Athletes’ Village Handed Over to Paris Olympics Organizers  

Paris — The organizers of the Paris Olympics took possession of the newly built athletes’ village on Thursday on schedule, reinforcing growing confidence that they will be ready for the Games.

At an inauguration ceremony in northern Paris, chief organizer Tony Estanguet received a symbolic key for the complex in front of VIPs including President Emmanuel Macron.

“It’s a demonstration that we have honored our commitments,” Macron told reporters, who told workers they should be “proud” of delivering the village “on time and in budget.”

Organisers will spend the next four months fitting out the village with more than 300,000 items of furniture and decoration ahead of the first arrivals by athletes from July 18.

The site comprises around 40 different low-rise tower blocks and will include a 24-hour restaurant, an alcohol-free bar and leisure area, as well as training facilities.

The French state has contributed 646 million euros ($700 million) in public money, with the remainder from France’s biggest real estate companies which have developed different areas of the 52-hectare site.

After the Olympics and Paralympics, a third of the 2,800 apartments will be sold off to private homeowners, a third will be used for public housing, and the rest will be for rent including for students.

Each building is different, with stark differences in facade design and color.

“We wanted architectural diversity which is a feature of European towns,” Nicolas Ferrand, head of the games infrastructure group Solideo, told Macron.

Seine-Saint-Denis is the poorest and most crime-ridden area of mainland France and is the focus of public investment for the Games.

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Cricket Tournaments in Indian-Administered Kashmir Boost Local Economy

Srinagar, Indian administered Kashmir — The blanket of snow covering one of the prominent cricket grounds at the Magam neighborhood of Budgam district on the Indian side of Kashmir has melted. The ground is set to host a monthlong local cricket tournament from March 3. Hundreds of youths from various parts of the valley will compete for a $3,000 cash prize.

Cricket, originating in Britain, was historically enjoyed for fitness and leisure. It is the second most popular sport worldwide after soccer with approximately 2 billion fans and is the most commonly played game in the Himalayan region. However, the sport has now become a source of income for thousands of individuals in Kashmir amid rising unemployment.

“Every year hundreds of tournaments are organized by local people without any help from the government. Thousands of people, including players, commentators, broadcasters, umpires, etcetera make a living by being part of these tournaments,” Mushtaq War, a local cricket tournament broadcaster on social media, told VOA. “The match fee varies according to the talent of an individual ranging from $10 to $75 per game,” he added.

According to War, everyone associated with local cricket tournaments makes enough money to support their families.

“Sixty-four teams will be part of the Magam tournament,” War said. “The entire money will be circulated among the people involved in the tournament directly or indirectly,” he added.

Imtiyaz Ahmad Munshi, a member of local cricket organization Cricket Fraternity Dalgate, told VOA that funds to host local tournaments primarily come from tournament fees and sponsorships provided by local businessmen.

“Teams hailing from north, south, and central Kashmir participate in these tournaments after paying the entry fee,” Munshi said. “Local businessmen support organizers by sponsoring these events,” he said, adding that sponsors in return receive benefits such as “tax reductions for promoting sports.”

Munish alleged organizers lack support from the Jammu Kashmir Cricket Association, or JKCA, a registered Society that runs cricket in Jammu and Kashmir, and J&K Sports Council, a government body responsible for the promotion and development of sports in J&K, despite the fact that they are promoting and encouraging youngsters to participate in sports related activities.

Majid Dar, a JKCA Cricket Development official, told VOA that the cricket body of Kashmir only facilitates the events affiliated with BCCI, the governing body of Cricket in India. ‘We cannot provide any kind of facility to anyone. We have a busy schedule and besides all this we provide employment to 150 people in Jammu and Kashmir,” Dar said.

“JKCA is not visible when it comes to organizing local cricket tournaments. Moreover, J&K Sports Council charges a hefty amount from organizers to conduct cricket tournaments,” Munshi said. “We don’t refuse to pay the money but we expect the J&K Sports Council to maintain the fields at least,” he said, adding that at present even a brief drizzle renders the grounds unfit for play for several days due to “water accumulation.”

“Players and organizers have on multiple occasions contributed from their own pockets to maintain the condition of the ground,” Munshi said. “Youth expect the same level of commitment from the government,” he added.

Nuzhat Gull, secretary of the J&K Sports Council, told VOA her office collects fees from organizers of commercial tournaments, clarifying that such events do not fall under the Prime Minister’s Sports Development Scheme. The scheme is designed to enhance sports infrastructure and foster sporting activities throughout India.

“We don’t impose fees for non-commercial sporting events,” Gull told VOA. “However, for commercial cricket tournaments organizers are required to cover expenses and the department doesn’t offer exemptions in such instances,” she said.

Faisal Dar, a young cricketer from the Dalgate neighborhood of Srinagar, expressed disappointment and highlighted the disparity between the efforts of local communities and the government in actively involving youth in sports.

“Government officials often only help those they favor leaving the rest feeling ignored,” Dar said. “We would have been happier if the government built better sports facilities and helped folks like us who rely on local tournaments for a living,” he added. Gull told VOA the criticisms of the council are “all baseless,” and refused further comment.

Dar said they approached authorities many times to install high-intensity artificial light to promote night sports in Kashmir, especially in Srinagar and other major cities and towns.

“Not much has been done regarding the installation of the night lights,” Dar said. “Locals are taking on responsibilities that should be handled by the government yet the government claims credit for everything,” he added.

The people organizing local events, Dar said, have saved the lives of many individuals. He said that many athletes were depressed or were using drugs because of unemployment.

“These organizers let them play cricket again and even helped them find jobs thus allowing them a fresh beginning in life,” he said. “If this is not service to humanity, I wonder what is?” he said, adding Kashmir needs such attempts or else people will suffer a lot “physically as well as mentally.”

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What Might Happen Without a Leap Day? More Than You Think

NEW YORK — Leap year. It’s a delight for the calendar and math nerds among us. So how did it all begin and why?

Have a look at some of the numbers, history and lore behind the (not quite) every four-year phenom that adds a 29th day to February.

By the numbers

The math is mind-boggling in a layperson sort of way and down to fractions of days and minutes. There’s even a leap second occasionally, but there’s no hullabaloo when that happens.

The thing to know is that leap year exists, in large part, to keep the months in sync with annual events, including equinoxes and solstices, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

It’s a correction to counter the fact that Earth’s orbit isn’t precisely 365 days a year. The trip takes about six hours longer than that, NASA says.

