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(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Monday rejected LinkedIn’s effort to stop a San Francisco company from using information that users of the professional networking website have deemed public.
The 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals let stand an August 2017 preliminary injunction that required LinkedIn, a Microsoft Corp unit with more than 645 million members, to give hiQ Labs Inc access to publicly available member proﬁles.
The 3-0 decision by the San Francisco appeals court sets back Silicon Valley’s battle against “data scraping,” or extracting information from social media accounts or websites, which critics say can equate to theft or violate users’ privacy.
Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon said hiQ, which makes software to help employers determine whether employees will stay or quit, showed it faced irreparable harm absent an injunction because it might go out of business without access.
She also said giving companies such as LinkedIn “free rein” over who can use public user data risked creating “information monopolies” that harm the public interest.
“LinkedIn has no protected property interest in the data contributed by its users, as the users retain ownership over their proﬁles,” Berzon wrote. “And as to the publicly available proﬁles, the users quite evidently intend them to be accessed by others,” including prospective employers.
In a statement, LinkedIn said it was disappointed with the decision and evaluating its options, and will “ﬁght to protect our members and the information they entrust” to it.
Lawyers for hiQ did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The case was returned to U. S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco, who issued the injunction.
Craigslist, the classiﬁed ad website, had supported LinkedIn’s appeal, warning that the injunction could have a “dangerous impact” by making it easier for “bad actors” to ﬁnd targets for unwanted email, text or phone-based marketing.
Berzon said, however, hiQ had raised serious questions about LinkedIn’s conduct, including whether it could invoke a federal law targeting computer fraud and abuse to block “free riders” from accessing user data.
“Of course, LinkedIn could satisfy its ‘free rider’ concern by eliminating the public access option, albeit at a cost to the preferences of many users and, possibly, to its own bottom line,” she wrote.
Gregory Garre, a former U. S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush representing craigslist, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under President Barack Obama, represented LinkedIn. Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe was one of hiQ’s lawyers.
The case is hiQ Labs Inc v LinkedIn Corp, 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-16783.
Singapore to become ﬁrst country banning ads on sugary drinksChat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what’s happening in the world as it unfolds. What the sugar industry doesn’t want you to knowWhat the sugar industry doesn’t want you to know Singapore is set to become the ﬁrst country in the world to ban ads for unhealthy drinks with high sugar content in what it says is the latest move in its ongoing “war on diabetes.“The ban, which will apply to “the least healthy” sugar-sweetened beverages, will cover all media platforms including print, broadcast and online, said Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State for the city-state’s Ministry of Health. He told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that the decision was made after a “public consultation” in the form of a survey. Soft drinks, juices, yogurt drinks and instant coffee would all be affected by the new regulation, the ministry said in a press release. The ministry also says it will continue to gather consumer and industry feedback in the next few months, before announcing further details on its implementation next year.Advertisements of high sugary products, such as soft drinks, will be banned under the new regulation.In addition to an ad ban, the ministry announced that sugary drinks would also be required to display a color-coded, front-of-pack nutrition label to list nutritional quality and sugar content.Tong said the two measures were only the ﬁrst steps in the city-state’s efforts to combat diabetes. Two other proposals, including the possibility of introducing an excise duty or even an outright ban on high-sugar drinks, are still “on the agenda.“”We intend to study them more carefully,” he added. “We want to ﬁnd measures that are sustainable in the long-term, that shape not just market consumption behavior but also on the supply side to drive reformulation.“High consumption of sugary drinks is associated with obesity and greater risks of developing chronic diseases like diabetes and heart diseases. According to the World Health Organization, people who regularly consume one to two cans of sugary drinks a day are 26% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who rarely drink them. Furthermore, it is estimated that the worldwide prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.A leading international ﬁnancial center, Singapore has been faced with a growing aging population, which has prompted the government to explore ways to reduce its health care burden. The city-state’s obesity rate has been on the rise since the 1990s, and according to the International Diabetes Foundation, close to 1 in 7 adults in its population had diabetes in 2017.High consumption of sugary products has been linked with greater risks of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes.Before announcing the new regulations, the Health Ministry launched a public consultation on reducing the consumption of sugary beverages late last year. Over 70% of its respondents supported setting up advertising regulations to inﬂuence consumer choices.The ministry also urged drinks manufacturers to reformulate their products to provide healthier choices, while retaining the taste.In a statement to CNN, the Singaporean arm of Coca-Cola said it welcomed the new measures to help reduce sugar intake, and said it expected them to have “minimal impact on our portfolio.“”We have been innovating to launch new lower-sugar and no-sugar drinks,” it read. “Because while sugar in moderation is ﬁne, we agree that too much of it is not good for anyone.“CNN has reached out to PepsiCo and to the Singapore Food and Beverage Management Association for comment.
