Tag Archives: Japan

“Air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill!”

Photo of battleship USS West Virginia under attack

USS West Virginia, Pearl Harbor 12/7/1941

Tomorrow marks the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. The next day President Roosevelt asked for, and received from congress a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan.  On December 11th, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. America had become an official combatant in World War II.

As a military maneuver the Japanese attack was an almost perfectly executed assault of torpedo and bombing attacks on the anchored US Pacific Fleet, in concert with bombing and strafing attacks on nearby Army and Marine airfields, barracks, and related facilities.  American efforts at guessing Japanese intentions and assuming a competent defensive posture were ineffective, and in the case of the Army Air Corps. counterproductive.  Thinking that local sabotage was a greater threat than an “enemy” attack, instead of being dispersed, aircraft were lined up wingtip to wingtip so they could be guarded more effectively.  It also made them sitting ducks.  Not everything went the Japanese way. Their desired primary targets, the aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga weren’t in port, and the Japanese didn’t damage the submarine fleet or the 4.5 million barrels of bunker oil on hand, needed to keep the fleet at sea. Had the Japanese destroyed that reserve, what was left of the fleet might have had to relocate to the West Coast from Pearl, endangering both Hawaii and our lines of communication to Australia and New Zealand.

What did the Japanese accomplish?

  • 2,402 sailors, soldiers and Marines killed (1,177 from the USS Arizona)
  • 1,247 wounded
  • Four battleships sunk of which two were re-floated, refurbished and returned to service.
  • Three battleships damaged, 1 battleship grounded. all returned to service
  • 2 other ships sunk
  • 3 cruisers damaged
  • 3 destroyers damaged
  • 3 other ships damaged
  • 188 aircraft destroyed
  • 159 aircraft damaged

More significantly, the Japanese united a nation split on whether the then two-year old war with the axis was “our” war or not. Between December 7th and December 8th, the America First movement and isolationist sentiment ceased to have a place at the table of public policy.  What the Japanese did was seen as treacherous and sneaky, without honor – because at the moment of the attack, they were supposedly negotiating in good faith in Washington.  Since they couldn’t decode and type fast enough, the Japanese emissaries – ignorant of the military plans in motion – failed to break off negotiations and deliver a declaration of war before the attack on Hawaii commenced.   Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, planner and commander of the attack, a former Naval Attache to the US and Harvard student knew that offending the Americans sense of fair play was perhaps worse than the actual damage caused.  Said he:

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

The story of Pearl Harbor has of course generated historical accounts, memoirs, assessments, literature, fictional accounts and movies.  Wherever your tastes and curiosities lie, it’s worth remembering that there are fewer than 3,000 Pearl Harbor survivors alive today, and the youngest would likely be 88 years old (assuming he lied about his age and was 16 in 1941.)


infamy Day of Infamy / Walter Lord

One of the first, and still one of the best historical overviews of the day (along the lines of Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day) written for the casual reader.  It’s well written and well researched (for the period it was written in,) though newer research has dated it somewhat.

dawnAt Dawn We Slept / Gordon W. Prange

Through extensive research and interviews with American and Japanese leaders, Gordon Prange has written what is widely regarded as the definitive assessment of the events surrounding the attack on pearl Harbor, and providing first-hand accounts and recollections from both viewpoints.


Pearl Harbor : FDR leads the nation into war / Steven M. Gillon

Historian Steven Gillon provides a vivid, revealing, minute-by-minute account of Roosevelt’s skillful leadership after Pearl Harbor; perhaps the most pivotal event of the twentieth century. Remaining steady and sure-minded, Roosevelt transformed a grave and potentially demoralizing attack into an occasion for national unity and patriotic fervor.

Fiction & Alternative History:

Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th / Newt Gingrich & William Forstchengingrich

Gingrich and Forstchen provide a detailed account of the background and personalities leading up to the Japanese decision to attack the US.  Then they add the what-if scenarios that subtly change what happens as the Japanese follow their successful attack on the fleet with the additional waves to render the Pacific Fleet wholly ineffective, and Hawaii untenable as an anchorage.

