Posted in Life & Happiness


There is a type of Japanese pottery art called kintsugi (きんつぎ), which translates to “golden joinery”. Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery by filling the cracks with lacquer (treated tree sap commonly used to decorate pottery) that has been dusted with gold or silver powder. This gives the pottery a distinct look as the pattern of cracks are always random and unique.

Kintsugi is not only an art, but a philosophy. When something is broken, the common practice is to repair it in a way to hide the fact that it was ever damaged. Kintsugi takes the opposite approach by directly incorporating the break into the identity of the pottery.

It follows the Buddhist principle of impermanence and imperfection – understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. Instead of hiding the damage or throwing the pieces out altogether, kintsugi can produce something greater out of the pieces than its original form.

Nothing is constant in life. We are not perfect and cannot remain unflawed. Life constantly knocks us down, leaving us with scars. But when you get back up, you have two choices: to pretend you were never hurt and hide the pieces away, or to embrace that you are flawed but choose to show to the world how you mended yourself to become even more beautiful.

The lesson here is that it is okay to be imperfect or broken. What matters is what you can do with the pieces.

1 + 1 = 3

Posted in Science & Nature

Giant Monster

A gigantic dinosaur monster of 50m height and 20000t weight appears in the centre of Tokyo! The invasion of giant spiders! These are common scenarios in science fiction films. Mankind has always been fascinated by giant creatures. Whether it be a child or an adult, no one passes by the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex without being awestruck. Thus, it is very easy to use such creatures in movies. But the key point of every monster movie is the “stats”. A height taller than a high-rise building and a weight nearing one of a battleship excites people before the movie even starts. The problem is that this is very unscientific (considering it is a “science fiction”).

Let us look at the dinosaur monster first. The moment the monster steps on to land, it will be crushed like tofu. Every structure in its body will collapse and the skeleton will give way, causing 20000t of meat to crash to the ground. Simply put, the monster is just too heavy. Let us hypothesise that the monster is the shape of a gigantic T-rex. Tyrannosaurus rex was 15m tall and weighed 7t. If a 15m dinosaur is stretched to the height of 50m, the height becomes 3.3 times the original. But as the width and depth need to be expanded by 3.3 times as well, the weight becomes 37 times the original. The question is whether the monster can support its own weight. Just as the volume increased by a factor of 37, the cross-sectional area of every part of the body increases by a factor of 3.3 x 3.3 = 11. As muscle strength is directly proportional to the cross-sectional area, the strength only increases by 11 times. Thus, the load on a creature’s body is the same as the factor of expansion (e.g. there is 3.3 times the load on the monster’s muscles). But this is only when the T-rex was simply stretched. According to the stats, the monster weighs 20000t – 2800 times the weight of a T-rex. To support 2800 times the weight with 11 times the muscle, the load on the bones and muscle is 250 times. This is equivalent to having 249 people the same weight as you on your back. Of course, the monster cannot support this and its bones will become crushed and its internal organs will all burst, causing instant death.

Similarly, a giant insect monster also receives the same load as its expansion. But unlike an animal, insects have an exoskeleton instead of a skeletal system. This structure cannot support the load caused by the expansion (also, if you stretch an ant that is not even 1cm to just 10m, the load becomes over a thousand times). Ergo, the monster will collapse instantly. A giant monster is an unscientific creature that can only exist in our imagination.

Posted in Philosophy


A long time ago in ancient China, there was a merchant who sold weapons. He would pick up a spear and advertise it as a spear that can pierce any shield. Then, he would pick up a shield and proclaim that it can block any spear. A wise man who was walking past the merchant questioned: “So what would happen if you took your ultimate spear and threw it at your ultimate shield?” The merchant could not answer.

That is why the word for contradiction, or something that does not make logical sense and cannot co-exist, in Korean, Chinese and Japanese is 모순(矛盾), meaning “spear and shield”.

Posted in History & Literature


If one was, for some twisted and malicious reason, wished to systematically destroy a culture, what would the first step be? Genocide? Brainwashing? The answer is destroying the native language.