Jump to navigationJump to search It’s just been one security disaster after another for Intel the last few years. Meltdown, Spectre variant after variant and this week the “Microarchitectural Data Sampling” aka Zombieload attack have all required performance-degrading ﬁxes and workarounds. There is no way around turning hyperthreading off to be safe from MDS/Zombieload and this is a rather high performance-price to pay. So what if you don’t want to?
Disabling SMT/HyperThreading to get full protection against MDS/Zombieload on top of the mitigation code for “meltdown”, several “spectre” variants and other security-issues discovered on Intel CPUs is a high price to pay for security on Intel CPUs. The total performance-penalty in many workloads is adding up. Unfortunately there is no safe and secure way around the performance-penalties - so you may want to..
If you’re not into currency trading or high ﬁnance or military contracting or anything of that nature and you’d just like to get maximum performance for your Steam games then adding this is simple switch to your kernel parameters will leave you wide open to all the security risks for maximum excitement and squeeze back every bit of performance you used to get from your Intel CPU:
If you are using a kernel older than 5.1.13 then you should use this rather long one-liner instead:
Add either mitigations=off or that long one-liner to your /etc/sysconﬁg/grub and re-generate grub’s conﬁguration ﬁle with grub2-mkconﬁg (your distributions procedure will vary) and you’re all set. Do note that the latest editions of stable branch kernels (4.14.x, 4.19.x) do have a mitigations= parameter so that alone is enough on kernels newer than 5.1.13 and later versions of stable branch kernels such as 4.19.60+.
Here is what the above kernel command options did in earlier kernels, one by one:
noibrs - We don’t need no restricted indirect branch speculation
noibpb - We don’t need no indirect branch prediction barrier either
nospectre_v1 and nospectre_v2: Don’t care if some program can get data from some other program when it shouldn’t
l1tf=off - Why would we be ﬂushing the L1 cache, we might need that data. So what if anyone can get at it.
nospec_store_bypass_disable - Of course we want to use, not bypass, the stored data
no_stf_barrier - We don’t need no barriers between software, they could be friends
mitigations=off - Of course we don’t want no mitigations
You are (probably) an adult. You can and should wisely decide just how much risk you are willing to take. Do or don’t try this at home. You do not want to try this at work.
Note: The parameters covered by mitigations=off vary by kernel versions. The above switches were applicable prior to kernel 5.1.13 and while they are useful for kernels released prior to the mitigations=off switch they are not current.
You can look at the ﬁle Documentation/admin-guide/kernel-parameters.txt in the kernel source for the kernel you are using to see what parameters are actually available on the kernel you are using.
Intel CPUs are not alone in having some security issues. There are problems with other CPUs too. The mitigations=off can be used on any CPU but what it does, if anything, will depend on what CPU you are using. It can be used to slightly increase performance on Intel, AMD, ARM and even PowerPC architectures.
The security parameters covered by mitigations=off in kernel 5.3.6 are:
nopti [X86,PPC] - Control Page Table Isolation of user and kernel address spaces. Disabling this feature removes hardening, but improves performance of system calls and interrupts.
nobp=0 [S390] - Undocumented. Does something on S390 systems, nobody knows what.
nospectre_v1 [X86,PPC] - Disable mitigations for Spectre Variant 1 (bounds check bypass). With this option data leaks are possible in the system.
nospectre_v2 [X86,PPC,S390,ARM64] - Disable all mitigations for the Spectre variant 2 (indirect branch prediction) vulnerability. System may allow data leaks with this option.
