most people visit within three days of a new post and then the count falls to about five people per day. Thus was I really taken by surprise when twenty-four of you visited this Thursday, November 11. Again, thank you for reading, without you I would not be writing this blog! Now to the new post, which also deals with the 11/11magic, though in a different setting.

Japanese people love odd numbers. Even more do they love odd-numbered years, months, and days, and ever more so do they love them when the day and the month are both odd-numbered. And, when the two odd numbers are the same, Japanese people reach the state of extasy. Take an example: January 1, or the first day of the first month, is the day of Oshōgatsu, or New Year's. Oshōgatsu is probably the most important Japanese holiday; people usually celebrate it at their natal home with their parents, eat rice cakes, drink sake, and go to their local Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. Two months and two days later comes March 3, the third day of the third month, which hosts the so called Hinamatsuri, or Girls' day. The Japanese celebrate it by displaying dolls everywhere on red carpets and giving their daughters sweets. The fifth of May, fifth day of the fifth month, is the Japanese Children's Day, which was actually only celebrated as Boys' day until 1948 when the new Allied constitution came into effect and made women more “equal”(which in effect means that now boys are discriminated against, given only Girls get to have their own day!?). The odd-numbered craziness continues into the seventh day of the seventh month, July 7, which is known as Tanabata, meaning literally the Evening of the seventh, celebrating the meeting of the Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair) star constellations. Then, on the ninth day of the ninth month, the Japanese take a break from the trend only to celebrate twice as crazily on the eleventh of the eleventh.

Some of the many Pocky flavors.

This day, also known as St. Martin's Day in some European countries, is celebrated as Pocky Day in Japan. Pocky, which has nothing to do with Русский as one might be easily led to think, is a Japanese snack food consisting of a coated stick-shaped biscuit. The coating typically consists of chocolate, but there are flavors as varied as strawberry, green tea, honey, lemon mousse, banana, milk, coconut, royal milk tea, melon, pumpkin, tangerine, sweet azuki bean, apple yogurt, Brazilian pudding, you name it. There are also themed Pocky sticks, like the Winter Pocky coated with an especially thick layer of deliciously sweet chocolate and cocoa powder. For some reason, Pocky is one of the most popular snacks in Japan and is sold virtually everywhere. And on Pocky Day, everyone buys Pocky. In fact, basically every one of my Japanese friends I met on 11/11 bought a pack of this snack.  But why is there a Pocky day, and why on Nov 11 and not on, say, June 24th? Well, because, as I was taught by my Japanese friends, 11/11 can be imagined as four Pocky sticks arranged next to each other! Yes, like this: ||||. And why is there a Pocky Day, and why is it so popular? While I don't know the answer to that, I do have a solid theory. First, Japanese love Pocky, and on Pocky day they have a “legitimate” excuse to buy it. Second, Japanese people are a very obeying nation and when there is a nationally approved tradition, they take part in it, even if they don't like it. Third, as I wrote above, Japanese love odd-numbered days and months. Therefore, by choosing 11/11, I’d say that Glico, the company which makes the snack, picked just the right day to be the Pocky day.

Pocky Winter Edition.

Finally, I will give you a quick summary of the more interesting things I did in the past two weeks. On Sunday Nov 7, me and three other members of Doshisha’s Hiking Club climbed Mt. Ibuki (1377m), the highest mountain of Shiga prefecture. We got up while it was still dark, at 5AM, in order to reach the base of the mountain by 9. The weather was beautiful and the temperatures on top of the mountain climbed as high as 15°C, which, considering the time of the year, was awesome yet unusual. The weekend before that I went with Masa and two other friends to see a musical at the Kyoto University of Arts. The musical was part of a school festival which happens every year. There were students selling all kinds of food and drinks for folk prices, and though it was rainy, everyone seemed to be having a good time. We drank some Atsukan, or hot Sake, which was probably not a good idea as it made me sleep through the first half of the musical. The musical itself was a Japanese interpretation of Kiss me Kate, a 1950s American musical. As even the most famous songs were translated into Japanese, I didn’t understand too much, but I still was enjoying myself in the times when I was awake. To conclude the day, we went to eat dinner at Bikkuri Donkii, a fast food restaurant. Bikkuri Donkii is a chain, and each of its buildings looks like it is going to fall the second you open the door. I guess that’s the Japanese interpretation of the word rustic. Bikkuri Donkii means Surprised Donkey in English, and so we couldn’t but get their featured Surprised Donkey Burger and Surprised Donkey Fries. I hope that the only donkey they contained was in their name. Should we maybe rename the Colby Spa to Surprised Mule?

