Saturday, September 12, 2009

Professor Higgins

I was 10 or so when I first saw My Fair Lady (film). I was immediately fascinated by the whole ambience. At that time, video recorders and video tapes were not widely available. So I bought the sound tracks in the LP format and listened to them. It was my first lessons in the English language.

The character of Professor Higgins, played by Rex Harrison, captured my imagination from the beginning. I do not know what was so significant. His manner of getting to the point with the speed of lightening, his devotion to the study of speech, the accompanying and inevitable dropping of all considerations of material and domestic needs, was an inspiration.

When I traveled to U.K. and had a chance to have interactions with the English academics, I found that the Higgins type is not rare. Higgins are everywhere. They have their peculiarities, quick wits. The eyes are cast at nowhere, their minds apparently occupied by unearthly things.

The speech and actions of Professor Higgins is a music in itself. It was so beautifully portrayed by the late Rex Harrison that the world owes a heritage to him. I, for one, owe a youthful inspiration which probably helped my scooting towards the fanciful worlds of intelligent endeavors.

Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison) offering chocolates to Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Not an easy place to live

I knew that Glenn Gould, my favorite pianist, used to like reading Kusamakura (Grass Pillow) of Soseki Natsume. Naturally, I have read the original Japanese version (many times), but have never ventured to tackle an English translation.

For some reasons, Kusamagura has been hanging on the verge of my consciousness recently. The other day, I finally bought the new translation by Meredith McKinney, published from Penguin Classics.

The famous opening sentences are translated thus:


As I climb the mountain path, I ponder--
If you work by reason, you grow rough-edged; if you choose to dip your oar into sentiment's stream, it will sweep you away. Demanding your own way only serves to constrain you. However you look at it, the human world is not an easy place to live.

From Kusamakura: Translated by Meredith McKinney, Penguin Classics


I think it was Soseki's pessimistic observation that haunted my soul when I first read the novel as a child. It is, however, a pessimism with a vital force to go forward. Soseki apparently wrote the whole novel in a matter of a week, if we take his words literally.

Pessimism, or acknowledging that existence can never be perfect, is the founding stone for a vigorous life. It is the source of great works of art. There is wisdom in educated pessimism.

Although I am generally regarded as an optimistic person by my friends, I must say that there is always a tinge of pessimism in the way I regard the world.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lights are everywhere

The other day I visited a temple in the Hieizan mountain near Kyoto.

I met with The Great Ajari Yusai Sakamoto, who completed the Sennichi Kaihogyo (1000 days of intensive and life-or-death journey through the mountains) twice.

As I was leaving the quiet sanctuary, I looked back. There were rays of sunshine permeating through the woods. There is such a magic about lights going through the air, when they are made visible.

Even when we cannot see, the lights are everywhere, permeating, being reflected, shining on, and emanating from.

The rays in the woods stood in my mind as an example of invisible things, which surround our life. When made visible through the workings of rare conditions, they appear to us as heaven-sent miracles, but earthly all the same.

Light rays permeating through the woods.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why doesn't he write and find out?

From my own experience, and from the general brain scientific point of view, writing has a special significance for the brain.

My mentor at the University of Cambridge was Horace Barlow. Once, Horace was organizing a conference. One of the participants did not send in an abstract. When contacted, the negligent participant answered that he did not know what he should write in the paper. When the postdoc who was functioning as an assistant for the conference reported that reply, Horace immediately said:

"Why doesn't he write and find out?"

Horace's sharp comment cuts right into the essence of the cognitive processes involved in writing. When writing, one often consciously perceives chunks of information which has been dormant in one's unconscious. Writing provides a channel between one's conscious and unconscious.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Yutaka Ozaki

There are certain cultural phenomena, which, due to the language barrier, cannot transcend easily to other nations. These are hidden treasures, screened from people of other cultures at a great loss to the knowing and unknowing parties.

Yutaka Ozaki is one of them. A legendary singer-songwriter, he died at the premature age of 26. The wikipedia entry , at its present rudimentary state, simply does not do justice to this great musician.

Yutaka Ozaki sang about youthful dreams, anxieties, and love. The young spirit is sometimes rebellious towards the status quo, for the very good reason that the fiery energy cannot be contained in a conventional social structure.

Yutaka Ozaki's song, while being an anthem of rebellion, eventually deepens into a love which is all-encompassing, including those against whom the young artist expressed his mistrust in the lyrics. Overcoming the obstacles, Yutaka Ozaki's songs attain the universal value of a great art.

My favorite Yutaka Ozaki songs include "I love you", "Oh my little girl", "Graduation", and "Singing to the Wind" (Kaze ni Utaeba).

Yutaka Ozaki (1965-1992) at a concert.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Liquid in life

I had a public dialogue with the designer Taku Sato. in the Les Deux Magots Cafe Tokyo, Shibuya. Taku is widely known and appreciated for his design of packages, in which he depicts, in the utmost simplicity and elegance, the essential properties of a particular brand.

When I have a discussion in public, I rarely meet the counterpart beforehand. I prefer to let the conversation follow its own life force ad libitum, rather than to adhere to a designated structure.

The spontaneous verbal exchanges with Taku last night was exceptionally successful, thanks to the gaiety of his spirit.

Taku said that surfing has been his passion for more than two decades, and described the experience in precise and poignant words. Taku's reference to the oceanic sport on the waves led us to the appreciation of the liquid in life.

In civilization, we are tend to be surrounded by solids made of steel, concrete, and other infrastructures. Given the unavoidable trends, life continues to thrive, gets to its highest points, in liquids. That something which is without any definite shape, always changing, breaking our expectations, calling for a total engagement by the body, shifting, penetrating, mixing, gorging, going over everything, into everywhere, becoming time itself in its transitions. That something, ubiquitously liquid.

The lively conversation with Taku left a vivid and viable aftertaste. I thrive in that tone today.

Here's to the liquid in life.

With Taku Sato in the Les Deux Magots Cafe Tokyo.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Beetle mania

The earliest memories have the strange impressions of defining the mythical in one's life.

Some memories during my kindergarten days stand out very vividly. One of them concerns the Japanese rhinoceros beetle.

Kabutomushi (Japanese rhinoceros beetle) has a special place in a kid's mind. It is a symbol of desirable things, and kindles the heart of the child in a way which is not simply comparable with any material possessions in adulthood.

It was the summer. I was five. Ms. Arai, our teacher, was playing the piano in the Kindergarten room. Suddenly, she acclaimed something on the black wood. It was a Japanese rhinoceros beetle. Moreover, it was the much desired male, with the strong horn protruding from the head. Nobody was quite sure how the beetle got onto the piano in the first place.

There was a commotion among the boys. Ms Arai, holding the beetle in her fingers, let us admire its beauty. It was a particularly fine specimen.

Ms Arai, apparently wanting to get rid of the creature as soon as possible, turned to a friend of mine near the piano, and said "Here. This is yours". She gave the Japanese rhinoceros beetle to the boy.

I became jealous. Oh, how I wanted that beetle! The fact that Ms Arai was very popular among us five year olds gave a further fuel to my jealousy.

It is the first memory of envying other in my life.

Adults might laugh at a kindergarten boy desiring a Japanese rhinoceros beetle. The mental life of a child is colored by primitive and yet finely tuned emotions. I vividly remember the flame set by the envious beetle to this day.

A Japanese rhinoceros beetle