l1tf=off [X86] - Control mitigation of the L1TF vulnerability on affected CPUs
The performance gained by disabling workarounds for the mostly Intel CPU security ﬂaws are not all that impressive in all workloads. The reason is that the most performance-hampering measure required to safely use a Intel CPU is to disable SMT (HyperThreading). Doing so crushes performance in a really noticeable way, so much so that the Linux kernel developers decided to leave SMT enabled by default (unlike some *BSD variants who do disable SMT). Newer Linux kernels will by default use mds=full and not the safer mds=full,nosmt parameter which banks and ﬁnancial institutions should be using. There is a different between default performance and performance with mitigations=off but it is nowhere near as large as the difference between mitigations=off and mds=full,nosmt.
As the above charts show: The effect of default parameters vs mitigations=off is measurable but not hugely impressive. The effect of disabling SMT, which is required to safely use Intel CPUs, is really noticeable and very measurable. It is required to be sure Intel CPU bugs can not be exploited but the price is high. Choose wisely.
Intels upcoming i3 CPUs raise the bar for entry-level CPUs to four cores and four threadsFree Software Enthusiasts are The Worst when it comes to AdBlockingFacebook’s digital currency Libra appears to be falling apart as major players leave before commitment deadlineNew stable kernels: 5.3.6, 4.19.79 and 4.14.149 are now availableFirefox 69.0.3 with nothing new for free software usersGNOME Internet Radio Locator v2.0.8 is now availableGNOME 3.34.1 is now availableThe Free Software Foundation is working to gain a “shared understanding” with the GNU Project
See the more archive for news headlines
Learn to compress and decompress archives with tarLearn how to convert video ﬁles with ffmpegLearn to lists the ports a system is listening onXfce is the best desktopsee a Game’s Frames Per Per Second and other data in an overlaysu into root on Debian and Ubuntu systemsuse the numeric keyboard keys as mouse in XOrg
These days, our web browsers—whether on mobile or desktop—are highly functional and can do all sorts of things that we could only dream of a decade prior.
But despite that, one could argue that the web has actually gotten less creative over time, not more. This interpretation of events is a key underpinning of Web Design: The Evolution of the Digital World 1990-Today (Taschen, $50), a new visual-heavy book from author Rob Ford and editor Julius Wiedemann that does something that hasn’t been done on the broader internet in quite a long time: It praises the use of Flash as a creative tool, rather than a bloated malware vessel, and laments the ways that visual convention, technical shifts, and walled gardens have started to rein in much of this unvarnished creativity.
This is a realm where small agencies supporting big brands, creative experimenters with nothing to lose, and teenage hobbyists could stand out simply by being willing to try something risky. It was a canvas with a built-in distribution model. What wasn’t to like, besides a whole host of malware?
The 640-page book, full of pictures of interactive websites from prior eras, beneﬁts from taking a wide view of the visual culture of the past: Starting at the embryonic stages of the World Wide Web, it follows the art of web design through periods of extreme experimentation on the way to the convention-driven scaffolding we have today. The book makes a compelling case through its general structure that the sweet spot of creative web design came during the late 1990s through the mid-2000s—periods in which major brands were willing to invest a whole lot of money in a website intended for show, not just tell.
Ford, who is known for running the long-running Favourite Web Awards (FWA), is very much in the “show” category. In an email interview, Ford listed off a dizzying array of iconic websites, pages that once wowed the broader internet and helped uncover key design mechanisms—for example, Ford says 1998’s EYE4U, an early inﬂuence on many Flash developers, “showed us responsive design 15 years before the term was coined,” while sites like 2002’s Who’s We Studios and 2003’s tokyoplastic brought personality to the equation.
There was a lot of it because of the artistic inﬂuences these creators brought forth. “It’s worth noting how many super-creative talents have a ’background‘ in rave and club culture, whether that be as punters or promoters,” Ford said.
These sites, reliant on animation and Flash’s underlying ActionScript language, were the kind that excited creatives, ready to embrace an artistic medium, but frustrated usability experts, who would rail against the way the sites ﬂouted basic convention.
