Saturday, August 08, 2009


I was in the car on the way to the conference site in Saga. We have just been to the old Saga castle site. As we left the Saga Castle History Museum, I noticed that black clouds have gathered in the sky. It was a very hot afternoon. In the newspaper "Saga Shimbun" next morning, it was reported that the temperature reached 37.8 degrees Centigrade, the second highest in recorded history.

In the car, we heard rumbles in the distance. A thunderstorm has come. As I witnessed the first thunderbolt running zigzag in the sky, I suddenly thought of the dragon.

The human brain sometimes plays such funny tricks. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was the intensive hour of being immersed in history in the museum. Perhaps the hot air affected me. I am not sure what combination of elements led to that hallucination, but at that very moment, it seemed so natural to me to associate the thunderbolt with the magnificent existence of the imaginary creature.

The moment was gone quite as rapidly as it came. We arrived at the auditorium, and I was again in the practical world of attending to the tightly made conference schedule.

The dragon had disappeared.

Friday, August 07, 2009

El Sur

"El Sur" by the Spanish director Victor Erice is one of my all-time favorite films. In it, el sur ("the south") is depicted as an attractive and mysterious land. In the film, there is a special connotation about the south, as the father of the girl appears to have a mistress in that far-off land.

The film ends as the girl prepares herself for her very first trip to the south, where, hopefully, she would find out her father's secret life.

There is something about the south that is life invigorating. Those were the thoughts as airplane flew southwards from Tokyo, and landed on Saga airport.

I have come to attend a two day session which I chair.

The sunshine on my mother's native island of Kyushu was mild and serene.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Some days ago, I went to the Nasu district, where the Nasu Imperial Villa is located. It is a favorite summer retreat for the Japanese, as due to the altitude the air is cooler. We had quite interesting discussions on creativity in the beautiful Niki club resort.

On the way back in the Tohoku Shinkansen train, I passed by the rice fields of northern Kanto plane. Although the train was running with the speed of 275 kilometers per hour, I could still see how beautiful the scenery was. Those little houses with red roofs and well-maintained trees in the garden, scattered here and there in the rice field.

Compared to the famous tourist destinations, these places are unknown. They remain nameless for the incidental traveler. But how beautiful and attractive these places appear to this soul.

In the 2nd act of Tristan und Isolde, the pair sings rapturously:

So starben wir,
um ungetrennt,
ewig einig,
ohne End’,
ohn’ Erwachen,
ohn’ Erbangen,
namenlos in Lieb’ umfangen,
ganz uns selbst gegeben,
der Liebe nur zu leben!

Thus might we die,
that together,
ever one,
without end,
never waking,
never fearing,
enveloped in love,
given up to each other,
to live only for love!

Blessed are those who are wise enough to appreciate the sublime joy of namelessness.

Scenery observed from the Shinkansen train south of the Nasushiobara station.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sun, moon, mountains and water

Boybu (wind wall) is a typical Japanese style of art, and many excellent specimens are known. Of them, the Jitsugetsu Sansui-zu Byobu ("Sun, moon, mountains and water") is my favorite.

It depicts the sun, moon, and mountains, with the water expressed as waves surrounding and permeating everything. The waves are drawn in an abstract and conceptualized style, and yet are so alive, vibrating, as if representing the urge for life itself.

The wind wall is in the Kongoji temple in Kawachinagano.

On the 5th of May and 3rd of Novermber each year, the "Sun, moon, mountains and water" wind wall is made open to the public. From time to time, this marvelous painting from the Muromachi period is displayed in art museums.

So far, I have had two opportunities to admire this breathtakingly marvelous piece of art. Standing in front of it, you feel that your life is reinvigorated.

The Wind wall painting "Sun, moon, mountains and water" (Jitsugetsu Sansui-zu Byobu)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Background to Britain

When I was 16, the senior high school teacher gave us a booklet titled "Background to Britain". We were to read it during the summer vacations. Looking back, I think it is fair to say that this small book, written by M. D. Munro Mackenzie & L. J. Westwood, kindled my interest in the English culture.

It was significant that the book was written by two Englishmen with a great care in the selection of materials. For example, the chapter on English weather went thus.



'Other countries have a climate; in England we have weather.' This statement, often made by Englishmen to describe the peculiar meteorological conditions of their country, is both revealing and true. It is revealing because in it we see the Englishman insisting once again that what happens in England is not the same as what happens elsewhere: its truth can be ascertained by any foreigner who stays in the country for longer than few days.
In no country other than England, it has been said, can one experience four seasons in the course of a single day! Day may break as a balmy spring morning; an hour or so later black clouds may have appeared from nowhere and the rain may be pouring down. At midday conditions may be really wintry with the temperature down by about fifteen degrees. And then, in the late afternoon the sky will clear, the sun will begin to shine, and for an hour or two before darkness falls, it will be summer.


I started to learn English at the age of 12, and by the time I encountered this book, I was still in the steep slope of the learning curve (maybe I still am). In any case, it was significant that the prose was beautifully written by two gentlemen with a love for their mother culture, with a well-balanced humor.

In learning a foreign language, it is important to choose the study material carefully. Language is like music. Some texts are well-written, with aesthetically satisfying results. Some study materials are unnatural and contrived, being specifically written for someone with limited vocabulary. While those artificially written specimen of a foreign language is surely well meaning, they somehow destroy the aesthetics of the learner.

It was fortunate that, some 3-4 years after I started to learn English, I encountered this beautiful text. I still regard this small booklet as a gemstone in the learning steps of my humble life.


The "Background to Britain" book I read during one senior high school summer vacation.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Several days I go, I made a comment on the internet service twitter. Since then, some people have told me their opinions about twitter, as I encountered them in my course of life in Tokyo. It is always interesting to exchange ideas, in person especially, about what is currently hot.

Here I find myself writing about youtube. I have only words of praise for youtube. I confess to be a heavy user of youtube. When I am on the road in the hotel room, I tend to spend the last few minutes of the evening searching for interesting videos in youtube. Most of the time, I would watch my favorite British comedies. At other times, I would listen to my favorite music, classical or otherwise. When I am really in the mood, I might listen to lectures by intellectuals, like those provided by authors@google.

There are many wonderful things about youtube, but more than anything, I admire their slogan "Broadcast Yourself". A significant portion of the traffic might be earned by commercially produced works, but that is not, conceptually speaking, the point. The emphasis is on people in many countries, whether young or old, rich or poor, educated or tabula rasa, who have obtained a means of literally "broadcasting yourself" through youtube. The slogan, incidentally, is wide enough to include those who are professionals producing commercially supported and distributed works. The slogan "Broadcast Yourself", in a nutshell, is very well conceived indeed.

It is my opinion that the various services provided on the internet compete not only in terms of technical excellence and band width. They compete on the basis of the brilliance of philosophy that is behind the service provided. Youtube is an excellent example of "philosophy in bits".

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Boy spirits

I chatted with my best friend Takashi Ikegami in the Omotesando area in Tokyo. The dialogue was held for the philosophy and poetry magazine "Eureka" published by Seidosha.

For an hour and half, we discussed how as children we both were fascinated by the insects. The endless hours we spend searching for rare species in the field, the touch of beetles at our fingertips on the dimly lit forest floor.

Sitting face to face with Takashi, I had this strange feeling that we were still elementary school boys, meeting in the classroom after the summer vacation, exchanging and sharing the experiences of each during the long holidays.

In life, the boy spirits keep carrying us through the stages, the ascents and descents. Sprinkles and sparkles of the boy spirit surrounded two lonely souls on a summer morning in Tokyo.

Takashi Ikegami in his room at the University