Contrary to what some might believe, however, not every four years is a leaper. Adding a leap day every four years would make the calendar longer by more than 44 minutes, according to the National Air & Space Museum.

Later, on a calendar yet to come (we’ll get to it), it was decreed that years divisible by 100 not follow the four-year leap day rule unless they are also divisible by 400, the JPL notes. In the past 500 years, there was no leap day in 1700, 1800 and 1900, but 2000 had one. In the next 500 years, if the practice is followed, there will be no leap day in 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500.

Still with us?

The next leap years are 2028, 2032 and 2036.

What would happen without a leap day?

Eventually, nothing good in terms of when major events fall, when farmers plant and how seasons align with the sun and the moon.

“Without the leap years, after a few hundred years we will have summer in November,” said Younas Khan, a physics instructor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Christmas will be in summer. There will be no snow. There will be no feeling of Christmas.”

Who came up with leap year?

The short answer: It evolved.

Ancient civilizations used the cosmos to plan their lives, and there are calendars dating back to the Bronze Age. They were based on either the phases of the moon or the sun, as various calendars are today. Usually they were “lunisolar,” using both.

Now hop on over to the Roman Empire and Julius Caesar. He was dealing with major seasonal drift on calendars used in his neck of the woods. They dealt badly with drift by adding months. He was also navigating many calendars starting in many ways in the vast Roman Empire.

He introduced his Julian calendar in 46 BCE. It was purely solar and counted a year at 365.25 days, so once every four years an extra day was added. Before that, the Romans counted a year at 355 days, at least for a time.

But still, under Julius, there was drift. There were too many leap years! The solar year isn’t precisely 365.25 days! It’s 365.242 days, said Nick Eakes, an astronomy educator at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Thomas Palaima, a classics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said adding periods of time to a year to reflect variations in the lunar and solar cycles was done by the ancients. The Athenian calendar, he said, was used in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries with 12 lunar months.

That didn’t work for seasonal religious rites. The drift problem led to “intercalating” an extra month periodically to realign with lunar and solar cycles, Palaima said.

The Julian calendar was 0.0078 days (11 minutes and 14 seconds) longer than the tropical year, so errors in timekeeping still gradually accumulated, according to NASA. But stability increased, Palaima said.

The Julian calendar was the model used by the Western world for hundreds of years. Enter Pope Gregory XIII, who calibrated further. His Gregorian calendar took effect in the late 16th century. It remains in use today and, clearly, isn’t perfect or there would be no need for leap year. But it was a big improvement, reducing drift to mere seconds.

Why did he step in? Well, Easter. It was coming later in the year over time, and he fretted that events related to Easter like the Pentecost might bump up against pagan festivals. The pope wanted Easter to remain in the spring.

He eliminated some extra days accumulated on the Julian calendar and tweaked the rules on leap day. It’s Pope Gregory and his advisers who came up with the really gnarly math on when there should or shouldn’t be a leap year.

“If the solar year was a perfect 365.25 then we wouldn’t have to worry about the tricky math involved,” Eakes said.

What’s the deal with leap year and marriage?

Bizarrely, leap day comes with lore about women popping the marriage question to men. It was mostly benign fun, but it came with a bite that reinforced gender roles.

There’s distant European folklore. One story places the idea of women proposing in fifth century Ireland, with St. Bridget appealing to St. Patrick to offer women the chance to ask men to marry them, according to historian Katherine Parkin in a 2012 paper in the Journal of Family History.

Nobody really knows where it all began.

In 1904, syndicated columnist Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, aka Dorothy Dix, summed up the tradition this way: “Of course people will say … that a woman’s leap year prerogative, like most of her liberties, is merely a glittering mockery.”

The pre-Sadie Hawkins tradition, however serious or tongue-in-cheek, could have empowered women but merely perpetuated stereotypes. The proposals were to happen via postcard, but many such cards turned the tables and poked fun at women instead.

Advertising perpetuated the leap year marriage game. A 1916 ad by the American Industrial Bank and Trust Co. read thusly: “This being Leap Year day, we suggest to every girl that she propose to her father to open a savings account in her name in our own bank.”

There was no breath of independence for women due to leap day.

Should we pity the leaplings?

Being born in a leap year on a leap day certainly is a talking point. But it can be kind of a pain from a paperwork perspective. Some governments and others requiring forms to be filled out and birthdays to be stated stepped in to declare what date was used by leaplings for such things as drivers’ licenses, whether Feb. 28 or March 1.

Technology has made it far easier for leap babies to jot down their Feb. 29 milestones, though there can be glitches in terms of health systems, insurance policies and with other businesses and organizations that don’t have that date built in.

There are about 5 million people worldwide who share the leap birthday out of about 8 billion people on the planet. Shelley Dean, 23, in Seattle, Washington, chooses a rosy attitude about being a leapling. Growing up, she had normal birthday parties each year, but an extra special one when leap years rolled around. Since, as an adult, she marks that non-leap period between Feb. 28 and March 1 with a low-key “whew.”

This year is different.

“It will be the first birthday that I’m going to celebrate with my family in eight years, which is super exciting, because the last leap day I was on the other side of the country in New York for college,” she said. “It’s a very big year.”

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The Rise of Female Skateboarders in South Africa

In South Africa, skateboarding is enjoying something of a revolution. The once predominantly male pursuit is attracting more and more women. VOA’s Zaheer Cassim reports from Johannesburg.

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‘Past Lives,’ ‘American Fiction’ And ‘The Holdovers’ Are Big Winners at Independent Spirit Awards

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‘One Love’ Gets More Box Office Love, No. 1 for Second Week

Los Angeles — For a second straight week, biopic “ Bob Marley: One Love” continues to exceed expectations by claiming the No. 1 spot at the box office, overcoming two debut films and Sony’s “Madame Web” that’s still producing subpar numbers.

The Paramount film starring Kingsley Ben-Adir pulled in $13.5 million during its second week of release. The project, which was produced for about $70 million, already eclipsed that mark, grossing nearly $72 million domestically in North America.

It’s an impressive achievement for the Reinaldo Marcus Green-directed Marley’s musical biopic that’s focused on the Rastafarian legend’s story during the making of his 1977 album “Exodus” while leading up to his impactful concert in his native Jamaica.

“Some of his greatest hits came out nearly 50 years ago, but his music still resonates through this film,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore.

“One Love” drew nearly $2 million more than “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To the Hashira Training” which placed No. 2. The latest installment in the Japanese anime series from Crunchyroll and Sony debuted with $11.7 million.

