Saturday, August 15, 2009

Eternal solitude

The performance of Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Peter Schneider and directed by Christoph Marthaler (Bayreuth Festspiele, on 13th August 2009), left a very vivid and stinging aftertaste.

At first, during the 1st and 2nd act, the intentions of Marthaler was not apparent to this observer. The singers kept a very detached stature overall. At the end of the 1st act, for example, apprehending the approach of King Marke the four (Tristan, Isolde, Brangane, and Kurwenal) try to compose themselves by sitting stiff in geometrically arranged chairs.

The contrived and restricted manner in which everyone acted transfigured into significant and moving meaning, as, at the end of the 3rd act, after singing the final words assigned to each, first Kurwenal, then Marke, and finally Brangane turned away from the world, standing in an upright position, face to the wall.

Isolde herself, after singing the beautiful Liebestod alone in the bed that Tristan has been lying, finally lies on the bed, covering her body and face with the white sheet.

So the opera ends with people encapsulated in the isolation of each, distanced from other people, no matter dead or alive. And the love itself, glued by the poignant word "und", is emancipated and lost for ever in the ocean of eternal solitude.

Image from the final act of Marthaler's Tristan und Isolde, from

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tristan und Isolde

On 13th August 2009, I attended a performance at the Bayreuth Festspiele for the first time in my life. It was Tristan und Isolde.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Repetition leads

So I have come to Munich, in translation to Bayreuth.

I have visited Munich many times. Whenever I can, I listen to operas, preferably Wagner, in the National Theatre. Compared to the dense metropolis in other nations, German capitals tend to be more sparsely inhabited, reflecting, perhaps, the character of the German people. Always keeping a proud distance.

Repetition leads to the realization of life's continuity. Visiting a familiar city reminds one of the former times, how you were young, innocent, and ignorant. With age one gets some chunks of wisdom, but the ignorance persists in a different form.

I bought three books on Wagner in the Hauptbahhof. Reading them would give me the much needed opportunity to refresh my German.

Today, I travel to Bayreuth, to meet my long waited fate. I would be listening to Tristan und Isolde. The greatest and most intensely romantic piece of art ever.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

And there will be life

Lands in Tokyo, like in any cotemporary city of big lights, are heavily utilized. It was a rare occasion that a space near my house, after the demolition of buildings that occupied the land, was left unattended for the summer.

At first, it looked like a barren land. Soon the weeds began to grow. Now, it is like a jungle of miscellaneous vegetations. Flowers bloom here and there. Butterflies and dragonflies take advantage of the sudden growth of wilderness in the busy cityscape by flying over the green extension.

It is a testimony again that nature, when given sufficient space and time, can take care of itself. It does not require an active intervention on the part of humans. Just let nature go its own way, and there will be life.

I suspect that some essential parts of nature are victimized by our shortsighted meddlings. The unconscious is like the nature, and too much interference by the conscious can disrupt its carefree dynamics.

I take the scene of green apparitions that emerged in the rare open land as a testimony of the importance of autonomy, natural and unconscious.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


This summer, within a few days, I would be traveling to Bayreuth for the first time in my life.

I will be listening to the performances of Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, and Parsifal.

Naturally I am filled with great expectations. Wagner was, has been, and is the creative genius of my love, and attending the Bayreuth festival has been one of my dreams.

I am 46 now. To think it took more than 30 years to realize one's wish inspires one with strange emotions.

There are many spiritual creatures lurking in one's expectations. They have their own life forms, timelines for development. Sometimes they bear fruit, and other times perish. To come to something in actuality has nothing to do with the fulfilment of one's expectations. Expectations have their own territory, where Queens and Kings with no parallels in the real world reign in the darkness and mist.

When I am seated in the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, and the lights go out, as the first notes resound, I will have finally found a restful tomb for all these wonderful creatures that have been lurking in my expectations.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tears of onceness.

When the onceness of life touches us, tears drop from the eyes.

Yesterday, there was a wedding party. Shinichi Nozawa, a Ph.D student in my laboratory at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Emiko Ito, an editor at the publishing house Chikumashobo, were married.

In Japanese wedding festivities, it is customary that the newly-wed couple present flower bouquets to their parents at the end of the party, expressing gratitude.

As the pair approached the parents, they already appeared to be on the verge of crying.

The childhood days when they clung to the knees of their parents. The entrance ceremonies of elementary school. The cherry blossoms. The sports meeting, with parents watching the child run. The graduation of universities. Parents treated by the first salary of life.

All these things, with the inevitable procession of time, surround the couple. Shinichi and Emiko cry. The tears are the crystals of their happiness, the epitome of passage of life.

Here's to the the tears of onceness.

Shinichi and Emiko preparing to present the bouquet.
In Joshui Kaikan party room, Tokyo.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

NHK Saga

NHK is the national public broadcasting organization in Japan. I host, with Ms. Miki Sumiyoshi, "The Professionals" program broadcast weekly since January 2006 by NHK.

One of the characters of NHK which is distinguishing compared to the commercial broadcasters is that it has branches in local cities all over Japan. Since broadcasting by NHK has a designated public role, it is expected to cover local issues and news as well as national and global trends.

I have been visiting the city of Saga for the last couple of days, and sure enough, there was a NHK branch in Saga, too.
Interestingly, a NHK branch is usually situated near the Old Castle site. After the Meiji restoration in 1867, the new government buildings were built in or the near the old castle sites, which were considered to be symbols of the "ancien regime". The fact that the NHK branches are usually at the Edo-era castle sites indicates the public nature of NHK. It is part of the institutions of modernized Japan.

I sometimes feel that it is those idiosyncratic and scattered facts about a nation that constitute the implicit experience of living in that country. The location of NHK branches, for example.

NHK Saga building, near the old Saga Castle site.