Friday, August 12, 2005

"To Sir Georg Solti"

It was always a treat to go to the opera at the Covent Garden during the two years I stayed in the U.K. At one time, my best philosopher friend, Ken Shiotani, came to visit me with his wife. We went down from Cambridge to London on the train. We went to see the opera at the Covent Garden. I do not quite recall what we saw. In any case, the most memorable moment visited us outside the theatre, not inside it. Beside the theatre, there was a black, luxury car. As we passed by, we happened to glance inside. On the seat next to the driver, there was an envelope. "To Sir Georg Solti", the letters on the surface could be read.
At that time, the great conductor was still with us, and he was apparently doing something in the house, although he was not conducting on that evening. The envelope brought a sense of intimacy with the man, and although it was of course an illusion, that was a wonderful one even so. I and my philosopher friend later discussed that it was the highlight of the whole evening.

Sir Georg Solti 1912-1917.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

In the middle of rice fields.

I went to the municipality of Inashiki to give a public lecture on brain and mind. In Japan, railways are big. Although Inashiki is in the Kanto plane (in which Tokyo is situated), it is at least one-hour drive from any of the railway stations around. That means, in the railway-oriented Japanese psyche, Inashiki is very very far away. Perhaps these areas are one of the best-kept secrets for an incidental traveler. I enjoyed being driven by the organizers through the endless rice fields.
The great extension of plain land in summer means that there is a risk of thunder and lightening. We had a jolly loud one during my lecture. The air conditioning of the auditorium was malfunctioning, due to a heavy thunderstorm a few days earlier, I learned. The audiences were mainly teachers of elementary and junior high schools. The questions and discussions were enjoyable, with many insights gained from a direct interaction with the modern children, despite the heat.
It is always heartening to share thoughts with school teachers. You are reminded of your own past, when you were a small kid, being given many things by the well-meaning teachers, and then disappearing from their sight without saying enough words of thanks. Many essential interactions in this world are unidirectional. Teacher-pupil relations are representative of that truth in life.

A road in the middle of rice fields--a typical rural landscape in Japan.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Japan's postal reform is halted.

National politics is only the nation's residents' concern, so it may not be interesting for people outside Japan but yesterday was a historic day in Japanese politics. The postal reform bill proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was vetoed in the upper house. Koizumi dissolved the lower house, calling for a general election. He took the unprecedented measure to exclude the members of his party who voted "No" from the list of official candidates of the Liberal Democratic party.
The way the lower house is dissolved is rather dramatic and exciting. The Emperor in postwar Japan only serves a symbolic role in politics. The prime minister can, legally speaking, dissolve the lower house at any time. He asks the Emperor to sign the official order to dissolve. The order is carried to the house in a purple cloth, and the chairman reads the order. It is customary that the M.P.s cheer the dissolvement by repeating "Banzai", partly as a wish to come back to the house after the general election.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolves the lower house.

Monday, August 08, 2005

A world open only to the blind.

I had a public discussion with Yohei Nishimura, who is known for his arts education program for the blind. In addition, Nishimura is a famous ceramic sculptor in his own right. The discussion was a part of the Summer School for tactile art.
I began my discussion by stating how from the point of view of the brain's mechanism lacking the functionality of vision is not a simple case of deprivation. When you take one functionality from the brain, something else fills that space. It is not like "normal" people are on a 100 and blind people are, say, on 10 less. The "normal" and the blind are both on 100, with different compositions of functionalities.
There are worlds open to you only when you become blind. I remember the time when I visited the famous Kaidan-Meguri in Zenko-ji temple. In this ancient temple, you are led into an underground vault, which is totally dark. You cannot see anything, and you try to touch the "key to the paradise" hidden somewhere in the passage. The condition is supposed to symbolize the helpless condition of men before the almighty in this world.
When I was there, I was struck by the surprisingly rich wave of sensations and feelings that arise from walking in the dark, searching and touching with the hand in a hesitating and careful manner. For example, your forehead feels like it is burning, presumably expecting something to hit that part, should some obstacle be in your way. Although the search for the key to the paradise was not easy, I enjoyed the whole process.
When I came out of the pitch-dark vault, I was refreshed by the summer sunshine and wind. I reflected on what I had just experienced, in a totally sightless condition. I pondered on the contrast between inside and outside the vault. Then I suddenly realized that for a blind person there wouldn't have been a single difference. For them, the world would have been a continuous and homogenous condition of sightlessness, and they would not have noticed the transition. I realized what blessings I had as a sighted person, and at the same time appreciated the existence of a whole world that I missed.

Tourist guide to the Zenko-ji temple and other attractions in the vicinity

Zenko-ji temple at night.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

True Days of Infamy

Close scrutiny into history is revealing that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945 and then on Nagasaki three days later, cannot be justified even on the premises of drawing the war towards the end. It was, simply put, a war crime, and the Americans should have the guts to admit that. These were the truly "days of infamy" for Americans. In today's highly unstable world politics climate, nuclear weapons are becoming much more vulnerable and lethal at the same time. We must come to the sane conclusion that any use of it, no matter how beautifully or bravely put, cannot be justified in any sense. Let's be brave enough to stop justifying a senseless use of brutality.

The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima just after the bomb. Today A World Heritage Site.