Language is the skeleton that supports the culture of the people. It is an integral part of every culture that allows for effective communication of ideas and thoughts. Each language is tailor-made for a certain culture and best exhibits the culture’s character and ways. Language is one of the greatest inventions of mankind as it allowed for the preservation of thought. If you do not record thought into words, it may be distorted, warped or worse – be forgotten. Using words, one can pass on knowledge to others, even in the future. This is essentially what culture is: a collection of ideas and knowledge that we inherit from our predecessors.

As these thoughts were recorded in one language, there is bound to be some distortion during translation. We can often see examples of barriers in communication due to the inability to properly translate a word from one language to another. If you cannot describe an idea with words, it is extremely difficult to preserve the idea. Ergo, by destroying the language of the people and enforcing your own on them, you can mutilate or eradicate their culture over time. Of course, since language is a major part of the endemic culture, you have gotten off to a great start already. When the people lose their language, they become susceptible to being assimilated into another culture. Slowly, they talk and think like the oppressors until they lose all identity of their roots.

During the early 20th century when Imperial Japan was invading neighbouring countries, they used the exact same method to try and eliminate other cultures. They outlawed the native language and enforced the use of Japanese. To protect their cultural identity, Koreans (and other countries invaded by Japan) had to teach children in underground schools at the risk of torture or death. The preservation of the Korean language allowed the people to unite with strong patriotism, fuelling the resistance against the oppressors. Without the dedication of the people, who knows how much precious cultural heritage would have been lost forever.

When the people lose their language, they lose their voice. When people lose their voice, they lose their identity. When they lose their identity, they lose the fight.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Werther Effect

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people in the developed world. Every year, approximately one million people take their own lives – far greater than the number of people dying from liver disease, Parkinson’s or even homicide. Despite being one of the most preventable causes of death, suicide still plagues society.
Among the many factors contributing to suicide attempts (mental disorder being the major one), one of the more interesting one is mass media. The effect of mass media on suicide rates can be traced back as far as 1774.

In 1774, Goethe wrote a novel called The Sorrows of Young Werther, where the hero shoots himself after an ill-fated love affair. Shortly after publication, there were many reports of young men who used the same method as Werther to commit suicide. There were even reports of people dressing up like Werther (yellow pants and blue jacket) or leaving the book open to the passage detailing his death next to themselves. After this event, the book was temporarily banned to stop the “epidemic”. Since then, the phenomenon of copycat suicides has been called the Werther effect.

The human brain is trained to think about the information it receives. This applies to suicide as well and people with mental disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder are more prone to suicidal thoughts after hearing stories about it. This effect is amplified by the media tending to glorify or beautify such deaths (as the subject tends to be a celebrity or a fictional character), causing some people to subconsciously believe that suicide is acceptable. In essence, the Werther effect is a form of peer pressure where cognitive dissonance lead people to act irrationally because others in society appear to be doing the same thing.

The Werther effect is surprisingly effective in predicting an increase in suicide attempts after the publication of news regarding suicide. On April 8, 1986, a Japanese singer called Yukko Okada, only 18 at the time, committed suicide by jumping off the seventh floor of her recording studio. Her popularity meant the media were over the story like hungry wolves, reporting the tragic death in every form possible. Within two weeks, 33 young people (including one nine-year old) killed themselves – 21 by jumping from buildings. This episode was dubbed Yukko Syndrome and is one of the most famous cases of the Werther effect in modern society.

Just like in the original case of the Werther effect, the suicide could be fictional and still cause an increase in suicide rates. There was a German television show called Death of a Student that depicted a railway suicide of a young man at the start of every episode. After it began airing, railway suicides by teenage males increased by 175% in Germany. Curiously, there was no increase or decrease in suicide rates via other methods, suggesting that the Werther effect not only affects the choice of method, but also induces suicidal thoughts in those who did not plan on killing themselves.

In 1987, a campaign in Vienna to inform reporters about the Werther effect and the role of the media in suicides led to a dramatic drop in reporting suicides. This was followed by an 80% drop in subway suicide and non-fatal attempts, along with a decrease in the total number of suicides.

The Werther effect is a fine example of how words can kill.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


The word cute is used in many different contexts: a girl saying a guy is “cute” could mean that she finds him attractive, while a guy saying a girl is “cute” may imply that they find them lovable but not in an attractive way. But essentially, cuteness can be described using the concept of neoteny.