If any one website sort of hits these two tensions perfectly, it’s Subservient Chicken, the popular Burger King-produced web interactive which hits right in the middle of the nearly three-decade period covered in this book. At the time of its creation, it was widely discussed and dissected by advertisers who realized that its combination of visuals and ELIZA-style text commands represented something new. Given the move towards chatbots and memetic videos in the years since, it feels downright predictive.
“Subservient Chicken gave us something we hadn’t experienced before, that was real time (even though it actually wasn’t real time, it faked it very well) interaction but, more importantly, an emotional ‘live’ personal experience,” Ford notes, adding that it also predicted voice assistants that work in similar ways.
But the aggressive creativity offered by Flash eventually would prove impossible to bring to the mobile era in quite the same way, as portability and improved HTML rendering capabilities made it obsolete. Around the time of Steve Jobs’ famous open letter to Adobe, Ford noted that many of the Flash era’s creators “completely moved away from the web and used their talents elsewhere.” There were still some notable HTML5-based creations during this period—including the Arcade Fire’s Google Chrome “experiment” “The Wilderness Downtown,” which Ford calls “the biggest, most inﬂuential website in over a decade.” But the social era—particularly Facebook Pages—proved “a ﬁnal nail in the cofﬁn for web design,” he noted.
But all those wild ideas had to go somewhere, and many of them didn’t appear in the App Store. Ford says that while the modern web has largely eschewed the creative risks of the Flash era, it can be found in physical mediums and augmented reality, places where many of the creative explosions that web tools like Flash and HTML5 initially allowed can be furthered and built upon—with many of the same creators behind the initial rise responsible for much of the modern excitement.
“The progressive interaction and visual creativity is happening outside of the web browser now,” he explained. “The rise in interactive installations, AR, and experiential in general is where the excitement of the early days is ﬁnally happening again.”
This book, which hits next month, comes just at a time when Flash—a tool ﬁrst developed by FutureWave, then improved upon by Macromedia and exploited on a mass scale by Adobe—is about to meet its maker, and the internet has moved past it for perfectly sensible reasons. (Seriously, Flash is hacked all to hell and you probably should avoid it in most circumstances.)
While a book may be static rather than interactive, this feels like a ﬁtting coda for a kind of digital creativity that—like Geocities and MySpace pages, multimedia CD-ROMs, and Prodigy graphical interfaces before it—has faded in prominence. But when it was there, we needed it, because of all the creative folks it inspired.
“Without the rebels we’d still be looking at static websites with gray text and blue hyperlinks,” Ford said.
Scientists have measured big increases in the amount of methane, the powerful global warming gas, entering the atmosphere over the last decade. Cows or wetlands have been ﬁngered as possible sources, but new research points to methane emissions from fossil fuel production—mainly from shale gas operations in the United States and Canada—as the culprit.
The “massive” increase in methane emissions occurred at the same time as the use of fracking for shale gas took off in the U. S., says Robert Howarth, an ecologist at Cornell University and author of the study published Aug 14 in the journal Biogeosciences.
“We know the increase is largely due to fossil fuel production and this research suggests over half is from shale gas operations,” Howarth says in an interview.
This big methane increase matters because methane heats up the climate over 80 times more than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide (CO) in the ﬁrst 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. After 20 years most of the methane becomes CO, which can last for hundreds of years.
Methane released from shale gas production has a slightly different chemical ﬁngerprint compared to methane from cow burps (not farts as commonly believed) and wetlands. Previous studies show that shale gas generally has less carbon-13 relative to carbon-12 (denoting the weight of the carbon atom at the center of the methane molecule) than does methane from conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels such as coal, Howarth said.
The study took previous data on the chemical composition of methane in the atmosphere and applied a series of equations to parse out how much of this lighter form of methane could be attributed to shale gas. That lighter form of methane released during fracking is a substantial component of the overall methane rise since 2008.
However, he acknowledges that the chemical ﬁngerprint of shale gas can vary depending on the locale and how the chemical analysis is done. While the study isn’t a “smoking gun,” it has found a link between recent increases in methane in the atmosphere and shale gas production.
“It’s fuzzy, but the ﬁngerprint is there,” Howarth says.