“Demon Slayer” scored the impressive opening number from only 1,949 locations — far less than “One Love” with 3,597 and 3,020 for “ Ordinary Angels ” — a faith-based Lionsgate film starring Hilary Swank that placed third at the box office with an estimated $6.5 million.

“There might not be any huge blockbuster films recently, but there some real gems out there for moviegoers to see,” Dergarabedian said.

All three of those films outperformed better than “Madame Web,” which has struggled to find its footing after the superhero movie flopped last week. It was thought the Spider-Man spinoff would draw strong numbers — especially with Dakota Johnson starring as the film’s lead Marvel character.

But so far, it hasn’t lived up to the hype, producing just $6 million in its second week and grossing a little more than a disappointing $35 million.

After its 10th weekend, Universal’s animated “Migration” rounded out the top five with $3 million, bringing its domestic total to $120 million. “Argylle” placed sixth with $2.8 million barely outpacing “Wonka,” which reeled in $2.5 million. Paul King’s musical starring Timothee Chalamet as a young Willy Wonka has grossed more than $214 million in 11 weeks.

The Ethan Coen-directed “Drive-Away Dolls” debuted eighth with $2.4 million ahead of “The Beekeeper” and “The Chosen” season four, a Christian series focused on Jesus Christ.

Dergarabedian called this past week a slow one. But next week, he expects it’ll pick up greatly with the highly anticipated “Dune: Part Two” making its long-waited debut, which should end the top spot reign by “One Love.”

“It’s the calm before the sandstorm,” he said.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Bob Marley: One Love,” $13.5 million.

  2. “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To the Hashira Training,” $11.5 million.

  3. “Ordinary Angels,” $6.5 million.

  4. “Madame Web,” $6 million.

  5. “Migration,” $3 million.

  6. “Argylle,” $2.8 million.

  7. “Wonka,” $2.5 million.

  8. “Drive-Away Dolls,” $2.4 million.

  9. “The Beekeeper,” $1.9 million.

  10. “The Chosen,” Episodes 4-6, $1.7 million.

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Israel Threatens Eurovision Pull-Out if Entry Vetoed 

Jerusalem — Israel on Sunday warned that it may withdraw from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest if organizers reject the lyrics from its entry as too political.

Eden Golan and her song “October Rain” were chosen to compete in the annual competition, which is being held in May in Malmo, Sweden.

Media reports have suggested that the song, which is mostly in English with some Hebrew words, references the victims of Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.

That could mean the ballad and its 20-year-old Russian-Israeli singer fall afoul of Eurovision rules, which ban political statements.

“They were all good children, every one of them”, says a line from Golan’s song, according to the website of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, Kan, which published them in full.

“There is no air left to breathe. There is no place for me,” the song ends.

The European Broadcasting Union, EBU, said only that it was “currently in the process of scrutinizing the lyrics” and a final decision had yet to be taken.

“If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, as per the rules of the Contest,” it added.

Kan said it was “in dialogue” with the EBU about the country’s Eurovision offering before the March 11 entry deadline.

But it stated that the broadcaster has “no intention to replace the song.”

“Meaning, if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition,” it added in a statement on Thursday.

Israel’s Noa Kirel placed third in last year’s competition in Liverpool, England, behind Finland’s Kaarija and Sweden’s Loreen.

Loreen’s victory takes the competition back to Sweden, 50 years after ABBA’s victory with “Waterloo.”

Israel became the first non-European country to enter Eurovision in 1973 and has since won the competition four times, most notably with transgender singer Dana International in 1998.

But its participation and hosting of the event have regularly run into controversy.

In 2019, Icelandic band Hatari, which previously challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a Nordic folk wrestling match, made pro-Palestinian statements during the vote count in Tel Aviv.

Organizers also gave pop queen Madonna a ticking off after her dancers flouted political neutrality rules by wearing Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes.

This year’s competition comes against the backdrop of the war, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Militants also took about 250 hostages, with 130 still held in Gaza although 31 are believed to be dead, Israeli officials said.

Israel’s military response has killed at least 29,692 people in Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

The EBU this week rejected calls for Israel to be barred from competing altogether because of the war in the Gaza Strip and the civilian casualties.

But the potential for a ban on its entry has caused outrage, with Israel’s culture and sports minister, Miki Zohar, calling the prospect “scandalous.”

Golan’s song was “moving,” he wrote on social media, and “expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political.”

“I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art,” he added.

Even President Isaac Herzog waded in, saying he was “trying to help” as much as he could because of the high-profile nature of the show.

“It’s important that Israel appears,” he was quoted as saying by news outlet Ynet.

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Tax-Free Status of Movie, Music and Games Traded Online Is on Table as WTO Nations Meet in Abu Dhabi

Geneva — Since late last century and the early days of the web, providers of digital media like Netflix and Spotify have had a free pass when it comes to international taxes on films, video games and music that are shipped across borders through the internet.

But now, a global consensus on the issue may be starting to crack.

As the World Trade Organization opens its latest biannual meeting of government ministers Monday, its longtime moratorium on duties on e-commerce products — which has been renewed almost automatically since 1998 — is coming under pressure as never before.

This week in Abu Dhabi, the WTO’s 164 member countries will take up a number of key issues: Subsidies that encourage overfishing. Reforms to make agricultural markets fairer and more eco-friendly. And efforts to revive the Geneva-based trade body’s system of resolving disputes among countries.

All of those are tall orders, but the moratorium on e-commerce duties is perhaps the matter most in play. It centers on “electronic transmissions” — music, movies, video games and the like — more than on physical goods. But the rulebook isn’t clear on the entire array of products affected.

“This is so important to millions of businesses, especially small- and medium-sized businesses,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said. “Some members believe that this should be extended and made permanent. Others believe … there are reasons why it should not.” 

“That’s why there’s been a debate and hopefully — because it touches on lives of many people — we hope that ministers would be able to make the appropriate decision,” she told reporters recently.

Under WTO’s rules, major decisions require consensus. The e-commerce moratorium can’t just sail through automatically. Countries must actively vote in favor for the extension to take effect.

Four proposals are on the table: Two would extend the suspension of duties. Two — separately presented by South Africa and India, two countries that have been pushing their interests hard at the WTO — would not.

Proponents say the moratorium benefits consumers by helping keep costs down and promotes the wider rollout of digital services in countries both rich and poor.