Days of Infamy / Harry Turtledoveinfamyturtle

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In a well written of the type he excels at creating, Turtledove explores the logical “it could have happened scenario”, what if the Japanese followed up their air attack with an invasion and occupation of Hawaii?

From Here to Eternity / James Jonesfrom here

It’s December, 1941 at Schofield Barracks, just north of Pearl Harbor. Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a bugler in the US Army. He’s transferred to an infantry unit whose commander is less interested in preparing for war than he is in boxing. But when Prewitt refuses to join the company team, the commander and his sergeant decide to make the bugler’s life hell.

The Cinema:


Tora Tora Tora (1970)

Highly innovative grand and epic film that looks at the preparations for, and the attack itself through the eyes of both the Japanese and American participants, both high and low. From Admirals Yamamoto and Kimmel to Privates Lockard and Elliot (radar operators with no one to warn,) The inevitable unfolds.  Without a doubt the best feature film about Pearl Harbor. Featuring Martin Balsam,  E.G. Marshall, Jason Robards, Takahiro Tamura, James Whitmore, and Sô Yamamura.

from heremovie

From Here to Eternity (1953)

A fantastic ensemble cast featuring some of Hollywood’s best actors as they’re starting out.  The film is faithful to the novel, capturing the rigidity, frustration and tempo of peacetime barracks’ routine and the seedy allure of Honolulu.  Featuring Ernest Borgnine, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra.

affleckpearlPearl Harbor (2001)

Great special effects minimally redeem a love story of brotherly sacrifice that plays footloose with history and made me cringe, though the misdated Battle of Britain scenes were great.  If you’re a connoisseur of long “B” movies, then maybe it’s worth your while.  Features Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Hartnett, Jon Voight as Pres. Roosevelt.  

– Richard


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10 Somewhat Short Reviews of Not Quite Japanese Fiction

Unlike the books I listed in 28 Super Short Reviews of Japanese Fiction, these ten books are not written by Japanese authors, though they are connected to Japan in some way. Enjoy!

 Adamson, Isaac – Tokyo Suckerpunch – First in a series of black-humored detective-thriller-noir-parody books featuring Cleveland’s own “Youth in Asia” (yes, really) magazine reporter Billy Chaka. He’s a hard drinkin’ man who’s got mad martial arts moves, wears the same outfit every day, and always takes the stairs – more than enough quirks for a detective series.

Avery, Ellis – The Teahouse Fire – The story of an American semi-orphan who is constantly mistaken for a really ugly Japanese girl, packed with crazy 19th century historic details and more than you ever wanted to know about tea ceremonies. It also has two fires, in case you’re counting. (Bonus: book on CD!)

Brown, Alan – Audrey Hepburn’s Neck – A young Japanese man raised in a remote northern village moves to Tokyo to pursue both his career and his interest in American ladies, with complicated and sometimes hilarious results. It’s not all fun and games though, because along the way he learns the disturbing truth behind his parents’ estrangement and his mother’s wartime past.


Gibson, William – Idoru – A clever, determined teenage fangirl travels to Japan to stop her musical idol from marrying a virtual idol – though of course, there’s way more to it than that. If the technology seems a little wack to you, remember that it was written in 1996. I didn’t even have a cell phone in 1996.

Golden, Arthur – Memoirs of a Geisha – Do I really need to describe this one for you? Okay, how about this: poor girl has an unhealthy obsession with the guy who once bought her an ice cream cone. It’s partially based on the life of Mineko Iwasaki, who went on to write her own book (Geisha: a Life) because she was pissed at Golden. Like, lawsuit pissed. (Bonus: movie and ebook and book on CD!)

Hayder, Mo – The Devil of Nanking – An English girl who’s done a very bad thing scours Tokyo looking for an elderly gangster who’s also done a very bad thing. Also features nightclubs, professors, mysterious film footage, messy apartments, English teachers, and creepy old men. (Bonus: book on CD!)

Kramer, Gavin – Shopping – A tall goofy-looking English lawyer falls hard for a sixteen year-old Japanese girl who is far more interested in his paychecks than his personality. He also finds the absolutely worst possible way to introduce himself to her parents. I’m not kidding.


