Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Orange Revolution.

When I was going to the Kindergarten there was only one drink that a kid loved. Fanta. In the children's gatherings, the adults would bring bottles of Fanta, as special treats.

First everybody seemed to love the grape flavor. When the pleasure time came, our small hands would invariably reach for the Fanta Grape bottles. There was actually a competition, in order to secure our own grape bottles, and not to be forced to accept the less desirable orange. It appeared as if the Reign of Grape would flourish for ever.

Then something extraordinary happened. One day somebody realized that the orange was not such a bad flavor. Maybe it was even better than the grape. A silent revolution was developing in front of our little eyes. Like a dramatic turn of events in a Reversi game, more and more kids would start preferring the orange flavor, until one day the little hands would reach only for the orange bottles. The grape bottles stood unattended. It was a sad sight.

To this day, I remember quite vividly how my world-view shook as the trend changed. Although it was a surely small shift in taste, I felt as if the ground on which my feet stood collapsed.

By the time I entered the elementary school, the Orange Revolution was complete. For some years, some of us small mortals did not forget how our sensitivities had been touched.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Eating Kaki

In Japanese, some words have double meanings. "kaki", for example, can indicate a persimmon fruit. It can also mean the "oyster". A strange property of natural language comprehension is that based on the context, one tacitly assumes that "kaki" is one or the other. When "kaki" is used in the context of the persimmon fruit, one almost never thinks of the other possible meaning.

There is a famous haiku poem which can be translated as "Eating kaki, The bells of the Horyuji temple, Ringing"

Kaki here obviously refers to the persimmon fruit, which is a fruit of the autumn. It is fitting. One remembers how beautiful Horyuji temple, one of the oldest surviving wooden buildings, appears when the leaves turn red in preparation for winter.

Yesterday, when walking in the street, it suddenly occurred to me, for the first time ever in my life, that based on the sound alone, "kaki" in the famous haiku poem can also mean "oyster".

"Eating Oyster, The bells of the Horyuji temple, Ringing".

The scene is changed dramatically. What a mismatch! A comical feeling is invoked, and the haiku poem is changed beyond recognition.

The strange thing is that it never occurred to me to interpret the poem in this way--until yesterday, that is. I wonder what struck my brain out of the blue. A strange combination of neural activities, perhaps.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Collision without prior knowledge

I came to a Haiku meeting ("Kukai") at Yugawara, a famous Onsen (hot spring) retreat, about one hour from Tokyo.

The meeting was organized by Madoka Mayuzumi, my good friend and a famous haiku poet.

I took the bath after a strenuous and yet enjoyable haiku session. A hot spring is a godsend for a schedule-pursued, overworked brat like me. I stretched my arms and legs, and took a deep sigh.

After thus bringing back life to my system, I was putting my clothes on. In Japanese Onsens, it is customary to have an official notice of the effective elements contained in the hot spring water in the room next to the hot spring. It is somehow required by law, I think. Anyway, I have somehow made it my custom to read the list of effective elements only after I have taken the bath.
It is just a matter of taste. I don't like to pre-configure my mind. I would like to dip myself into the hot water without consciously knowing what the experience is supposed to do for me. If I had preconceptions, it would "taint" the purity.

The philosophy is not just for taking the hot spring. Knowing the factual details only after the actual experience has become my way of life. Since we know so little about the conditions of life, collision without prior knowledge seems to be the only way.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Make me whole

De Prufundis, an essay in the form of a letter written during imprisonment by Oscar Wilde, has such a beautiful ending.

Wild imagines how he would feel on the day of release, and he thinks of the flowers that would greet him.

I tremble with pleasure when I think that on the very day of my leaving prison both the laburnum and the lilac will be blooming in the gardens, and that I shall see the wind stir into restless beauty the swaying gold of the one, and make the other toss the pale purple of its plumes, so that all the air shall be Arabia for me.

Then the essay ends as Wilde ponders how he would still be rejected by society, but would be made whole by nature, who would cleanse him in great waters.

Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.

When I read this, I realized that all pieces of conventional reasoning about the famous "Mary's Room" thought experiment by Franck Jackson have been missing one crucial thing.

Mary, when she is released from her black-and-white world, and sees the wild flowers for the first time, would not only learn the color qualia but also weep, deeply moved, her very existence shuttered and them made anew, by her encounter with the brave new world.

She has been made whole.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hideo Kobayashi

Close to midnight I had a phone call from Shinya Shirasu. He was drinking with his friends, and wondered if I could join them. I had my work, so I said regretfully that I could not make it.

Maybe Shinya's call had a strange effect on my unconscious. I had a dream. In it I was lecturing in a room. After the lecture, I realized that Hideo Kobayashi was among the audience. In a sudden pang of regret, I reproached myself for not noticing the legendary critic's presence. Then my heart started to appreciate how warm and embracing the smile of Hideo Kobayashi has been. Because of the warmth, it was now all right. I still thought I would have loved to talk to Hideo Kobayashi, but all was well as it was.

When I awoke, I realized that Hideo Kobayashi is dead for a long time.

Hideo Kobayashi is Shinya's grandfather. It is strange how a small experience can be wondrously interpreted in one's unconscious, reflected in the occasional manifestations in the conscious, while the vast ocean of the unconscious remains inaccessible.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I don't know what is happening, but I seem to be less interested in the physical testimonies of life such as photos, and sound recordings these days.

They are certainty useful. Without photography, for example, I would have never known how Albert Einstein looked. If even a second of Napoleon's voice was here with us, it would have changed our perception of history beyond recognition.

However, as far as I am concerned, I seem to have come to the realization that in my life, precious things are never recorded. These moments would remain within me as a faint trace of memory, if they retain their feeble presences at all.

I would certainly keep taking photos and making MP3 recordings. But at the same time I would be harking, attending to my inner traces, remembering the times that have been, which is possibly the only significant action, against civilization, in the continuation of an ancient spirit.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Right now I am in Kochi city, where the ENJIN 01 conferences are being held.

In the evening, after a long day of strenuous and yet enjoyable schedule, we went to a Sushi restaurant. We ordered some delicacies. The Aori Squid was one of them.

As I chewed the sweet and strongly-textured meat, I suddenly remembered how as a child it was hard to swallow a squid.

I always wanted to behave like an adult, so when the Sushi came I tried the squid like the grown-ups. However, as I chewed on, the squid in my mouth would start to have the texture of gum. I could not bite them into pieces. Gradually the squid would lose all tastes. A mouthful of culinary nightmare was in the making.

It may have been the junior high school days when I finally learned how to swallow a squid. Now I enjoy them hugely, accompanied by beer and sake.

Growing up is learning how to swallow a squid.