Critics say it deprives debt-burdened governments in developing countries of tax revenue, though there’s debate over just how much state coffers would stand to gain.

The WTO itself says that on average, the potential loss would be less than one-third of 1% of total government revenue.

The stakes are high. A WTO report published in December said the value of “digitally delivered services” exports grew by more than 8% from 2005 to 2022 — higher than goods exports (5.6%) and other-services exports (4.2%).

Growth has been uneven, though. Most developing countries don’t have digital networks as extensive as those in the rich world. Those countries see less need to extend the moratorium — and might reap needed tax revenue if it ends.

South Africa’s proposal, which seeks to end the moratorium, calls for the creation of a fund to receive voluntary contributions to bridge the “digital divide.” It also wants to require “leading platforms” to boost the promotion of “historically disadvantaged” small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Industry, at least in the United States, is pushing hard to extend the moratorium. In a Feb. 13 letter to Biden administration officials, nearly two dozen industry groups, including the Motion Picture Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Entertainment Software Association — a video-game industry group — urged the United States to give its “full support” to a renewal.

“Accepting anything short of a multilateral extension of the moratorium that applies to all WTO members would open the door to the introduction of new customs duties and related cross-border restrictions that would hurt U.S. workers in industries across the entire economy,” the letter said.

A collapse would deal a “major blow to the credibility and durability” of the WTO and would mark the first time that its members “changed the rules to make it substantially harder to conduct trade,” wrote the groups, which said their members include companies that combined employ over 100 million workers. 

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Japan’s ‘Naked Men’ Festival Succumbs to Aging of Population

Ōshū, Japan — Steam rose as hundreds of naked men tussled over a bag of wooden talismans, performing a dramatic end to a thousand-year-old ritual in Japan that took place for the last time. 

Their passionate chants of “Jasso, joyasa” (meaning “Evil, be gone”) echoed through a cedar forest in northern Japan’s Iwate region, where the secluded Kokuseki Temple has decided to end the popular annual rite. 

Organizing the event, which draws hundreds of participants and thousands of tourists every year, has become a heavy burden for the aging local faithful, who find it hard to keep up with the rigors of the ritual.  

The “Sominsai” festival, regarded as one of the strangest festivals in Japan, is the latest tradition impacted by the country’s aging population crisis that has hit rural communities hard.  

“It is very difficult to organize a festival of this scale,” said Daigo Fujinami, a resident monk of the temple that opened in 729.  

“You can see what happened today — so many people are here and it’s all exciting. But behind the scenes, there are many rituals and so much work that have to be done,” he said.  

“I cannot be blind to the difficult reality.”  

Aging population 

More than 1 in 10 people in Japan are 80 years old or older, and almost a third of its population is older than 65, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023.

The aging of Japan’s population has forced the closure of countless schools, shops and services, particularly in small or rural communities.  

Kokuseki Temple’s Sominsai festival used to take place from the seventh day of Lunar New Year to the following morning.  

But during the Covid pandemic, it was scaled down to prayer ceremonies and smaller rituals. 

The final festival was a shortened version, ending around 11 p.m., but it drew the biggest crowd in recent memory, local residents said.  

As the sun set, men in white loincloths came to the mountain temple, bathed in a creek and marched around temple’s ground. 

They clenched their fists against the chill of a winter breeze, all the while chanting “Jasso, joyasa.” 

Some held small cameras to record their experience, while dozens of television crews followed the men through the temple’s stone steps and dirt pathways. 

As the festival reached its climax, hundreds of men packed inside the wooden temple shouting, chanting and aggressively jostling over a bag of talismans. 

Changing norms

Toshiaki Kikuchi, a local resident who claimed the talismans and who helped organize the festival for years, said he hoped the ritual would return in the future.  

“Even under a different format, I hope to maintain this tradition,” he said. “There are many things that you can appreciate only if you take part.” 

Many participants and visitors voiced both sadness and understanding about the festival’s ending. 

“This is the last of this great festival that has lasted 1,000 years. I really wanted to participate in this festival,” Yasuo Nishimura, 49, a caregiver from Osaka, told AFP. 

Other temples across Japan continue to host similar festivals where men wear loincloths and bathe in freezing water or fight over talismans. 

Some festivals are adjusting their rules in line with changing demographics and social norms so that they can continue to exist — such as letting women take part in previously male-only ceremonies.  

Starting next year, Kokuseki Temple will replace the festival with prayer ceremonies and other ways to continue its spiritual practices. 

“Japan is facing a falling birthrate, aging population, and lack of young people to continue various things,” Nishimura said. “Perhaps it is difficult to continue the same way as in the past.” 

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Eva Peron Maintains Grip on Argentina Decades After Her 1952 Death

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Early every morning, just as she reaches her workplace at a labor union in Buenos Aires, Ángeles Celerier heads to the chapel and prays to Saint Cajetan, Saint Teresa and Eva Perón.

Perón — unlike the others — has not been canonized by the Vatican, but this doesn’t matter to Celerier.

“For me, she is the saint of the people,” the 56-year-old Argentine said.

Many union members think of Evita as their patron or gaze at her photos with nostalgia, feeling that she and her husband, three-time President Juan Domingo Perón, brought prosperity to their country through an equality and social justice-driven movement that was named after him in the 1940s: Peronism.

That movement is currently the biggest opposition force in Argentina. And some political observers attribute the recent vote to elect President Javier Milei as a means to defeat Peronism and its previous hold on the presidency.

“For us, she is the spiritual reservoir of the people,” said Julio Piumato, human rights director at the largest union in Argentina. He signed a 2019 document requesting Evita’s beatification.

“No other figure has a deeper significance,” Piumato said. “The humble sectors are synthesized in Evita.”

According to the union leader, between 1946 and 1952, when Evita died of cancer at age 33 and Perón concluded his first term, the couple dignified the working class and prioritized social justice.

“Saints show us paths to reach Christ and intercede before God for us,” reads the beatification request delivered to the archbishop. “In our homeland, one generation after another continues to be converted by the humanist and Christian message of the standard bearer of the humble.”

Aside from a 1996 movie starring Madonna or Andrew Lloyd Weber’s 1978 musical, many foreigners know relatively little about this former first lady who died 71 years ago.

But in Argentina, Evita is a constant presence. Her face is printed on 100-peso bills, decorates a mural on a key government building, and greets guests from an altar placed in a restaurant called Saint Evita.

“I carry her image in my wallet, and I have it at home in a small picture frame with a candle,” Celerier said. “I ask her for protection.”

