Saturday, October 03, 2009

The burning heart

(Continued from yesterday's entry of "Tiger Jeet Singh".)

I hear that Tiger Jeet Singh is now a successful business person based in Canada. His real self is a rational man with cool judgments. Once on the ring, he becomes a wild beast, with a very unique fighting style.

In professional wrestling there are certain protocols. Beautiful girls dressed in kimonos would present flower bouquets to the fighters. The referee will explain the rules, and the fighters shake hands. Tiger Jeet Singh would have none of that.

Before the gong sounds, Tiger Jeet Singh is already on the offensive. Everything occurs out of the blue, without hesitation, with full vigor. He would swing his saber towards Anotonio Inoki, and the two fighters would fall out of the ring. Once out of the ring, it is a total chaos. Chairs would fly. Tiger Jeet Singh would chase Antonio Inoki, and the spectators would flee. The spotlight follows the fighters. The announcer would shout "Please take care! Please take care!". The announcer's cries of warning add fuel to the excitement.

After a while, the gong rings. Then the announcer would calmly say "now the match has begun". It is a very strange announcement. It is as if the nasty doings of Tiger Jeet Singh, clearly violating the rules, are being blessed in retrospect. It has been all O.K. The match is already in full motion.

The fighting style of Tiger Jeet Singh, in which he ignores the preparatory protocols of the match and just "goes for it" the moment he springs onto the ring, fascinated and thrilled me as a child. I have been trying to imitate the style in real life ever since.

When you are attending a conference, or on a committee, there are people who like to say polite but meaningless things. I ignore the mannerism, and just go straight to the essence of matters. The spirit of Tiger Jeet Singh is in me. I don't have a saber, but I have the burning heart.

Classic. Tiger Jeet Singh showing his emotions.

Friday, October 02, 2009

He really means it!

When I was 10, my then best friend Toshikazu Shimamura took me to see a Professional Wrestling match. The fight was between Antonio Inoki and Tiger Jeet Singh.

We were waiting for the arrival of wrestlers in front of the Koshigaya City Gymnasium. Toshikazu was a great fan of wrestling. He would give me many advises towards the appreciation of this genre.

As we were standing with great expectations, Toshikazu warned me:

"The other wrestlers are just make-believers. Tiger Jeet Singh, alone, is different. He really means it! If you meet him in the eye, he is sure to attack you. So don't you ever look him in the eye. I adviser you on this, for your life."

So I had serious apprehensions as Tinger Jeet Singh himself got out of the minibus and stormed towards the gymnasium. As Toshikazu was warning me, he seemed to "really mean it". His countenance was menacing, with his trademark saber in his mouth.

When I look back, I wonder why his act did not violate Japanese swards and guns control law. It certainly looked like he was violating it.

Tiger Jeet Singh with his trademark saber.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Turner Island

In the suburb of Matsuyama, off the coast, there is a small island. It is famous as Soseki Natsume referred to it as the "Turner Island" in his novel Botchan.

On Tuesday I was on the boat off Matsuyama, being gently swayed by the waves. There it was, a chunk of rocks with pine trees growing on it. Its beauty struck me immediately. The impression deepened with the lapse of beholding time.

So this is the Turner Island, I thought.

Soseki named the island as such because it appears to be a scene fit for a depiction in a work by the great painter. Two antagonists in the novel, nicknamed "Red Shirt" and "Field Drum", go fishing on the boat with the protagonist "Botchan". The Red Shirt and Field Drum discuss the Turner Island, to the amusement of Botchan. It is a very memorable passage in the novel.

I did not expect that the island would be so lovely. Soseki certainly had an eye for the beautiful, even when the affection was expressed with wit and sarcasm.

Now my mind's image storage has curated the Turner Island in its collection.

The "Turner Island" off the coast of Matsuyama.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


My second day in Matsuyama, and I have been pondering the friendship between Soseki Natsume. and Shiki Masaoka.

Soseki is the father of modern Japanese literature, and Shiki is the founder of modern Haiku poems.