Massey, Sujata – The Salaryman’s Wife – The first in a series about spunky half-American half-Japanese antiques-dealer/detective/nosy girl Rei Shimura and her assortment of boyfriends and ex-boyfriends. Not classic literature or anything, but still good readin’ for long flights or rainy days.

Talarigo, Jeff – The Pearl Diver – A nineteen year-old pearl diver contracts leprosy, is forced to sacrifice her name and family, and is transported to a leper colony where she becomes a caretaker for the more severely afflicted. Not a cheerful book, but darn interesting.

Yu, Miri – Gold Rush – A fourteen year-old boy with some unsavory hobbies kills his father and tries to take over his gambling empire, with predictable results. (Note: this one was written in Japanese, but the author is Korean – so she didn’t make it onto the Japanese fiction list.)

– Amy

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Manga for everything.

Foyer of the Kyoto International Manga Museum*

I’ve heard that in Japan there is manga for everything, but as I do not read Japanese or live in Japan, I have to wait for the library to purchase English translations. And while we don’t have manga for everything, we do have manga for some mighty odd things. For instance!

Agriculture – Moyasimon – College student Tadayasu can see (and talk to) bacteria. This leads to all sorts of adventures involving fermented seals, sake brewing, athlete’s foot, food poisoning, mushroom cultivation, and more. There’s a good deal of science sprinkled throughout the series, and the bacteria are adorably drawn. Who knew that an agricultural college would be such a crazy place?

Autism – With the Light – This series follows the Azuma family and their autistic son Hikaru from his birth to his middle school years. It’s hard to describe fully, because there’s a lot going on here. My favorite parts aren’t about Hikaru; they’re the chapters that show how Japanese society treats people with autism. Unfortunately, this series was forced to an early conclusion by the author’s death, which is a loss for all of us.

Becoming a Manga Artist – A Zoo in Winter –  The mostly autobiographical tale of Hamaguchi, a young man who joins a manga studio in Tokyo in the 1960s, when everything was done by hand and moved at a different pace – well, except the deadlines. Apparently deadlines haven’t changed much.

The Bombing of Hiroshima – Barefoot Gen – This is quite possibly the most depressing manga I’ve ever read, because it’s a true story. Gen’s older brother is in the army. Gen’s father is ostracized for opposing the war. Half of Gen’s family burns to death in the fires started by the atomic bomb while Gen and his pregnant mother are watching. And then it gets bad. Seriously – even Maus is a cake walk compared to this one. (Bonus: movies!)

Chinese Food – Iron Wok Jan – The first example on our list of the “son of a famous blah blah blah displays his knowledge and triumphs over adversity” genre. It’s about a cocky young fellow named Jan (who is the son of a famous chef), and apparently takes place in a part of Japan that has an awful lot of Chinese cooking competitions. Also, the female lead’s, erm, assets, increase dramatically by the end of the series. I don’t know how she can even see what she’s cooking.

Football – Eyeshield 21 – Sena, a scrawny kid who’s good at dodging bullies, accidentally develops some impressive running skills and is drafted by (read: forced to join) his school’s failing football team. Will they be able to rebuild the team? Will they make it to the fabled Christmas Bowl? Well, of course they will – it’s that kind of manga. But you’ll learn lots and lots about football along the way. This is the first “underdog sports team triumphs over adversity” title on our list. (Also, “Eyeshield 21” is a pretty dumb nickname. Maybe it sounds better in Japanese.)

Japanese Food – Oishinbo – Number two in the “son of a famous dude” genre. Shiro (our hero) is pitted against his father, who is apparently the Best Food Critic Ever. The two work for rival newspapers, and are competing to create the ultimate Japanese menu (sure, why not). Anyway, each English-language volume is based on a theme (sake, pub food, rice) which is mighty educational but chronologically confusing. Why is the main character meeting his future wife in volume one, dating her in volume three, and getting married in volume two? But still, any book that claims to bring lovers together with the powers of asparagus is worth a read.

