AOYAMA VIEW 22.10.2019


It was a dream that didn’t come true. Expecting third miracle in row was too much: after beating big names Ireland and Scotland as well as Samoa, Brave Blossoms’ impressive attack was clinically suffocated by South Africa’s strong defense. Yet, everybody agree Japan team walks out heads high: finally the world takes notice of it. At home, the team members from many diverse backgrounds have been celebrated in TV like winners and national heroes.


The World Cup tournament continues another two weeks with semifinals and final – one week after each match is needed for players to recover from bruises and aches from the highly physical play. The big question here is whether the new nationwide fever for the game will last and lift the local rugby league closer to baseball and football leagues in popularity? As well, will the success of the national team help get other top national teams to visit Japan more often like in soccer and, consequently, help keep up the newly won popularity?

In short term, there‘s no doubt that the semifinals and the final will continue to enjoy local fans’ support even if their own team is now out. The atmosphere in all matches has been like a carnival with Japanese spectators equally happy to wear garnish outfits of other teams’ colors as their own. In social media, “One Team”, the motto of Brave Blossoms symbolizing their strong team spirit, has been equaled by “No-Side” by fans, who have been equally happy to support other teams.

Making historical finish to top 8, rugby definitely gained at least some new fans in Japan (Japanese
Rugby Team Official Instagram
Like the great rains in western Japan in 2018, also this time the rains caused by the typhoon made many houses inhabitable (Hajime NAKANO [CC BY 2.0 (])

It’s more than one week from No.19, but cleaning up and repair work for the wide damage will continue for long time. Thousands of volunteers and 21,000 army troops have been helping local people, whose homes and towns were got hit. They say it takes 3 days from 10 people to clean up one house and that there’s 56,000 of them damaged or totally destroyed. It’s a gigantic undertaking: the resulting piles of waste around East Japan are said to be bigger than in 2011. Moreover, some 80,000 homes are still without running water and 4600 people huddle in the emergency shelters unable to return home. There’s worry about people’s health, especially old and children: many local hospitals and clinics were flooded, too. Preplanned disaster medical assistance teams (DMAT’s) have been deployed to help in such areas.

The death toll stands at 84 when I am writing this with at least 10 people still missing under the wall of mud. While the scenes most shown in TV were from Nagano where Chikuma river broke its barriers, helicopters lifted people from roof tops and third of Nagano shinkansen line trains stood under water, the rivers broke their walls actually in more than 70 places and the human toll was much worse in Fukushima and Miyagi. In Chiba, heavy rains ruined more of the hundreds of homes that still did not have their roofs fixed wrecked in No.17 two weeks before. In Hakone and Atami, popular onsen resorts close to Tokyo which saw the biggest amount of rain – 1000 mm – roads and rail are wrecked and hotels closed. The damage to business will continue for long time, same as damage to farmers in north.


 In comparison to all damage in countryside, 13 million people of Tokyo came out almost unaffected thanks to well-built infrastructure that include gigantic reservoirs under the city, something like underground St. Peter’s or Notre Dames. Billions of worth concrete has been poured over the years into countryside, too, in river beds, walls and dams to keep control of their flows and it has probably saved thousands of lives and helped prevent billions of worth damage over the years. Yet, it could not prevent flooding and landslides against the massive rains this time.

There are those, who say that more should be done. Yes, full protection could be reached if the whole country would be changed into city-like concrete jungle, rivers into deep concrete ditches, forest ridges into concrete slopes. While the cement industry would be just too happy to do that, the indebted government does not have endless trillions to pay for it. Neither would people accept to live in such ugly, unnatural country without any natural surroundings. With climate change making the rain and wind ever stronger, the task would be never ending.

In contrary, many are asking if not the solution lies rather in more effective early evacuation into safe shelters and putting less trust into computer simulations of typhoon routes, something that makes many people delay escape to the last moment. Nobody easily accepts to leave behind his precious home at nature‘s mercy, yet postponing evacuation to too late was again reason for more than one quarter of the fatalities.

World's largest underground flood water diversion facility at city of Kasukabe, Saitama is also open for visits and tours when not processing flood water (Dddeco at ja.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (])
Representing Finland at the accession ceremony on 21st of October was President Sauli Niinistö.
The day before he had a chance to meet briefly with PM Abe. (Markus Kokko/Suomen Tokion
suurlähetystö) via Tasavallan presidentin kanslia)

As I am finishing this article, I have just watched the “Sokuirei Seiden no Gi” imperial accession ceremony at the Pine Chamber of Imperial Palace. As expected, it was traditional, serene and highly formal, yet colorful to impress many. Moreover, sun came out for awhile from the pouring rain just when the ceremony started. A pleasant symbol for many, I guess. Yet, the parade through the town in open car was cancelled in advance, not because of possible rain, but in consideration of the people who died and lost homes in the typhoon. This evening there’s still the big dinner for 2000 guests of honor.

Just wonder what all the foreign guests, royalties and  political leaders from other countries, thought about being asked to sit and wait for two hours, then watch the proceedings mainly on screen? Must have tested at least some people’s patience and endurance. On the bright side, the weather was warm this time – 30 years ago it was freezing January and the guests were placed in big tents in Shinjuku Gyoen.

Maybe it was after hearing this in advance that the leader of Japan’s closest ally, too well known for his lack of temper control and concentration, chose to stay away. As well, he had satisfied his love of pomp by meeting the new Emperor already earlier and alone. Furthermore, it seems he has pressing issues at home to attend.

Different for Hong Kong’s leader, who figured that what’s going on there would be no obstacle to pop up in Tokyo. As we know, Japan is third biggest financial player there after China mainland and USA. What we don’t know is whether she was invited by Japan Foreign Ministry on her own or as member of Beijing delegation.


Timo Varhama

Tokyo, October 22, 2019