Saturday, March 06, 2010

Ponder the existence of yourself before your father and mother was born.

Later in the evening, I came to Hakata, the central city in my mother's native area of northern Kyushu.

Although I am a frequent visitor to the city, I feel as if I have never been able to have enough of it. I am always in search of something, unconsciously and consciously, and yet do not know what it is that I am actually searching for. It can be vaguely described as the scent of something distant, soft, warm, which embraces me gently, and takes me back to my infant days, or even before that.

The great writer Soseki Natsume once attended a Zen session at a temple. During his stay, he was presented with a Zen enigma: Ponder the existence of yourself before your father and mother was born. Soseki was very impressed by this enigma and writes about it in one of his novels.

Visiting Hakata, I might have always been in search of something akin to this famous Zen Enigma. Ponder the existence of yourself before your father and mother was born. Since the question is an intractable one, I am ever wandering, looking for the answer in vain.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The trick was just to focus on the next step, in order not to despair unduly.

When I was a kid, I used to climb mountains a lot. Japan is a very mountainous country, and it is not difficult to find a mountain nearby anywhere in the nation.

It was not that I particularly liked the experience of climbing. It was hard to uplift your body against the gravity, even though at those times I was not that heavy. However, I did like to follow the paths in hours of sweating and increased heart beats.

It was rewarding to be able to view the scenery once you were at the top. From up there, everything became open and visible all at once. In the course of the upward journey, things remain very invisible and intractable. It was hard to tell where you were exactly, and whether you were approaching the destination at all. Sometimes the path went down, and then up, and you felt that your energy was being wasted. Once you had the commanding view of the peak, you have a fairly good idea of where you have been all these times. And then you start the downward journey in which you find yourself lost all over again.

When I look back, I guess I rather liked the long and sometimes boring ritual of climbing. The trick was just to focus on the next step, in order not to despair unduly. It was remarkable how some elements of the famous Myth of Sisyphus was to be found in my humble trial.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Memoir about dolls crackers

Yesterday was the girls' day (Hina-Matsuri) in Japan. When I was a boy, because boys will be boys, and I wanted to follow suit, I pretended that I did not care about the girls' day at all. However, I actually did care for these things.

As my sister and mother prepared the Hina dolls towards the girls' day, (see the picture from wikipedia below), I would hang around, trying to appear not interested, but actually very very interested.

The white faces of the dolls allured me into a strange kingdom of eternity. The fact that I was able to see the dolls only once in a year added to my enthusiasm. However, I tried my best to conceal my feverish interests, naturally.

The thing to do on the girls' day was to eat "hina arare", or dolls crackers. These were specially prepared rice crackers and sweets to be eaten on and around the girls' day.

Now, it was quite legitimate for a "rough" boy to be interested and consume a dolls cracker. However, even then, it was socially dangerous to appear to eager about it, especially when your fellow boys were around.

It was therefore quite a relief when you could have loads of hina arare without anyone watching it. I still hold it to be one of the most enjoyable pastimes to sit on the sofa with a pack of hina arare, and read my favorite books. Nowadays, of course, I don't care that much who may be watching me doing that. It is interesting how in your childhood peer pressures play such a crucial and sometimes devastating role in forming your state of mind.

A typical Hina Matsuri dolls display.

Typical Hina-Arare rice crackers

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

They will go out, including this writer, weather permitting.

The Japanese are famously crazy about the cherry blossoms. When the season comes (usually from the end of March to the beginning of April, depending on the location and the weather of the year), people go outdoors, place mats on the ground, and conduct a ritual of sake drinking and lively conversation ("hanami", literally "flower admiring").

Although some quite justifiably criticize the supposed "purpose" of this custom, that of admiring the cherry blossoms, as just a "pretext" to drink, the criticism is always a light-hearted one. When the time comes again for the Japanese people to go out, they will go out, including this writer, weather permitting.

As more reserved and quieter forerunners to the more outgoing cherry blossoms, the plums have been blooming for the past few weeks. Used to be that Japanese people admired the plums rather than the cherries, in the short poems and essays. It is interesting to consider what brought the change of sensitivities. Maybe it is easier to have a sake drinking session during the cherry blooming time, when it is noticeably warmer.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Moichi collage

My best friend and great producer Moichi Kuwahara has kindly put my tweet alongside a nice photo.

Muscle confusion

I came across an interesting concept recently. Muscle confusion. The idea is to expose the body to the greatest variety of movements, intervals, loads, modes of action as possible when you train. In other words, you treat your body as a complex system, not as a simpleton machine. I think the concept makes sense.

I have been doing push-ups and sit-ups these days, and what I find is that monotony leads to boredom. After a while you simply cannot take it any more, since your body knows already what to expect and it is not fun.

It is interesting to consider how you can expose your body to different kinds of physical trials, at quite unexpected times. In other words, you always try to take your body by surprise.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Creativity is proportional to the courage to break from the status quo.

A few days ago, I tweeted: Creativity is not proportional to intelligence per se. Creativity is proportional to the courage to break from the status quo. @

You know it took me such a long time to come to this particular realization.

The inspiration came to me when I was pondering the life of Albert Einstein. There is no doubt that Albert Einstein was a terribly intelligent man. How else could one bring about an evolution such as the theory of relativity into the world? I actually decided to become a scientist because I was infected by the marvel of the "Einsteinian" intellect.

However, it cannot be said that the achievement of Albert Einstein is due to his intellect alone. He was a remarkably courageous man. At a time when the education at German speaking schools was conducted in an authoritarian manner, Albert Einstein rebelled against the system. He traveled around Europe alone, after dropping out of the Gymnasium.

When choosing the subject of study, he went off the beaten track and pursued his inspiration in the teens concerning what would happen if you followed light with the speed of light. Because he did not go along the status quo, or the powers that be, he could not get a job at the university, but worked at the patent office instead.

All these rough drives of life did not make Albert Einstein wince. He continued with his brave journey of investigation, and succeeded in creating a brand new way to look at the space-time.

When you ponder the life of Albert Einstein, you realize that creativity is proportional to the courage to break from the status quo.

The Albert Einstein T-shirt that I sometimes wear to get around in Tokyo.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Blessings would often come in the form of strangers

Traveling is quite important in life, as staying in one place and a single context restricts how one's brain and body function.

In an era where information is exchanged on a global level instantly, modes of physical travel remain strangely and rewardingly limited.

I went to the city of Ise yesterday, to attend a forum on food and health. I first had to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya, and then change to the Kintetsu line, taking a nap on the way, basking in the sunshine that came through the window.

When I awoke, I was in the middle of rice fields, where a couple of people were walking in a relaxed manner. In the distance, I saw a range of low mountains, with their peaks covered with white cloud.

I came all the way to witness this, I thought. My entire mind system went into a hitherto unknown condition. I smelt the pleasant approach of the unknown, and I knew at that moment that blessings would often come in the form of strangers.