The Silk Road – A Bride’s Story – Twenty year-old Amir and her twelve year-old husband settle down with his extended family somewhere in central Asia. It’s fun to see the cultural differences between Amir and her new family, especially since you’re learning about both cultures at the same time. Throw in a Brit for some slapstick comic relief, fill it with appallingly beautiful and detailed artwork, and you’re good to go.

Tennis – The Prince of Tennis – This one combines the “underdog sports team” and “son of a famous dude” genres quite nicely, and has lots of pretty high school boys, too. Alas, I gave up on it halfway through the series, because the tournaments just go on forever – do I really want to watch poor Ryoma swat at balls for 42 volumes? Hell no. But there’s scads of tennis vocabulary and it’s obviously well-researched. Good enough, if tennis is your thing (or you get it for free from your library).

Victorian England – Emma – Being a maid is hard work. Really hard work. Even if you’re Emma, and you have a super liberal employer who buys you glasses and teaches you how to read. And then, you get abducted and shipped to America because your boyfriend’s fiancée’s dad doesn’t like you. Maybe you would have been better off in that brothel. (No, not really.) But the artwork is amazing (same author as A Bride’s Story), and the history is spot on. (Bonus: anime!)

Wine – The Drops of God – Another “son of a famous dude” manga. This son, Shizuku,  is competing with his adopted brother in a contest (“son of a famous dude” manga almost always has a contest in it somewhere) to see who will inherit famous-wine-critic dad’s wine cellar, which is worth scads of money. I’ve never learned so much about France from a Japanese book. So yeah, the format is predictable. It’s the content that really sets this one apart.

Window Washing – Saturn Apartments – Okay, I’m kinda faking it with this one, because there’s not much window washing instruction in here. But it is a manga about a group of window washers and their newest hire, the adorable teenager Mitsu. And they work on a space station, too. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Trust me, it is.

Those are just a few of the titles that have been translated into English. I’m almost afraid to see what will cross the ocean next.

– Amy

Children's room of the Kyoto International Manga Museum*

*Photographs courtesty of Flickr user threefishsleeping via Creative Commons license.


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28 Super Short Reviews of Japanese Fiction

Most librarians have specialities, or, if you prefer, stuff that they really like. For the most fortunate ones, the stuff that they really like corresponds to the stuff that they do for a living – for example, our poetry writing dude is also our poetry buying dude, which is just smashing for both him and this library.

As for me, I buy DVDs day in and day out. I think it’s one of the most awesome jobs in this library (though I am a bit biased) and it’s a lot of fun, but it doesn’t quite line up with the stuff that I really like – Roman history, everyday life in Nazi Germany, true crime stories from America’s gilded age, and wacky Japanese fiction.

I’m not sure what it is about Japanese fiction that I enjoy so much. It could be learning about Japanese culture by seeing how people operate inside of it. It could be the bits of history that I pick up here and there, especially in the books published immediately after WWII. Maybe it’s the gentle detachment that comes from reading something that’s one step away from its original language. But I think the main attraction is that some of it is just really freakin’ weird.

Here are a few of the books and authors that I’ve encountered and enjoyed over the years. I hope you’ll check them out, too.

Abe, Kobo – The Box Man – Yes, it is about a guy who lives in a box.

Abe, Kobo – The Woman in the Dunes – Insect collector enjoys the odd hospitality of a remote village. (Bonus: movie!)

Azuchi, Satoshi – Supermarket – Expand your business, make an attractive produce display, fend off the office ladies.

Ekuni, Kaori – Twinkle, Twinkle – How to fake a marriage. (Note: we don’t own this one, but it’s available through Interlibrary Loan.)

Higashino, Keigo – The Devotion of Suspect X – A helpful next door neighbor is very helpful indeed. (Bonus: book on CD!)


Kanehara, Hitomi – Snakes and Earrings – There’s a lot about piercings and a lot about crazy boyfriends.

Kirino, Natusuo Out – Box lunch factory ladies contemplate a second career in body disposal.

Kirino, Natsuo –  Grotesque – One sister is hot, the other is not.