Susuki, a Japanese grass which blooms in the fall, on the slopes of Mt. Ibuki. 

That’s it for today, thank you for visiting!

Looking up Mt. Ibuki. The vending machine is there to remind us that we are still in Japan.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Wednesday Nov 3 was a national holiday in Japan, called Bunka no Hi, or Culture Day. As to why it is a national holiday, I know only that on Nov 3, 1946, the new Japanese constitution, drafted by the then occupying Americans, was announced. So as not to waste this great opportunity to escape the city, me and Masa, my Japanese friend, woke up early in order to hike up Mt. Kongo (1125m), a mountain located about 100km south of Kyoto. We took the train at 8.30 AM from the Shin-Hōsono station near my house and arrived at the base of the mountain two and a half hours and 1500 Yen later. We wasted no minute and started hiking. As culture day is one of the statistically clearest days of the year (according to Wikipedia), it should not surprise you that the weather was beautiful, with temperatures at 11°C at the base, and 5°C on the top of this holy site for both Shinto as well as the Buddhist religion.

A couple of the "500 Stairs".
We started our hike at Chihaya, a small group of houses and restaurants that are called a town, at about 500m above sea level. From Chihaya, we first climbed up the so called "500 Stairs" (more like 600, Masa did the counting), which led to Chihaya Shrine, the first of the many religious sites on the slopes of this monumental mountain. This small shrine is taken care of by two people, a nice old lady selling Oden (a soup-like food), beer, walking sticks and such in the Shrine's restaurant, and an old man who nicely rakes the sand on the shrine's grounds (to no use as people walk over it over and over). The interesting thing about this Shrine is that it used to be a Temple worshiping a Bodhisattva (a Buddhist deity) until it transformed into a Shinto shrine. 

The Flamin' Sattva. 
When we got to the top, there was, as it tends to be the trend in Japan, a restaurant, a temple, and another shrine. The temple was dedicated to, as I came to call it, the Flaming Bodhisattva, of whom there were many statues and pamphlets (Bodhisattva = a Buddhist deity). There was also a statue of a bull, a small pond, and staircase leading to the temple's main hall. While most of the visitors seemed to understand these religious symbols as yet another Buddhist site, one man in his late thirties was throwing money at one statue after another and chanting Buddhist chants as if singing, clapping his hands, and running around. I guess we all have our passions, don't we? Let's just hope he got what he came for. 

The path leading to the shrine on the top of Mt. Kongo.
The Shrine on the top was quite pretty, with the path decorated by red lanterns all the way up. Masa knows more about it, but other than one thing, I don't think it is worth any special mentioning. 
The Suntory (サントリー) stone pole among other sponsors' poles.
The one thing that is worth mentioning about the shrine is that Suntory (サントリー), one of Japan's four biggest beer makers, acts as one of the sponsors of the shrine. As such, it also gets to erect its own stone pole at the Shrine to honor its donations, one which is appropriately taller than all other poles, probably because Suntory's donation bigger in comparison. More importantly, in honor of Suntory's donations, its Malts Beer is the only beer served on tap in the restaurant on Mt. Kongo. Though I am not an economist, I daresay that the profits from the sales of Malts have probably repaid the investment in form of the donation many times over. Added with the money thrown on statues and such by people like the chanting guy I described above, religion in Japan seems to me like a good business indeed. Of course, Me and Masa also contributed indirectly to this local Shrine by buying ourselves one pint of Suntory's Malts.

Me and Masa on top of Mt. Kongo. The city behind us is Osaka.
The view was, as the bus announcer on the way to the base of the mountain told us, itsumo utsukushii, always beautiful. We could see Osaka in the west, Nara in the East, and the hundred kilometers wide Daikō Mountain Range in the south. While the leafs in Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka are still quite green, those on top of Mt. Kongo were turning into beautiful shades of red, yellow, purple, and orange, making the view ever so pretty. If the temple and the two shrines were not, the view from the top of Mt. Kongo was a truly religious experience indeed.

View from Mt. Kongo, looking to the south-west.