How a first lady turned into a champion of the poor

The secret behind the fascination that she awakens might be hidden in her name.

Long before becoming first lady, she called herself María Eva, a girl who left the town of Los Toldos to try her luck as an actress in Buenos Aires. As a modest film star she was known as Eva Duarte and afterwards became Eva Perón, the president’s wife. Then came Evita.

“Evita is the one who is close to the people,” said Santiago Regolo, a researcher at Museum Evita. “People began to call her that, and that construction is linked to the political and social work that distinguished her from the women who preceded her and take her as an example to this day.”

Evita was the one who paid visits to elders and single mothers. The one who handed out toys for children and bread for families. The one who promoted paid vacations for workers who had never been able to afford a break and gave a final push to achieve the women’s right to vote in 1947.

She has also inspired some feminists — who carry her photo along with their green scarves during protests — as well as a political organization that asks for social transformation using her image as a logo.

“Having Evita on our flag represents being with those in the lower classes and trying to vindicate her name over time,” said Iván Tchorek, from the Evita Movement, which has 155,000 members nationwide and was created after an economic crisis in 2001.

She’s relevant as ever, Tchorek said, because Peronism is. Thousands of workers like him recently led a general strike against the right-wing Milei, who defeated Peronist candidate Sergio Massa last November. Soon after, Milei issued a decree that would revoke or modify hundreds of existing laws in order to limit the power of unions and deregulate an economy that has traditionally featured heavy state intervention.

Even as a union standard-bearer in polarized times, Evita and her memory have the ability to transcend politics. “Certain issues are linked to matters of a sentimental, sacralized nature,” Regolo said. “She is seen as a companion, a sister, a mother for the humble.”

At her home in an impoverished neighborhood outside Buenos Aires, 71-year-old Rita Cantero says she almost met Evita. When her mother asked the first lady for help, she was pregnant with her.

“My mother used to say that Evita was very supportive, that people really liked her for the service she provided.”

Aware of the challenges of being a single mother, Rafaela Escobar attended a public event held by Evita in a plaza near her home. After being able to approach her and confide in her distress, Evita hugged her and said: “Don’t worry, I will help.”

Three weeks later, Escobar received a cradle and clothes for her unborn child.

Cantero says her mother never met Evita again, but she sent her letters and the first lady replied with envelopes carrying money.

“For us she is like a saint,” Cantero said. “Many judged her because she was a woman, but she was an honest, hard-working girl. She fought for our nation and was the force of Perón.”

Evita’s mixed legacy and the fight over her embalmed body

Perón died two decades after Evita, in 1974, but his name continues to spark both admiration and hatred, yearning and blame.

His critics — among them legislator Fernando Iglesias, who has published several books contending Peronism ruined the country — claim that Perón was an authoritarian leader and his movement’s social assistance disguised corruption and patronage while generating too much dependence on the government.

Critics address Eva too. Her foundation pressed donors for resources, some say. She was careerist and a hypocrite, others assert. On the one hand, she claimed to defend the poor and on the other, she dressed in Dior.

“Would she be the saint of the lazy?” a user tweeted when the union requested her beatification. “Patron of criminals,” someone else wrote.

Erasing her from history was once a command. After a coup overthrew Perón in 1955, it was forbidden to say her name, display her image or keep her gifts. The military removed her embalmed body from a union’s headquarters, where it was initially kept, and sent it to Europe.

The body came back after 14 years, and when the military took over again in the 1970s, it was given to her family under one condition: She would be buried 8 meters underground, sealed in a marble crypt so that no one would ever see her again.

“Evita is the best thing that could have happened to this country,” said Carolina Castro, 22, holding back tears next to Evita’s grave in Recoleta Cemetery, where Argentines and foreigners alike honor her with flowers, letters and rosaries.

According to Castro’s mother, 56-year-old Andrea Vellesi, Evita is a sensitive topic because their family is going through a difficult time. “I have never been in such anguish,” Vellesi said about economic measures that Milei recently decreed and that she claims hurt her business.

Víctor Biscia, 36, says that he doesn’t keep photos of Evita at home, but he does have images of the late President Néstor Kirchner and his wife and successor Cristina Fernández, another Peronist couple that prompts devotion and resentment among Argentines.

“They were key to achieving rights that are being curtailed by the current government,” said Biscia, who thinks of Fernández as a sort of 21st century Evita.

“She reflects a lot of what we are as Argentines,” says Gimena Villagra, 27, standing next to Evita’s tomb. “I don’t think there’s anyone for whom she doesn’t mean something.”

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Dior Postpones Hong Kong Fashion Show ‘Indefinitely’

HONG KONG — Dior has postponed a fashion show set to be held in Hong Kong next month, a city official confirmed Saturday, dealing a blow to the financial hub’s ambitions to boost its economy through major events.

Hong Kong is courting top international celebrities and brands in the hope of rebooting its reputation, which has been battered by years of social unrest and strict pandemic curbs. 

The Dior fashion show — meant to feature artistic director Kim Jones and the men’s autumn collection — was to be one of several “mega events” touted last month by Hong Kong’s culture, sports and tourism chief, Kevin Yeung, as part of the city’s drive to become an event capital. 

But Yeung’s office confirmed to AFP on Saturday that it had “just been notified” by organizers that the fashion show would not go ahead as scheduled on March 23. 

“Large-scale events are postponed from time to time, and we continue to welcome large-scale events to take place in Hong Kong,” a spokesperson for Yeung’s office said. 

Dior said the show had been “postponed indefinitely” without giving specifics, according to a company statement quoted by the South China Morning Post. 

According to the South China Morning Post, the event was expected to cost about $100 million ($12.8 million U.S.) and draw nearly 1,000 attendees.  

Louis Vuitton in November held its men’s pre-fall 2024 show in Hong Kong, led by creative director Pharrell Williams and drawing celebrity guests from China and South Korea. 

The much-hyped runway show was seen as a boon to Hong Kong’s international image and a sign of the luxury giant’s commitment to Asian markets. 

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Gender-Neutral Baby Names Gain Popularity, but Traditional Names Still Rule

US parents get more creative when deciding what to name their children

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Artists Reflect on Black Experience in America

It’s Black History Month in the United States. In Los Angeles, there is an exhibit of black artists sharing their experiences growing up in America. Genia Dulot takes us there.