Natural gas is mainly methane. Fracking involves drilling an oil or gas well vertically and then horizontally into a shale formation. A mixture of highly pressurized water, chemicals, and sand is injected to create and prop open ﬁssures, or pathways for the gas to ﬂow. Nearly all of the world’s fracking operations are in the U.S. and Canada. About two-thirds of all new gas production globally over the last decade has been shale gas produced in the U.S. and Canada using fracking, Howarth’s study found.
The amount of methane added to the atmosphere in the past decade also corresponds to studies that show fracking operations leak, vent, or ﬂare between 2 and 6 percent of the gas produced, Howarth said.
The climate is certainly changing. But what is causing this change? And how does the rising temperature affect the environment, and our lives?
A 2015 study estimated that North Texas’ Barnett Shale region leaked 544,000 tons of methane a year using a conservative leakage rate of 1.5 percent. That’s equivalent to 46 million tons of CO2, more than some states such as Nevada or Connecticut.
A 2015 study led by John Worden of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that methane levels were unchanged for years, but increased sharply after 2006, growing by 25 million tons a year. Using satellites and other measures they concluded that fossil fuels were responsible for between 12 and 19 million tons of this additional methane and the rest was likely biological sources.
The Howarth study adds another piece to the extremely complicated methane puzzle, Worden said in an email, declining to elaborate.
It’s unlikely that the sharp rise in global methane levels at the same time as shale oil and gas operations increased dramatically is just coincidence, said Anthony Ingraffea, a Professor of Engineering at Cornell University and a colleague of Howarth’s. The paper suggests shale gas’s chemical ﬁngerprint offers evidence of a direct link, said Ingraffea, who reviewed an early version of the paper.
“Isotopic analysis of gas samples at wellheads across a number of fracking operations could easily prove or disprove Howarth’s hypothesis,” he says. “If Howarth is right then we know shale gas operations are making global warming worse, and upending efforts to stay well below 2C.”
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, every country in the world agreed to keep global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), while low-lying island states and others lobbied for 1.5 Celsius.
Although often forgotten in climate discussions, methane increases have added to the current warming and will continue to do so without action to cap them.
“The atmosphere responds quickly to changes in methane emissions. Reducing methane now can provide an instant way to slow global warming,” Ingraffea says.
Ingraffea’s own research has found that a small percentage of wells are responsible for the bulk of methane emissions either through leaks or deliberate venting. Retroﬁts and capturing the gas instead of venting could dramatically reduce emissions but would add to costs.
The Trump administration is trying to ramp up shale production by reversing rules for fracking operations on public lands. Those rules required companies to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, as well as more stringent standards on the construction of fracking wells and wastewater management. In addition, the Trump administration is auctioning off millions of acres of drilling rights to oil and gas developers.
Environmental and health concerns have led France and Germany to ban fracking. New York State, Maryland, and Vermont also have bans. A 2018 study in Pennsylvania found that children born within a mile or two of a fracked well were likely to be smaller and less healthy.
In Arkansas researchers found water levels in 51 percent of its streams dangerously depleted due to water withdrawals for fracking operations. Fracking and the deep-well injection of its waste waters have been widely linked to earthquakes.
love ﬁles. I love renaming them, moving them, sorting them, changing how they’re displayed in a folder, backing them up, uploading them to the internet, restoring them, copying them, and hey, even defragging them. As a metaphor for a way of storing a piece of information, I think they’re great. I like the ﬁle as a…
The students sit with their satchels on their desks, eager to get home after another long day of seven 50-minute classes. They listen patiently as their teacher makes a few announcements about tomorrow’s timetable. Then, as every day, the teacher’s ﬁnal words: “OK everybody, today’s cleaning roster. Lines one and two will clean the classroom. Lines three and four, the corridor and stairs. And line ﬁve will clean the toilets.”
A few groans arise from line ﬁve, but the children stand up, grab the mops, cloths and buckets from the broom cupboard at the back of the classroom, and trot off to the toilets. Similar scenes are happening at schools across the country.
Most ﬁrst-time visitors to Japan are struck by how clean the country is. Then they notice the absence of litter bins. And street sweepers. So they’re left with the question: how does Japan stay so clean?