Kuroi, Senji – Life in the Cul-De-Sac – Ever wonder what the neighbors are doing?

Matsumoto, Seicho – Points and Lines – This book just wouldn’t work in the days of modern airport security. (Note: we don’t own this one, but it’s available through Interlibrary Loan.)


Miyabe, Miyaki All She was Worth – An identity theft mystery that’ll teach you a lot about the Japanese economy.

Murakami, Haruki After Dark – Strange things happen when you hang out in restaurants. (Bonus: book on CD!)

Murakami, Haruki Kafka on the ShoreColonel Sanders, talking cats and missing soldiers will befriend you. (Bonus: Playaway!)

Murakami, Ryu – In the Miso Soup – Meet the worst tourist ever.

Murakami, Ryu – Piercing – Remember kids, don’t bite the prostitutes.

All She Was Worth         

Nagai, Kafu – Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale – Like Memoirs of a Geisha from a different point of view.

Oe, Kenzaburo – Somersault – A very long book about religion with some terrorism thrown in.

Ogawa, Yoko – Hotel Iris – Teenage desk clerk vs. mysterious translator.

Taguchi, Randy – Outlet – You may find your calling in life, and it may be really weird.

Takagi, Akimitsu – Honeymoon to Nowhere – Learn about Japan in the 1960s while trying to figure out who killed the groom.


Takagi, Akimitsu – The Tattoo Murder Case – The evidence is on display in a museum.

Takami, Koushun – Battle Royale – It’s pretty much The Hunger Games Japan (but this one came first).

Takahashi, Genichiro – Sayonara, Gangsters – The title of the book is the name of the protagonist and it gets weirder from there, with the talking refrigerator and all.

Tanizaki, Junichiro – Naomi – An infatuated gent learns the hard way that some women make lousy housewives.

Tanizaki, Junichiro – Some Prefer Nettles – Are they getting  divorced or not, already?


Tanizaki, Junichiro – The Makioka Sisters – This one’s totally Jane Austen in Japan. (Bonus: movie!)

Yokomori, Rika – Tokyo Tango – Young college dropout shacks up with old gambler, inevitable conclusion.

Yoshimura, Akira – On Parole – Long commutes, chicken farms, second wives, accidents happen.

If you’re looking for super weird, try Kobo Abe. For accessible weird, there’s Natsuo Kirino. Akimitsu Takagi is all about mysteries with history, while Junichiro Tanizaki is the way to go if you’re interested in more classic/literary stuff.  And Satochi Azuchi’s Supermarket is hands down the best book you’ll ever read about a supermarket – though you’ll probably never read another book about a supermarket. But if you find one, let me know.

– Amy, who is quite happy in the Music, Film & Audio Department


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The cherry blossom trees behind the Carnegie Museum have almost reached the end of their brief bloom.  The delicate pink and white petals inevitably remind me of Japan. And anytime I am reminded of anything, it’s time to browse the stacks and see what we can find to scratch that itch. With Japan in mind, my browsing led me to an old favorite, the works of Yukio Mishima. I might have preferred a nice non-fiction, perhaps something about the visually arresting and dramatic samurai period, maybe a samurai film (CLP has a great collection), or a fun travelogue.

But I ended up with Mishima. He is the type of author you can’t ever leave permanently. I read several of his novels about five years ago and I knew then I would be back for another round. For a guy who likes non-fiction and genre fiction, Mishima is an odd choice. This is good.  You have to shake things up. His books are complex and engaging, and at times rather difficult.  But a reader is richly rewarded.  Characters are dissected to their core amidst sensual and precise descriptions of casual detail that work magic on the reader’s subconscious. 

Mishima’s work stands on its own. But no discussion of it is really complete without a look at his life and death. I imagine there could be others, but as far as I know, Mishima is the only author to have attempted a coup d’ état.

Coup d’Wha?

That’s right. Mishima and a few members of his private army attempted to stage a coup d’ état.

Private army?

You read correctly. Mishima had a small private army. Two of its members assisted Mishima in the completion of his ritual suicide after the coup inevitably failed.

Ritual suicide?

