Saturday, November 28, 2009

My canals

On a recent visit to an elementary school, I remembered one thing which has been cherished in my bosom for so many years.
I don't quite know how it started, but when I was a 2nd grader the fad among boys was to make "canals" on the desk in the classroom. The wood was soft, and you could cut tracks with the ball point pen. The ball would eventually come off the pen, which one used as a "vessel" which "voyaged" through the canals.

Needless to say, the vandalism was not particularly recommended by the school teacher. You were not supposed to damage the school property. In a strange twilight of illegal activities that is open only to a child, we competed who could make the most interesting map of canals on the desk.

It was a play in imagination. I developed a kingdom, named the places, and the network grew in my mind like a throbbing organization.

At the end of the semester, there was a desk shuffle, and I had to say goodbye to my beloved kingdom. The canals were still within my reach though. In March, when I became a 3rd grader, we moved to a new classroom. On the last afternoon, I went to touch the wood. I vividly remember my canals lit by the sunshine from the window.

I have not seen my canals since. How I miss them.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Flower-like life

I was reading Oscar Wilde's De Profundis, and came across this sentence, where Wilde refers to Jesus Christ.

"He was the first person who ever said to people that they should live 'flower-like lives.' He fixed the phrase. He took children as the type of what people should try to become. He held them up as examples to their elders, which I myself have always thought the chief use of children, if what is perfect should have a use."

How true. We should all try to become children. The children in us is the only hope in our lives on this earth.

Science tells us about neoteny. We retain that special gift of childhood, to learn new things, and integrate them into our system.
The everyday of a child is literally the succession of a flower-like life, where, with learning new things, flowers bloom and blossom. Without awakening to the previously unknowns, the plants in our heart perish.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


On the Shinkansen train back from Kyoto, I was returning to my seat after going to the deck. Passing by, I saw a traveler with his girlfriend, apparently an American.

The sight of him made me jealous. Not because of his beautiful girl friend. The reason lay in what he was doing.

He was reading something with his Amazon Kindle. I couldn't tell what he was reading, as I did not stop to confirm or anything. He was apparently enjoying himself, relaxed like a slug and smiling in the spring sunshine.

I had an Amazon Kindle in my backpack, too. It carried loads of things for me to read. Oh, the heavenly bliss for an absorbed bookworm! But the pleasure was not to be mine.

I had to finish manuscripts, papers, send e-mails. It was my destiny to work like a dog, even after I going through a strenuous work schedule in the ancient capital, devoid of a leisure time to enjoy the legendary autumn leaves of the Kyoto mountain. Once in Tokyo, another assignment was waiting for me.

How I wanted to dive into the vast ocean of alphabets on the digital ink, travel through time, and meet deceased people. I desired to hear distant voices, and watch strange forms. The wish was so strong. But alas, it was not to be. Not like this lucky guy!

These thoughts went through my central nervous system only for a very brief time.

With a sigh traveling at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour, I returned to my seat, and duly started typing, like a ferocious fox in the field.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fighting with the floor

I have several masters whom I respect very much. The writer Makoto Shiina is one of them.

Makoto Shiina is known for his poignant novels based on his own experience, as well as humorous essays in the outdoors.
He is well-built, and yet smart, and keeps a good figure.

When I asked him how he kept fit, he said it was simple. "You fight with the floor once a day". "How do you mean?" I asked.

"You do 200 push-ups, 200 sit-ups, and 200 squats every day. You don't use a machine. You just fight with the floor. That's all."

"When do you do that?"

"Before I go to sleep."

Makoto Shiina is known for his love for beers.

"Even when you are drunk?" I asked.

"Yes, even when I am drunk. It is like brushing your teeth, you see. If you don't do it, you don't feel good".

So the master told me how he kept fit.

For some reasons, I love running outside, but I have never really accustomed myself to fighting with the floor. I try from time to time, but I can never continue the exercise. Thus, it is difficult to be true to the master.

One of these days I would try to be true to the master. But then 200 times each is a tall order. Maybe I should start from 30 times each.

Life is so hard.

With the writer Makoto Siina in a recent meeting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tokyo Sky Tree

I was going to a theatre for a practice, when the car passed by the Tokyo Sky Tree.

I stopped typing on my laptop computer and looked up at is looming figure in a mixture of expectation and appreciation.
The tower, planned to reach the height of 634 m when completed, is now under construction.

The postwar Japan experienced rapid recovery and economic growth. People were still poor, but there was much hope and the future was perceived as bright.

The Tokyo Tower, completed in 1958 was a symbol of that era, depicted in a popular film ("Always san-chome no yuhi") recently.

More than 50 years later, The Tokyo Sky Tree is constructed into a new symbol. What Zeitgeist would it be seen to represent in the years to come, I wondered. I am living in it, yet I do not see clearly. Maybe things can be seen clearly only with the benefit of hindsight.

The Tree disappeared into the rear. After a concealed sigh, I went back to typing. The car reached the destination however before I could do any meaningful chunk of work.

The Tokyo Sky Tree, to be completed in 2011.

The Tokyo Tower, symbol of the postwar recovery of Japan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bittersweet reflections

In Japan, the Meiji era is known as a great time of change. Under Western influences, Japan tried to catch up, importing many ideas and technologies from Europe.

At such a time, it is psychologically natural to focus on new things to come. The bright images of a new civilization. Steam locomotives. Brick and stone buildings. The electric lights. These novel sights astonished people and moved their hearts. They testify the irreversibility of time.

On the other side of the coin, however, there must have been people who looked on the past era with nostalgia and longing. The Edo era was a unique civilization in itself. Perhaps even more harmonious and balanced than the decades that followed from the aesthetic point of view.

Yesterday, a series of events made me wonder how the Edo era must have appeared to people in the Meiji era. This exercise in imagination led to reflections on my own life.

Naturally, I am concerned about my future, as future is the only available degree of freedom for a living organism. I also look back on the past. The bittersweet reflections. Things that are gone for ever into the enigma of time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Amazon Kindle

A few days ago, my Amazon Kindle arrived. I have been purchasing several books on the online store since.

My friends know well that I am a gadget man. The possession of the e-book reader has added much sparkle and joy to my train rides in the capital of Tokyo.

It has also solved a practical problem. As I am a VERY disorganized man, in the course of reading a book, I am likely to leave the copy somewhere. Then I forget where I have left it. When I have the urge to read on, it is often the case that I have to do an extensive office searching before I can satisfy my bookworm urge. This delay is sometimes fatal, as the urge can become stagnant and dissolves as times fly.

With the Amazon Kindle, I can read several books in parallel, and never lose track of them. Theoretically speaking, of course, there is the chance that you misplace Amazon Kindle in the office, and you are obliged to organize a one man search party again. However, the enigma is that I am very good at holding to a digital devise. I almost never lose track of them. It's my digital instinct, perhaps.

Thus, the first few days of my partnership with Amazon Kindle has been just lovely. I have a very long list of books that I would like to read on this devise. My train rides and toilet times would continue to be enriched by it for many days to come.