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Soccer Star Dani Alves Found Guilty of Rape, Sentenced to Four and a Half Years in Prison

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Beatles To Get Fab Four of Biopics

NEW YORK — The Beatles are getting the big-screen biopic treatment in not just one film, but a Fab Four of movies that will give each band member their own spotlight — all of which are to be directed by Sam Mendes.

For the first time, the Beatles, long among the stingiest rights granters, are giving full life and music rights to a movie project. Sony Pictures announced Monday a deal that may dwarf all music biopics that have come before it, with the stories of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr spread out over a quartet of films.

The films, conceived by Mendes, are expected to roll out theatrically in innovative fashion, with the movies potentially coexisting or intersecting in theaters. Precise release plans will be announced at a later date. Sony is targeting 2027 for their release.

McCartney, Starr and the families of John Lennon and George Harrison have all signed off on the project through the band’s Apple Corps. Ltd. Sony Music Publishing controls the rights to the majority of Beatles songs.

“I’m honored to be telling the story of the greatest rock band of all time, and excited to challenge the notion of what constitutes a trip to the movies,” Mendes said in a statement.

Each film will be from the perspective of a Beatle.

“We intend this to be a uniquely thrilling, and epic cinematic experience: four films, told from four different perspectives which tell a single story about the most celebrated band of all time,” said producer Pippa Harris. “To have The Beatles’ and Apple Corps’ blessing to do this is an immense privilege.”

The Beatles’ most famous forays into film were in their early years. Between 1964 and 1970, they appeared in five movies, including “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) and the animated “Yellow Submarine” (1968). They’ve, of course, been the subject of many documentaries, most recently Peter Jackson’s 2021 “The Beatles: Get Back.”

In 2023, the Beatles reunited with the aid of artificial intelligence in the newly released song “Now and Then.” The recording was made possible by technology used by Jackson on “Get Back,” and featured a music video made by the New Zealand director.

Attempts to dramatize the Beatles’ story have been more sporadic and less impactful. A 1979 biopic, made when Lennon was still alive, called “The Birth of the Beatles” was produced with Beatles original drummer Pete Best as an adviser. The 1994 indie drama “Backbeat” chronicled Lennon’s relationship with Stuart Sutcliffe before the Beatles were famous. “Nowhere Boy” (2009) starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a teenage Lennon.

But in the last decade, music biopics have become big business. Box-office hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody,””Rocketman” and “Elvis” have sent Hollywood executives chasing the next jukebox blockbuster. Over Presidents Day weekend, “Bob Marley: One Love,” produced with the Marley estate, was the No. 1 movie in theaters. A Michael Jackson biopic is in production.

“Theatrical movie events today must be culturally seismic. Sam’s daring, large-scale idea is that and then some,” said Tom Rothman, chair and chief executive of Sony Pictures’ Motion Picture Group.

The combination of Mendes’ team “with the music and the stories of four young men who changed the world, will rock audiences all over the globe,” Rothman said. “We are deeply grateful to all parties and look forward ourselves to breaking some rules with Sam’s uniquely artistic vision.”

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Strike Closes Eiffel Tower in Blow to Tourists Ahead of Paris Olympics

Paris — The Eiffel Tower, one of the most visited tourist sites in the world, closed on Monday as staff went on strike in protest against the way the Paris monument is managed financially, disappointing the crowds below.

The strike comes as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, which begin on July 26 and will feature metal from the tower in the winners’ medals.

Visitors stood outside the barriers of the tower grounds in front of a giant screen announcing the strike.

“It’s a real shame, really, because we come just for three days, and we’re not going to be able to get up,” Nelson Navarro, from Norfolk, England, said.

Vito Santos, from Canada, had planned to revisit the monument 15 years after his honeymoon and show if off to his children.

“It’s disappointing… The plan was to come here really early to get a ticket as early as possible. However, it was a surprise for us, the strike is here, so we cannot make the tour,” he said.

Unions claim Paris City Hall, which owns 99% of the company that oversees the tower, Societe d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), is underestimating the cost of maintenance and repairs to the monument planned ahead of the Olympics.

This in turn could result in lax maintenance work and put visitors at risk, they say.

This is the second time this year staff have gone on strike for the same reason.

The wrought-iron 324-meter (1,063 ft) high tower, built by Gustave Eiffel in the late 19th century, welcomes about six million visitors each year.

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Berlin Film Fest Grapples With Nazi Past, Far-Right Threat

BERLIN — This week’s Berlin international film festival is wrestling on- and off-screen with the weight of the Nazi past and the menace of a resurgent far right.

The 74th Berlinale, as the event is known, has a reputation for confronting political realities head-on with high-profile movies and hot-tempered debates.

German director Julia von Heinz brought together an unlikely pair, U.S. actor Lena Dunham and Britain’s Stephen Fry, for her drama “Treasure,” about a Holocaust survivor who returns to Poland with his journalist daughter.

Inspired by a true story, the film shows their journey following the fall of the Iron Curtain, after decades of family silence about the Nazi period.

Fry plays the seemingly jovial Edek searching for a connection with his uptight daughter Ruth (Dunham).

Their travels take them to Edek’s childhood home in Lodz, where they make the chilling discovery that a family living in his old flat is still using his parents’ porcelain tea service, silverware and a green velvet sofa they abandoned when they were deported.

Fearful it is the last chance to record his memories, Ruth convinces Edek to return to Auschwitz.

‘A new perspective’

Von Heinz, speaking after a warmly received screening, said that a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the wake of the Gaza war had spurred her to finish the film for the Berlinale.

She rejected suggestions there had been “enough” movies dealing with the Nazi period.

“There can never be enough stories to be told about this and I think we are giving it a new perspective,” she said.

Fry added: “While history may not repeat itself, as somebody once put it, (it) rhymes and there are similar feelings now as we know rising up.”

The actor, who had several relatives who were killed at Auschwitz, said it was “an extraordinary feeling” to shoot scenes outside the former death camp.

Dunham, who also lost ancestors in the Holocaust, insisted its lessons are both rooted in the Jewish experience and transcend it.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the far right, be it here or in the U.S. — there’s an incredible and shocking amount of anti-Semitic rhetoric and there’s also a shocking amount of Islamophobic rhetoric, anti-Black rhetoric, transphobic rhetoric,” she said. “The goal is to isolate people based on their identities and make them feel inhuman and that’s a universal story unfortunately.”

Resistance ‘superheroes’

“From Hilde, With Love,” starring Liv Lisa Fries of international hit series “Babylon Berlin,” also debuted at the festival over the weekend.

