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Shibuya: An Icon of Japanese Modernity
By Michael Penn
27 Sep 2014

Shibuya Station and its surrounding neighbourhoods is undoubtedly one of the most famous areas in Tokyo, known especially as a centre for fashion and youth culture. The crowds traversing Shibuya Crossing, right in front of the train station, is an iconic image of modern Japan, often used to represent the nation’s transformation from the ashes of defeat in 1945 to the economic superpower of the 1980s.

Indeed, you can find all kinds of people here in Shibuya. Equally well known is the statue of the loyal dog Hachiko, who waited in vain for his dead master for many years at this very spot, tugging at the heartstrings of a nation. Nowadays, the area around the statue is Japan’s most appropriate location to await ones friends before going shopping or eating or whatever in Shibuya’s extensive commercial district.

While there are very few parts of Japan that are active 24 hours a day, Shibuya Crossing comes pretty close. As impressive as it is by day, the night view can be even more spectacular. At different seasons and at different times, it is a district of change. Even many of the shops along its streets go out business, face renewal, or introduce the completely original.

Center Gai is at the heart of the shopping district, and is thankfully a pedestrian zone. This a place where people — mostly young people — buy clothes, jewelry, or else go for entertainment or a bite to eat. Here it runs from highbrow to lowbrow… there’s just no telling what you might discover.

Nearby is Supein Zaka, which is supposedly similar in appearance to a traditional Spanish street.

Behind the trendy Shibuya Ichi Maru Kyu shopping complex is a zone that probably could exist in few places other than Japan. This is Love Hotel Hill where couples go for rooms available for two or three hour periods. There is not much of a “rest” happening in these hotel rooms.

Although the word “Shibuya” is most closely associated with the Shibuya Station area and its surrounding commercial district, it is also part of a larger Shibuya City, which is one of the 23 special wards of Tokyo, making up the core of this megacity. Shibuya City has a resident population of over 210,000 people, and its own city government and its own flag. Harajuku, Yoyogi, Ebisu, and Hiroo are neighbourhoods well known in their own right that also belong to Shibuya City. On its northern border, Shibuya City runs right up to Shinjuku Station, meaning that such a major shopping complexes as Takashimaya Times Square is actually part of Shibuya City, not Shinjuku City as one might naturally assume.

But be that as it may, for most visitors to Japan — as for most Japanese themselves — Shibuya is that youthful, ever-changing zone where the crowds spill out at the change of a signal and where the faithful dog Hachiko watches over his waiting friends.

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River Be Dammed: Laos Expands its Hyd...
By David Tacon
04 Apr 2014

Laos is moving full steam ahead with a series of dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries, despite objections from the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam and concerns from environmental groups. Construction is already underway on the Xayaburi Dam, a 810 meter long and 32 meter high Laos-Thai mega dam, which is expected to be completed in 2019. Around 95% of the electricity from the hydropower dam will be exported to Thailand as part of a massive development drive by the communist one-party state to lift the nation of Laos from the ranks of Asia’s poorest countries.

Along with the immediate environmental impacts of such a huge project, hundreds of villagers have been resettled to make way for construction of the Xayaburi Dam. The first group of around 300 people was shifted to Natornatoryai, an arid site around 35km from the river. Despite retraining programs and new homes, those relocated lament that they are unable to earn a living away from the river and that their compensation from the dam authorities was withdrawn after one year instead of their promised three. More than twenty families have already left the site to return to the river.

Further downstream, more than 60 million people in the Lower Mekong Delta depend on the Mekong for food, income and transportation. Cambodia's Tonle Sap, South East Asia's largest freshwater lake is already under threat by overfishing and climate change. A total of eleven large hydropower dams are planned by the governments of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia - while China has already completed five dams on the Mekong’s upper reaches with another three under construction. China is also the driving force behind a cascade of dams on the Nam Ou River, a tributary of the Mekong in northern Laos.

Environmentalists fear that these dams’ impact on fish populations may have a devastating effect on food security and bio-diversity in the region.