Mishima ended his own life in the traditional samurai fashion.  Although he was a wealthy  and highly successful  author, he did have a bit of a reputation for outlandish behavior in the press with his late turn to nationalism , a private army, and the persistent discussion about his sexuality.  But no one was prepared for his actions on November 25th, 1970.  The coup and suicide were incredibly shocking.  


This all happened in 1970.

If you have a pulse, at this point you must be at least mildly curious about this man and his work. For those wishing to start with a critically acclaimed and accessible novel, I would recommend After the Banquet. It’s an engaging story about the conflicting pressures of love and ambition. If you are just wondering about the life of this unique and conflicted man then you should have a look at Henry Scott-Stokes The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima.   Confession of a Mask, the story of a closeted homosexual, was the first of Mishima’s works translated in the west. I am currently reading The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea.  Don’t worry, there are multiple copies.  And I would be very remiss if I failed to mention Mishima, A Life in Four Chapters, an amazing film about his life and work.

For the truly ambitious there is the Sea of Fertility, a tetralogy starting with Spring Snow. These novels delve deeply into Buddhist theology and ideas about reincarnation, spinning a decades long storyline into a shocking conclusion. The manuscript of the final volume, The Decay of the Angel, was submitted to the publisher on the very day of Mishima’s death.

Anyone interested in themes of love, life, beauty, and death, will find much to admire and enjoy in Mishima’s work.



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A friend in Japan, a friend to Japan

My best friend is one of the many Americans who live and work in Japan. On Friday afternoon at about 2:45 PM local time, she was curled up under her desk, thinking about her loved ones, praying for her safety, and riding out one of the worst earthquakes on record.

When I asked her if she’d like to share her story on this blog, she said that she still hadn’t come to terms with the quake and was unable to write about it – though she did give me permission to tell you about her, for which I am grateful.

My friend lives inland, in the mountains, a good three hours south of the most devastated parts of Japan. She’s safe. Her friends are safe. She has food and water and shelter and (most of the time) electricity. Her possessions are undamaged. She’s very lucky, and she knows it. But still, my friend can’t put her feelings into words just yet.

Compare her situation to that of the unlucky hundreds of thousands who live further north. I can’t even begin to comprehend what they’re living through, and in a way, I think it would be presumptuous to even try. There is no way I can do justice to their suffering.

What I can do (and what I have suggested to some of my other friends) is make a donation to a reputable charity. I can’t go to Japan and help with the search and rescue operations. I can’t distribute supplies. I can’t provide medical care. But I can make it possible for trained professionals to reach these areas and help the people of Japan in a safe, efficient, and effective manner.

So please, if you are so inclined and are able, consider supporting the relief efforts in Japan. At the end of this post there is a list of organizations that you can contact, though of course you are always welcome to choose your own. And if you’d care to suggest any other organizations, please do so in the comments section.

– Amy

The world of dew
is a world of dew,
and yet, and yet…

– Issa, translated by Robert Hass

Giving Tools

  • Charity Navigator is  a nonprofit organization that analyzes the finances of charitable organizations, so you can choose the charity where your money will do the most good. The site also provides tips to help you plan when and how to donate.
  • Forbes magazine provides a list of America’s 200 largest charities. If you sort the table by “Charitable Commitment,” you can see which charities are most efficient with your donations.
  • Safe Donations to Victims of the Tsunami in Japan – helpful advice for donations at any time, really. From Consumerism Commentary.

Selected Charities

  • AmeriCares specializes in emergency response and disaster relief assistance. Their emergency response manager is already in Japan.
  • Pittsburgh-based Brother’s Brother Foundation is partnering with the Japan-American Society of Pennsylvania, just as they did after the 1995 earthquake in Kobe. Forbes magazine also considers them one of the country’s most efficient charities.
  • Direct Relief International provides medical supplies and equipment.
  • One of my coworkers who lived in northeastern Japan for two years knows the people at Jhelp, who are currently working in Sendai. They even accept donated airline miles so that they can bring in more volunteers.
  • World Vision is an organization that usually provides microloans, but in this case has switched to accepting donations.

Additional links


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