What is neoteny? This is a concept in evolution where adults of a species preserve traits of youth. The end result is a mature organism that appears to be immature. A good example of this is the axolotl, which preserves its juvenile aquatic form (e.g. gills and overall look) in adulthood, even when they are living amphibiously. 
It has been hypothesised that human beings originate from neotenised chimpanzees, as a baby chimp has striking resemblance to a human. 

Cuteness and neoteny have an extremely intricate relationship. It is common knowledge that the most powerful attractors of care from an adult is cuteness. Almost every infant organisms have “cute” appearances that make people instantly feel warm and fuzzy. Ergo, being cute (i.e. neoteny) is a survival advantage as the young are cared for more until they are mature. This simple concept has led to the lengthening of childhood in humans, as children require a long time under the care of adults while they absorb knowledge and learn how to function in society. This also solved the problem of babies being born with immature brains (as the head is already too large to fit through the birth canal) and still having a chance at survival.

It has been scientifically proven that people with cuter faces are seen in a more positive light, more likely to be hired and less likely to provoke aggression in violent people (the human brain is wired to inhibit aggressiveness when faced with cuteness, presumably an effort to reduce child abuse and improve survival). In short, cuteness invokes maternal or paternal love and causes a sudden want to protect the cute thing.

This leads to another advantage of cuteness: attractiveness. Although beauty and cuteness are almost diametrically opposed, many men (and women) find “cuteness” to be appealing in the opposite sex. This is likely related to the brain confusing parental love with romantic love. A youthful look is also associated with fertility, which greatly influences a man’s subconscious choice of a partner. However, it is also true that because of this effect a man may see a cute girl only as a “little sister” figure they need to protect, rather than a potential love interest.

So what makes for a cute person? As stated above, these are traits of neoteny, or in other words:

  • large eyes
  • small nose 
  • small jaw and teeth 
  • flattened and rounded face 
  • large brain/forehead (causing the eyes/nose/mouth to be lower on the face)
  • hairless face and body 
  • limbs shorter than torso length 
  • legs longer than arms
  • upright posture

These characteristics are commonly used in animations and cartoons to boost the audience’s affection towards the character. This is especially the case in Japan where the a cultural obsession with cuteness is clearly evident.

Posted in History & Literature


There is an interesting story regarding the history of Japanese surnames – known to be the most numerous in the world as there are over 100,000 surnames in Japan.
It is said that in the late Sengoku period (16th~17th century), a period filled with civil wars, there were so many soldiers who had died that there was a shortage of men. To remedy this, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (who unified the clans in Japan) issued a ruling to all women, stating they must wear a blanket-like cloth on their back and to wear no underwear. If they met a man, they were obligated to have intercourse with them in the hopes of conception. This is the origin of the kimono – a garment that can easily be undone and be used as a blanket outside when required (although now the use is different), and the reason why underwear is not worn with kimono traditionally.

This meant that any surviving males had the luck of having any women they pleased. This resulted in the women not knowing who the father of the baby was and thus they named their babies according to where they were conceived. Out of all Japanese surnames, 80% refer to something geographical: 山本 (yamamoto) – at the mountain, 木下(kinoshita) – under a tree, 竹田 (takeda) – at the bamboo field, 山野(yamano) – mountain plain, 川邊 (kawabe) – next to a stream… and the list goes on.

With their surnames being so ranged and “meaningless”, culturally Japan is not very attached to their own surnames. Contrary to this, the neighbouring countries, Korea and China, place great importance in surnames as it shows the roots of the people. For example, in Korea all families have a book called jokbo where the entire family lineage for the surname can be traced back to the root. Every family member’s name and birth date is recorded along with the generation they are in.
Because of this, the Japanese were perplexed after their invasion why the people were so against changing their names to Japanese. What they did not understand was the pride people have in their names and their cultural heritage, as the same pride is not found in Japan.

