Saturday, December 26, 2009

Star of the Giants

When I was a kid, one of the things that I admired was "guts".

It was in part influenced by pieces of the Japanese manga. For example, "Star of the Giants" ("Kyojin no Hoshi"). This legendary sports anime was aired just as I entered the elementary school. The hero, Hyuma Hoshi, overcomes obstacles after obstacles to become a true star of the Tokyo Giants, the one and only powerful and popular baseball club at that time.

The idea was to make efforts, to show perseverance, and try to transform yourself, both physically and spiritually.

Somehow the idea of making strenuous efforts gripped me. When I was eight, I remember quite vividly how I started to run along the school track with some of my friends in the after hours. As my friends dropped running, I continued to run around, never stopping.

The theme tune of the Star of Giants was in my mind, inspiring the eight year old. It was a stupid thing to do, but fun.
I gave up running only when the bell rang and the school teacher came to tell us that it was time to go home.

To this day, I sometimes wonder if I don't carry the flag of perseverance still in my spirit. When things get hard and the circumstances are against you, I sometimes remember the small child that was I who made bold efforts to overcome.

I suspect that I was a loner in that respect. The influence of an amine has many colors for different people.

Some scenes from the now legendary "Star of the Giants"

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thunderbird 2, my friend.

Although less than 1% of Japanese are Christians, the custom of Christmas festivities and present givings are avidly followed here, especially by the ever eager kids.

When I was six, I wanted so badly the secret base of thunderbirds, complete with Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 2. I repeatedly looked at the picture of the machine-equipped and gadget-filled island in the advertisements with shining eyes.
If only I could get the secret base!

The world will be mine, I thought.

I could not get the secret base itself, though. To my great disappointment, the local store did not carry it, and the idea of internet shopping was a futuristic non-existence in those days.

I got a Thunderbird 2 instead.

Although not particularly stylish, because of its abilities to carry tons of equipments, Thunderbird 2 fascinated me. Its fat shape was universally popular among boys.

Maybe that's why my body around the belly resembles the Thunderbird 2 nowadays.

Thunderbird 2, my friend.

The secret base ("Tracy Island").
Something similar to this infused
the 6 year old me with yearning and desire.

Thunderbird 2. My friend.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Comment moderation

Due to the increase of comment spams, the comments to this blog are now moderated. They would appear after I review and approve them. Thank you for your understanding. I hope you guys keep posting interesting and stimulating comments. Your comments are always very encouraging and inspire me. Thanks!

Quite close to the weakness often lies one's strength

One is naturally shy of exhibiting one's weakness. It might be a point of attack for the enemy, making us vulnerable in the world when at large.

However, one should also know that quite close to the weakness often lies one's strength.

One of the brain's most important functions is to adapt to the environment. In order to do that, one needs to read the context, and adjust one's activities. However, sometimes the failure to be flexible in the context can be actually become one's jump board to greatness.

Albert Einstein, for example. He was a non-conformist, dropping out of the gymnasium and traveling in Europe alone in the teens. At the university, he refused to address his professor in anything other than "Herr" ("Mr."), a social blunder in the German speaking world at that time. Albert's reasoning was that he did not respect him.

A more "context-intelligent" person would have acted otherwise, but then Albert Einstein could not have been the historical figure we know. The simple refusal to adapt to the context led to the great originality of the theory of relativity, which revolutionized the way we view the universe. Albert's weakness was also his strength.

The greatest physicist since Newton might appear to be an extreme example for our daily relevance, but we do learn a lot from the extremities. We should all be more tolerant of our own weaknesses.

The young Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Paper hat

While I was studying in Cambridge, I was invited to my mentor Horace Barlow's Xmas party once. It was a small and cozy party, with Horace's family and lab members.

Horace at that time was already of a venerable age, and yet it was fun to watch how he enjoyed opening the Christmas cracker, just like a child.

Out of all the contents of the Christmas cracker, the paper hat was the main thing. People wore them without exception, including Horace.

I have a vivid recollection of how Horace was smiling, with the paper hat on his head, looking like a five year old trying to pretend to be a king. To this day I cherish the memory of the wonderful sunshine emanating from Horace's countenance.