View image of Most ﬁrst-time visitors to Japan are struck by how clean the country is (Credit: Credit: Ian Dagnall/Alamy)
The easy answer is that residents themselves keep it that way. “For 12 years of school life, from elementary school to high school, cleaning time is part of students’ daily schedule,” said Maiko Awane, assistant director of Hiroshima Prefectural Government’s Tokyo ofﬁce. “In our home life as well, parents teach us that it’s bad for us not to keep our things and our space clean.”
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Including this element of social consciousness in the school curriculum helps the children develop an awareness of, and pride in, their surroundings. Who wants to dirty or deface a school that they have to clean up themselves?
“I sometimes didn’t want to clean the school,” recalled freelance translator Chika Hayashi, “but I accepted it because it was part of our routine. I think having to clean the school is a very good thing because we learn that it’s important for us to take responsibility for cleaning the things and places that we use.”
On arriving at school, students leave their shoes in lockers and change into trainers. At home, too, people leave their street shoes at the entrance. Even workmen coming to your house will remove their shoes and pad around in their socks. And as the schoolchildren grow, their concept of what constitutes their space extends beyond the classroom to include their neighbourhood, their city and their country.
View image of At Japanese schools, cleaning is part of students’ everyday routine (Credit: Credit: Chris Willson/Alamy)
Some examples of extreme Japanese cleanliness have gone viral, like the seven-minute Shinkansen train-cleaning ritual that has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
Even Japan’s football supporters are cleanliness-conscious. In World Cup football tournaments in Brazil (2014) and Russia (2018), the national team’s fans amazed the world by staying behind to pick up rubbish from the stadium. The players also left their dressing room in immaculate condition. “What an example for all teams!” tweeted FIFA’s general coordinator Priscilla Janssens.
“We Japanese are very sensitive about our reputation in others’ eyes,” Awane said. “We don’t want others to think we are bad people who don’t have enough education or upbringing to clean things up.”
Similar scenes unfold at Japanese music festivals. At the Fuji Rock festival, Japan’s biggest and oldest festival, fans keep their rubbish with them until they ﬁnd a bin. Smokers are instructed to bring a portable ashtray and to ‘refrain from smoking where your smoke can affect other people’, according to the festival website. How different to 1969’s Woodstock festival, where Jimi Hendrix played to a handful of people amid a vast morass of trash.
We don’t want others to think we are bad people who don’t have enough education or upbringing to clean things up
Examples of social awareness abound in daily life too. Around 08:00, for instance, ofﬁce workers and shop staff clean the streets around their place of work. Children volunteer for the monthly community clean, picking up rubbish from the streets near their school. Neighbourhoods, too, hold regular street-cleaning events. Not that there’s much to clean, because people take their litter home.
Even banknotes emerge from ATM’s as crisp and clean as a freshly starched shirt. Nevertheless, money gets dirty, which is why you never put it directly into someone’s hand. In shops, hotels and even in taxis, you’ll see a little tray to place the money. The other person then picks it up.
Invisible dirt — germs and bacteria — are another source of concern. When people catch colds or ﬂu, they wear surgical masks to avoid infecting other people. This simple act of consideration for others reduces the spread of viruses, thereby saving a fortune in lost work days and medical expenses.
View image of From a young age, the Japanese develop an awareness of, and pride in, their surroundings (Credit: Credit: Angeles Marin Cabello)
So how did the Japanese become so clean-conscious?
It certainly isn’t a new thing, as mariner Will Adams found when he anchored here in 1600, thus becoming the ﬁrst Englishman to set foot in Japan. In his biography of Adams, Samurai William, Giles Milton notes ‘the nobility were scrupulously clean’, enjoying ‘pristine sewers and latrines’ and steam baths of scented wood at a time when the streets of England ‘often overﬂowed with excrement’. The Japanese ‘were appalled’ by the Europeans’ disregard for personal cleanliness.
In part, this preoccupation is born of practical concerns. In a hot, humid environment like Japan’s, food goes off quickly. Bacteria ﬂourish. Bug life abounds. So good hygiene means good health.