Posted in History & Literature


Dokdo is a small island in the East Sea off the coast of Korea, lying at 131°52´East longitude and about 37°14´North latitude. It literally means “solitary island” in Korean due to its rocky, isolated nature. The island is actually in two parts: West Island and East Island, which are connected by an underground rock formation. 
The island has been Korean territory for two millennia, with records going back as far as the 4th century showing that fishers from Ulleungdo (a much larger island also in the East Sea) documented the existence of the island and fished around the area. The island is also visible from Ulleungdo on a clear day so it would have been easily spotted and recorded.

Despite the incontestable evidence, in the last few decades Japan has been arguing that Dokdo is Japanese territory. The Japanese government denies the current evidence and claims that all evidence is faked. However, the claims made by Japan are extremely obtuse and bearing on childish. There are many reasons they seek control over Dokdo, such as the rich fishing area around it, the abundant hydrocarbon reserve underneath it and also rearing the ugly head of colonialism.

Almost all historical records and maps up to the 19th century clearly indicate the island as “Korean territory”. For example, in Map of Three Adjoining countries by Hayashi Shihei, a Japanese scholar and cartographer, shows the land in the Far east divided in to colours: yellow for Joseon (Korea) and green for Japan. It is one of the earliest complete maps of Japan. Here, the islands east of Korea, including a large island clearly marked “Ulleungdo” and many surrounding small islands, are all marked yellow and labelled “Korean territories”. There are also records of the Shogunate querying the Tottori clan (who controlled the Shimane prefecture at the time) whether Dokdo and Ulleungdo were Japanese islands, to which the Tottori reply “No, those islands have never been under Japanese rule”. Finally, legal documents by the Japanese National Land Registry in 1877 state that Ulleungdo and Dokdo are not under Japanese rule.

Things became complicated in the early 20th century with the Japanese invasion of Korea. Starting from this period, Japanese maps began marking Dokdo (and Korea and Taiwan and all other colonies) as “Japanese territory” after invading each land. But after their defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to return all land that they stole in the war as ordered by the Treaty of San Francisco. This treaty outlined what the new definition for “Japan” would be by drawing their border again. This treaty states that “Japan is defined to include the four main islands of Japan and the approximately 1,000 smaller adjacent islands, including the Tsushima Islands and the Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands north of 30° North Latitude (excluding Kuchinoshima Island); and excluding (a) Utsuryo (Ulleung) Island, Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) and Kuelpart (Jeju) Island…”.
After the Korean War, the UN set a zone called the Korean Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) to mark the areas to be protected by the air force. The KADIZ also includes Dokdo in its boundaries.

There are hundreds of pieces of evidence that support the rightful ownership of Dokdo as Korean land, yet Japan continues to argue in an attempt to bring back its old habits of colonialism. It is sad to think that after the Colonialism times and the Pacific War, where so many innocent people were sacrificed to fill the greed of a corrupt country, Japan has not learnt a single lesson.

In short, the controversy around Dokdo is essentially the same as someone claiming that your finger belongs to them and arguing that you should go to court to prove that you own it. 

Posted in History & Literature


The following is a list, based on 2011 standards (world population 6.9 billion), of the most populous countries in the world:

  1. China (1.3 billion)
  2. India (1.2 billion)
  3. United States of America (311 million)
  4. Indonesia (238 million)
  5. Brazil (191 million)
  6. Pakistan (176 million)
  7. Nigeria (158 million)
  8. Bangladesh (151 million)
  9. Russia (143 million)
  10. Japan (128 million)

Posted in History & Literature


Karaoke are entertainment machines that play music without the vocal track, so that users can sing along to the song (where lyrics are usually put up on a screen also). It is a great addition to any party and is found in almost every city nowadays, especially in Asia.

The word karaoke means “fake orchestra” in Japanese, and this is linked to the story of its inception. A musician/entertainer by the name of Daisuke Inoue was often approached by patrons at cafés he played in, asking him to record his tracks so that they could play it anywhere. That, along with his laziness, led him to devise a machine that played pre-recorded tracks when coins were inserted, thus removing the need for an actual band to be present. This idea became instantly popular, and he loaned karaoke machines to businesses, updating the song database himself so that users did not have to purchase new songs every time they came out. 
He was awarded the prestigious Ig Nobel Peace Prize for inventing the karaoke, “thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other”.