A Christmas crackers is a great inducer of the child in one. A child inducer is always a good thing.

Horace Barlow.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Giant trees

When I went to Cambridge, U.K. for the first time some 15 years ago, I was fascinated by the trees. Walking along the path in Jesus Green, my heart was won by the huge old trees flanking the straightway. The fact that people in Cambridge took care so that these lovely things could be preserved, was enough testimony of the generally benevolent spiritual environment of the city, not to mention the excellent colleges and the University.

Wherever I go, I look for giant trees, and try to make friends with them. I touch the bark, look up at the leaves, and feel the lights and winds that have nurtured the remarkable specimen for all those years.

The giant camphor tree in Kamo, Kagoshima is one of my favorites. I have visited the tree several times, and get a renewed inspiration every time.

Over the years, the giant camphor tree has been revered as a deity. The tree is estimated to be about 1500 years old.
It is interesting how the passage of time left traces on the surface of the bark, and twisted the whole body in an impressive, dynamic form.

Time brings venerability, and venerability is made visible by the interaction of so many elements, directed by nobody, meant for no admirer.

Thus, I am just an incidental admirer.

Giant trees are one of the most ancient and powerful art forms found in Nature. The incident makes one cry.

The giant camphor tree in Kamo, Kagoshima.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Can we really speak of "red"?

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, at the end of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, that "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

I was discussing things with Ken Shiotani, my philosopher friend, during the annual "Ojisan Onsen" ("Middle-agers hot spring") trip.

Shiotani referred to the philosophy of Spinoza, Frege, and Leibniz. Shiotani stressed how in some systems of thought God appeared as an absolute infinite, something beyond human comprehension. Of God, no description is in principle possible.

Then I said to Shiotani that God-like things should be everywhere. Can we really speak of "red"? How about "love"? "Time"? The conversations we carry are full of intractable and distant things, the distance closed only incompletely by our incessant efforts to make the world tangible. But in the end, the essence of things remain inaccessible. Shiotani responded with his observations on the difference between the systems of Spinoza and Leibiz.

I and Ken Shiotani have been friends since we were the sweet age of 18. Talking about essential things in the small hours made us feel like students again.

Small hours talk. My best friend and philosopher Ken Shiotani, at the Shuzenji Onsen 20 Decemebr, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sumo wrestling with Akira

Akira Wani, now teaching at the law department of University of Tokyo, is a good friend of mine since senior high school. He is a legendary genius. Akira's score for the test conducted by the National Center for University Entrance Examination was top of the nation, taking 981 out of 1000. For the graduation essay book of the senior high, Akira wrote an essay titled "On the concept of glory in the Latin civilization", while the other students wrote on the memories of school life and other mediocre themes.

In the senior high school, we discussed many things, history, philosophy, esthetics, politics, etc. Meeting with Akira was one of the most fortunate encounters in my life. It uplifted my spiritual and intellectual conditions tremendously. When I entered University of Tokyo, I felt that the intellectual atmosphere rather deteriorated, compared to the intense interaction I used to have with Akira, although the university is supposed to attract the academically high achieving kids of the nation.

So the senior high school days with Akira was a heaven. I remember quite well one particular day, when I happened to see Akira Wani at the train station. He was reading a book. It was a biography of Queen Elisabeth I of England. Out of curiosity, I asked Akira "Why are you reading such a book?" Akira answered, "as I am busy with studies, I need to read such a book from time to time, otherwise I cannot maintain the balance of my spirit".

This morning I am writing about Akira as I suddenly remembered one episode from the senior high days.

In the sports class, we were one day told by the teacher to do sumo wrestling. Chance had it that I was to do a match with Akira. The idea of sumo wrestling with my respected friend was something beyond my imagination. Out of the blue, I started to laugh, and I could not really control myself. It was ridiculous, absurd, and yet so fascinating.

Finally, sumo wrestling we did. I don't quite recall who won. I remember though that Akira was quite solemn in the match, and conducted his duty as a serious wrestler all the same.