Shiki was born in Matsuyama, and Soseki came to teach in the city after graduating from University of Tokyo. Soseki based his novel Botchan on his experiences in this southern city on the Shikoku island.

That Soseki and Shiki both went on to achieve great things in literature is not independent of their friendship. Soseki and Shiki knew each other in the preparatory school for the university already. They exchanged views on literature. Soseki wrote many Haiku poems which Shiki read and made comments on. During a particularly intensive period of 50 days, Soseki and Shiki stayed at the same house, now reconstructed in a park in Matsuyama.

The friendship between people of the same sex is one of the most beautiful things in life. Records suggest that Shiki and Soseki were attracted to each other from the beginning, acknowledging the special qualities of the counterpart.

Shiki died at the premature age of 35. Three years later, Soseki wrote his first novel "I am a cat". Shiki had an ambition to be a novelist himself, but his short life under the shadows of tuberculosis did not allow a full development of his aspirations.

One could only imagine how Soseki felt as he looked back on his soul mate, who shared literary ambitions in the youth.

Soseki himself died at the age of 49. His last novel, Mei an (Light and Darkness) , was left unfinished.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A brain the size of Kent

I am in Matsuyama, for matters concerning the great writer Soseki Natsume.
On the way to Matsuyama airport, I was reading the book "Oscar Wilde. Nothing...Except my genius. A celebration of his wit and wisdom' (Penguin books, 1997). A quite lengthy essay 'Playing Oscar' by Stephen Fry in the book was very enjoyable.


And what of Wilde the man? He stood for art. He stood for nothing less all his life. His doctrine of art was so high that most people thought he was joking. The English, who to this day believe themselves quite mistakenly to be possessed of a higher sense of humour than any other nation on earth, have never understood that a thing expressed with wit is more, not less, likely to be true than a thing intoned gravely as solemn fact. We, British, who pride ourselves on our superior sense of irony, have never fully grasped the idea of fiction--of ironism. Plain old sarcasm is about our mark. When Wilde made an epigram, it was at best, 'clever'. Clever, like funny, is an English insult of the deepest kind.

'Playing Oscar' by Stephen Fry

I love Stephen Fry. He was once described as "a man with a brain the size of Kent." I appreciate Stephen's effort to come to terms with the phenomenon that was Oscar Wilde.

Monday, September 28, 2009

High tension

I had an interesting dialogue with my best chum Takashi Ikegami, at the Aoyama Book Center in Tokyo.

It was meant as a launch event for my latest book (translated as "Symposium of the Brains"), but we talked out of the context as always.

I tend to judge people by the high tension. Takashi's tension is as lofty as ever. It flies sky high. His day time job is professor at the prestigious University of Tokyo, but he wears Aloha and jeans during office time all the same. Fashion statement is a wonderful channel of philosophy. I have weathered this whole year with only a single pair of trousers and jacket, augmented by a collection of T-shirts.

I am always looking for a person with high tension. When your counterpart is earnest, full of energy, and committed, through the dialogue one can fly high up in the air. Last night, with Takashi, the whole audience witnessed lofty mountains and distant oceans. The cityscapes of Tokyo diminished into the background.

High tension professor in aloha. Best chum Takashi Ikegami.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Audience laugh

Giving a talk is part of my life. I am invited to give a talk from various quarters, but I cannot comply with most of them. I have to say no to ~95% of the invitations, much to my regret.

I gave a talk in Hakata this Saturday, to an audience of about 1700. The lecture was organized by Mainichi Shimbun, one of the largest newspapers in Japan.

When I give a talk to the public, I naturally touch upon my own expertise, namely the brain sciences. At the same time, I try to make the talk as entertaining as possible. To that end, my experiences in childhood attending the Yose comic shows prove useful.

At the Yose, several entertainments are provided. The most staple form is Rakugo, Japanese traditional sit-down comedy. My father and grandfather liked listening to Rakugo at the Yose, and I was often taken to the performances in my childhood.

Although I did not realize it for a long time, when I give a public lecture to the general audience my childhood sojourns to Yose help me very much. I feel happy when the audience laugh.

Myself giving a talk this Saturday in a theater in Hakata.