View image of Cleanliness is a central part of Buddhism (Credit: Credit: Angeles Marin Cabello)
But it goes deeper than that. Cleanliness is a central part of Buddhism, which arrived from China and Korea between the 6th and 8th Centuries. In fact, in the Zen version of Buddhism, which came to Japan from China in the 12th and 13th Centuries, daily tasks like cleaning and cooking are considered spiritual exercises, no different from meditating.
“In Zen, all daily life activities, including having meals and cleaning the space, must be regarded as an opportunity to practice Buddhism. Washing off the dirt both physically and spiritually plays an important role in the daily practice,” said Eriko Kuwagaki of Shinshoji Temple in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture.
Washing off the dirt both physically and spiritually plays an important role in the daily practice
In Okakura Kakuro’s The Book of Tea, his classic book about the tea ceremony and the Zen philosophy that infuses it, he writes that, in the room where the tea ceremony is held “…everything is absolutely clean. Not a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner, for if any exists the host is not a tea master.”
Okakura wrote those words in 1906, but they still hold true today. Prior to a tea ceremony at the Seifukan tea house in Hiroshima’s Shukkeien Garden, you’ll see the tea master’s kimono-clad assistant on her hands and knees dabbing the tatami ﬂoor with a roll of sticky brown-paper tape, picking up every speck of dust.
View image of In Zen Buddhism, daily tasks like cleaning and cooking are considered spiritual exercises (Credit: Credit: Photo Japan/Alamy)
So why aren’t all Buddhist nations as zealously clean as Japan? Well, long before the arrival of Buddhism, Japan already had its own indigenous religion: Shinto (meaning ‘The Way of The Gods’), said to enshrine the very soul of the Japanese identity. And cleanliness lies at the heart of Shinto. In the West, we are taught that cleanliness is next to godliness. In Shinto, cleanliness is godliness. So Buddhism’s emphasis on cleanliness merely reinforced what the Japanese already practiced.
A key concept in Shinto is kegare (impurity or dirt), the opposite of purity. Examples of kegare range from death and disease to virtually anything unpleasant. Frequent puriﬁcation rituals are necessary to ward off kegare.
“If an individual is afﬂicted by kegare, it can bring harm to society as a whole,” explained Noriaki Ikeda, assistant Shinto priest at Hiroshima’s Kanda Shrine. “So it is vital to practice cleanliness. This puriﬁes you and helps avoid bringing calamities to society. That is why Japan is a very clean country.”
View image of Before entering a Shinto shrine, worshippers rinse their hands and mouth in a stone water basin at the entrance (Credit: Credit: Angeles Marin Cabello)
This concern for others is understandable in the case of, say, infectious diseases. But it also works on more prosaic levels, like picking up your own rubbish. As Awane put it: “We Japanese believe we shouldn’t bother others by being lazy and neglecting the trash we’ve made.”
Examples of ritual puriﬁcation abound in everyday life. Before entering a Shinto shrine, worshippers rinse their hands and mouth in a stone water basin at the entrance. Many Japanese take their new car to the shrine to be puriﬁed by the priest, who uses a feather duster-like wand called onusa that he waves around the car. He then opens the doors, bonnet and boot to purify the interior. The priest also puriﬁes people by waving the onusa from side to side over them. He will even use it to purify land on which new building is about to commence.
If you live in Japan, you soon ﬁnd yourself adopting the clean lifestyle. You stop blowing your nose in public, make use of the hand sanitizers provided for customers in shops and ofﬁces, and learn to sort your household rubbish into 10 different types to facilitate recycling.
View image of Many Japanese take their new car to a Shinto shrine to be puriﬁed by the priest (Credit: Credit: Angeles Marin Cabello)
And, like Will Adams and his castaway crew back in 1600, you ﬁnd your quality of life improves.
Then, when you return to your homeland, you’re shocked by barbarians who sneeze and cough in your face. Or stomp into your house in dirty shoes. Unthinkable in Japan.
But there’s still hope. After all, it also took a while for Pokémon, sushi and camera phones to sweep the world.
Why We Are What We Are is a BBC Travel series examining the characteristics of a country and investigating whether they are true.
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