It tells the true story of Hilde Coppi, a member of the “Red Orchestra” anti-Nazi resistance group, who gave birth to a son in prison while awaiting her execution for “high treason” in 1942.

Director Andreas Dresen grew up in communist East Germany, a region where the far-right AfD is poised to make strong gains in key state elections later this year.

He said that in school, resistance members were often portrayed as larger-than-life “superheroes,” meaning many felt incapable of having similar courage to stand up to authority.

Fries, whose vivid portrayal impressed critics, said Coppi joined the Red Orchestra in trying to sabotage the Nazi war effort out of a basic sense of right and wrong.

“It was not only decency but also a sense of solidarity — solidarity is always worth standing up for,” she said.

Dresen stripped the movie of historical images familiar from Nazi movies such as “waving swastika flags and thumping jackboots.”

“Political terror is part of our present and unfortunately not as far away as we would like,” he said. “I really wish this film weren’t so topical.”

“From Hilde, With Love” is one of 20 films in competition for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize Saturday.

Commitment to ’empathy’

The two films premiered amid a fierce debate over whether the Berlinale should continue to invite AfD politicians to its galas.

A bombshell revelation last month — that party members attended a meeting outside Berlin at which mass deportations of foreigners and “poorly assimilated” German citizens were discussed — raised the stakes.

After initially insisting that the elected representatives should attend, the Berlinale backtracked and disinvited five AfD officials, citing its commitment to “empathy, awareness and understanding.”

The move was widely praised by the artistic community, but dissenters argued that democratic culture meant tolerating even offensive views.

Kenyan Mexican actor Lupita Nyong’o, the festival’s first black jury president, was asked whether she would have attended the opening ceremony Thursday in the presence of far-right officials.

“I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question,” she replied. “I’m glad I don’t have to be in that position.”

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‘Bob Marley: One Love’ Stirs Up $27.7 Million Weekend at Box Office

New York — Paramount Pictures’ Bob Marley biopic “Bob Marley: One Love” outperformed expectations to debut at No. 1 at the box office with a $27.7 million opening weekend, while Sony’s “Madame Web” flopped with one of the lowest debuts for a movie centered on a Marvel character.

Both films launched in theaters on Tuesday to rope in Valentine’s Day moviegoers. But on a weekend that was once expected to go to “Madame Web,” “One Love” emerged as the much-preferred option in theaters, despite largely poor reviews.

Instead, “One Love,” starring Kingsley Ben-Adir and produced with the involvement of the Marley estate, performed roughly on par with previous hit musical biopics like “Rocketman” and “Elvis.” Paramount is forecasting that “One Love” will gross $51 million over its first six days, including estimates for President’s Day on Monday. It added $29 million from 47 international territories.

Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount, noted that pre-release projections forecast a six-day total closer to $30 million for “One Love.” But moviegoers from a wide range turned out for the first big-screen biopic of the Rastafarian legend.

“It was across all generations. It wasn’t just a movie for an older audience that grew up with Bob Marley’s music,” said Aronson. “Our highest quadrant was (age) 18 to 24. A third of the audience was under 25. That, to me, speaks volumes.”

Produced for about $70 million, “One Love,” directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, chronicles Marley during the making of the 1977 album “Exodus” while leading up to a pivotal concert for his native Jamaica. Among the movie’s producers are Marley’s children, Ziggy and Cedella, and his wife, Rita.

Ziggy Marley, in a statement Sunday, said: “We thank the people for embracing this film and in so doing helping to highlight the message of one love.”

Though critics dinged the film (43% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) for relying on biopic conventions, audiences gave it a much higher grade, with an “A” CinemaScore. That kind of audience response plus the strong opening should bode well for the film’s run.

“Madame Web,” however, was dead on arrival. Over six days, Sony is estimating a $15.2 million weekend and a six-day $25.8 million haul. Audiences (a “C+” CinemaScore) agreed with critics (13% “fresh”).

Such launches were once unfathomable for stand-alone superhero films. But the film, an extension of Sony’s universe of Spider-Man films, struggled to shed the bad buzz surrounding the $80 million project. In it, Dakota Johnson stars as a New York paramedic with clairvoyant powers.

“The entire superhero genre has had a really rough go of it over the past year,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. “Certain things are no longer a sure bet. Except maybe now, the musical biopic has become the go-to genre. It just shows how tastes can change.”

Sony’s Spider-Man spinoffs have been mostly hit and miss. Its two “Venom” films have together surpassed $1.3 billion worldwide. But 2022’s poorly received “Morbius” collected just $167.4 million globally. “Madame Web” still couldn’t come close to the $39 million domestic opening weekend for “Morbius.” In 61 overseas markets, “Madame Web” added $25.7 million.

The better news for Sony’s Spider-verse came Saturday night at the 51st Annie Awards, where “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” won best feature and collected seven prizes in total. “Across the Spider-Verse” is nominated for best animated feature at the Academy Awards — and the Annie Awards can often be a good predictor of winner.

The 2024 box office has gotten off to a sobering start for Hollywood, and the disappointing result for “Madame Web” won’t help. Moviegoing has slowed to a crawl in recent weeks, while 2023’s strikes have impacted this year’s release schedules. Even with the strong “One Love” opening, ticket sales were down 15% on the weekend compared to 2023, according to ComScore.

Expectations are high for “Dune: Part Two,” opening March 1. Until then, “Bob Marley: One Love” will be jammin’.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Bob Marley: One Love,” $27.7 million.

  2. “Madame Web,” $15.2 million.

  3. “Argylle,” $4.7 million.

  4. “Migration,” $3.8 million.

  5. “The Chosen,” Episodes 4-6, $3.4 million.

  6. “Wonka,” $3.4 million.

  7. “The Beekeeper,” $3.3 million.

  8. “Anyone But You,” $2.4 million.

  9. “Lisa Frankenstein,” $2 million.

  10. “Land of Bad,” $1.8 million.

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And the Winner Is… London Rolls Out Red Carpet for BAFTA Film Awards 

London — Hollywood stars descended on London on Sunday for the annual BAFTA Film Awards, where U.S. historical drama “Oppenheimer,” one of the highest-grossing films of 2023, leads nominations for Britain’s top movie honors. 

The three-hour epic about the making of the atomic bomb during World War Two has 13 nods, including for the night’s top prize — best film — which it is the current favorite to win. 

Also leading betting odds are the film’s Irish star Cillian Murphy — who plays the American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer — to win the leading actor prize and Briton Christopher Nolan for best director. 

“We’re just thrilled, we’re kind of overwhelmed by it all,” Murphy told the BAFTA red carpet livestream of the film’s nominations. “It’s an amazing feeling for … everyone that worked on the movie.” 

The other contenders for best film include Emma Stone’s sex-charged gothic comedy “Poor Things”; “The Zone of Interest,” about the commandant of Auschwitz and his family living next to the death camp; Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” about the murders of members of the Osage Nation in the 1920s; courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall”; and “The Holdovers,” a comedy set in a boys’ boarding school. 

“Poor Things” has 11 nominations, including one for previous BAFTA and Oscar winner Stone, who is favorite to win the leading actress category. 

“We just hope that people feel like this is a unique cinema experience and it says something about the world,” writer Tony McNamara, whose “Poor Things” script is nominated for adapted screenplay, told Reuters on the ceremony’s red carpet at the Royal Festival Hall, by the River Thames in central London.  

None of the best director contenders has previously won the award and four out of the six are first-time director nominees, including the only woman on the list, Justine Triet for “Anatomy of a Fall.”  

“I’m very surprised to be the only woman,” Triet told Reuters. “Things are not coming naturally so we have to push doors open.” 

“Barbie,” the highest grossing film of 2023, has five nominations overall, including leading actress for Margot Robbie and supporting actor for Ryan Gosling. 

As well as a spate of celebrities, the guest list also includes BAFTA President Prince William, who is attending without his wife Kate, who recently underwent surgery. 

Known as the BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), the ceremony will be hosted by actor David Tennant. 

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Solemn Monument to Japanese American WWII Detainees Lists More Than 125,000 Names

Los Angeles — Samantha Sumiko Pinedo and her grandparents file into a dimly lit enclosure at the Japanese American National Museum and approach a massive book splayed open to reveal columns of names. Pinedo is hoping the list includes her great-grandparents, who were detained in Japanese American incarceration camps during World War II. 

“For a lot of people, it feels like so long ago because it was World War II. But I grew up with my Bompa (great-grandpa), who was in the internment camps,” Pinedo says.

A docent at the museum in Los Angeles gently flips to the middle of the book — called the Ireichō — and locates Kaneo Sakatani near the center of a page. This was Pinedo’s great-grandfather, and his family can now honor him.

On Feb. 19, 1942, following the attack by Imperial Japan on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry to WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry who were considered potentially dangerous. 

From the extreme heat of the Gila River center in Arizona, to the biting winters of Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Japanese Americans were forced into hastily built barracks, with no insulation or privacy, and surrounded by barbed wire. They shared bathrooms and mess halls, and families of up to eight were squeezed into 20-by-25 foot (6-by-7.5 meter) rooms. Armed U.S. soldiers in guard towers ensured nobody tried to flee.

 

When the 75 holding facilities on U.S. soil closed in 1946, the government published Final Accountability Rosters listing the name, sex, date of birth and marital status of the Japanese Americans held at the 10 largest facilities. There was no clear consensus of who or how many had been detained nationwide.

Duncan Ryūken Williams, the director of the Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture at the University of Southern California, knew those rosters were incomplete and riddled with errors, so he and a team of researchers took on the mammoth task of identifying all the detainees and honoring them with a three-part monument called “Irei: National Monument for the WWII Japanese American Incarceration.”

“We wanted to repair that moment in American history by thinking of the fact that this is a group of people, Japanese Americans, that was targeted by the government. As long as you had one drop of Japanese blood in you, the government told you you didn’t belong,” Williams said.

The Irei project was inspired by stone Buddhist monuments called Ireitōs that were built by detainees at camps in Manzanar, California, and Amache, Colorado, to memorialize and console the spirits of internees who died.

The first part of the Irei monument is the Ireichō, the sacred book listing 125,284 verified names of Japanese American detainees.

“We felt like we needed to bring dignity and personhood and individuality back to all these people,” Williams said. “The best way we thought we could do that was to give them their names back.”

The second element, the Ireizō, is a website set to launch on Monday, the Day of Remembrance, which visitors can use to search for additional information about detainees. Ireihi is the final part: A collection of light installations at incarceration sites and the Japanese American National Museum.

Williams and his team spent more than three years reaching out to camp survivors and their relatives, correcting misspelled names and data errors and filling in the gaps. They analyzed records in the National Archives of detainee transfers, as well as Enemy Alien identification cards and directories created by detainees.

“We feel fairly confident that we’re at least 99% accurate with that list,” Williams said.

The team recorded every name in order of age, from the oldest person who entered the camps to the last baby born there.

Williams, who is a Buddhist priest, invited leaders from different faiths, Native American tribes and social justice groups to attend a ceremony introducing the Ireichō to the museum.

Crowds of people gathered in the Little Tokyo neighborhood to watch camp survivors and descendants of detainees file into the museum, one by one, holding wooden pillars, called sobata, bearing the names of each of the camps. At the end of the procession, the massive, weighty book of names was carried inside by multiple faith leaders. Williams read Buddhist scripture and led chants to honor the detainees.

Those sobata now line the walls of the serene enclosure where the Ireichō will remain until Dec. 1. Each bears the name — in English and Japanese — of the camp it represents. Suspended from each post is a jar containing soil from the named site.

Visitors are encouraged to look for their loved ones in the Ireichō and leave a mark under their names using a Japanese stamp called a hanko.

The first people to stamp it were some of the last surviving camp detainees.

So far, 40,000 visitors have made their mark. For Williams, that interaction is essential.

“To honor each person by placing a stamp in the book means that you are changing the monument every day,” Williams said.

Sharon Matsuura, who visited the Ireichō to commemorate her parents and husband who were incarcerated in Camp Amache, says the monument has an important role to play in raising awareness, especially for young people who may not know about this harsh chapter in America’s story.

“It was a very shameful part of history that the young men and women were good enough to fight and die for the country, but they had to live in terrible conditions and camps,” Matsuura says. “We want people to realize these things happened.”

Many survivors remain silent about what they endured, not wanting to relive it, Matsuura says.

Pinedo watches as her grandmother, Bernice Yoshi Pinedo, carefully stamps a blue dot beneath her father’s name. The family stands back in silence, taking in the moment, yellow light casting shadows from the jars of soil on the walls.

Kaneo Sakatani was only 14 when he was detained in Tule Lake, in far northern California.

“It’s sad,” Bernice says. “But I feel very proud that my parents’ names were in there.” 

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