Saturday, April 10, 2010

The bearable lightness of being

Just a short note before I dash off this morning.

Whenever I go out of Japan, I buy a Swatch at the airport. I like its bearable lightness of being. I therefore have a considerably large collection, scattered all over the place. I cannot locate most of them.

I cannot bear the heavy feel of a metal watch. I don't take the Swatch bearing with ease. When I am at a table in a restaurant, I remove the Swatch from the wrist, and put it on my trousers. Sometimes I forget that I have moved the watch onto my belly, and search for it.

My Swatches float between existence and non-existence. That's why I like them.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The octopus lady.

On my trip to Wales I experienced another extraordinary things.

I was studing in Cambridge then, and was accustomed to the restrained way in which the English people communicate. As I approached Cardiff on the coach, I noticed that people on the streets were noticeably more relaxed and musical in their conversation.

I remember quite well an evening in a Cardiff restaurant where there were about 10 ladies at a table. They were apparently having a very good time, making pleasant noises, laughing, and sometimes even singing. Later, I was told by my English friend that that kind of activity was called a "hen night".

On the next day, I was in a small town near Cardiff, waiting for my train to the West. I went into a small pub, and there, I had the experience of my life.

There were group of people with a guitar. I think they were in their 50s. A lady was singing merry songs with a group of gentlemen. I think they had consumed a handsome quantity of alcohol, judging from the way they enjoyed themselves.
I was sitting on the stool at the counter, watching their merriment from time to time.

The lady stoop up, and walked very slowly towards me. She swung her arms in a wave-like manner. The impression of the dance was rather like that of an octopus. This species of female octopus was found in a Welsh pub, in high noon.
I thought that the lady was going to the toilet. My guess was correct. She disappeared into the ladies' room, still dancing like an octopus.

On her way to the relief, she did one extraordinary thing, however. As she passed by me, she GRABBED my private part. She held it quite strongly, for a few seconds, and went on as if nothing happened, still being a female octopus on land.
The group laughed and sang on. Grabbing done, the lady held her thumb up. Apparently it was a friendly act of greeting. Probably they had drunken too much.

When the lady reappeared from the toilet, I was still astounded, as I had never experienced something like it. The lady, still dancing like an octopus, passed by me, and this time grabbed the private part of another Welsh gentleman sitting near me at the counter. The gentleman and the lady laughed together. The whole group laughed, to the accompaniment of the guitar.

As I went out of the pub to catch my train, the people greeted me, with strokes of the guitar strings. I waved back. Not unlike an octopus. The octopus fever was contagious.

As I recall, the whole experience looks like a midsummer's dream. I was welcomed to the Welsh way of unrestrained friend-making, with a grab.

A few days later, I was back in Cambridge, back to the world of reservation and subtle smiles. Something warm lingered in me, for ever and to this day.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The small restaurant in St. David.

Once I was traveling in Wales, and went to a small town called St. David. I was strolling along the streets, when I discovered a small and cozy restaurant.

I was on my way, and had to hurry on. So a lunch stop was not possible. To this day, I hold the pleasant impression of that restaurant in my mind. At that time, I thought that I might be coming back someday and visit the restaurant. The memory and hope become fainter with the procession of time.

Even if I revisit the place again, it might not be and could not be the same. The owner might have changed. The town itself could have gone through what you would call "progress". I myself have changed for sure. My belly area is noticeably larger, I have more white hair, and my mindset has evolved, for better or worse.

In life, there are things like the small restaurant in St. David. You wished you could go back there, but in reality you don't and wouldn't. For some reasons, I also do not feel like searching for the restaurant on the internet either. I would like to keep the little gem in my life forever lost and luminous.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


As we live every day, our mental activities cover only a small portion of all possible worlds. We have to eat, and our attention is focused on things on the dish before you (unless you are an absent-minded academic discussing the theoretical foundations of quantum gravity).

The very small-mindedness of our existence sometimes hurts me. Deeply. But then fortunately, I forget.

Yesterday, I came back from the city of Kanazawa. As I walked along the streets of Tokyo, I realized that no matter how far the internet progresses, we will be ever encapsulated in the here and now.

I was looking for some place to lunch (see, how confined I was!), and discovered a hidden soba restaurant. I was shown upstairs. Sitting down, I realized that the interior looked like the room in which the worrying brother and his colleague discuss sister's
marriage over pork cutlet in Ozu's last film An Autumn Afternoon.

I had no idea that this particular restaurant existed on earth. Likewise, I have no idea about many things. On rare occasions, I can have a sense of the surrounding beings, but then only in a very incomplete way.

As I write this journal in the morning, I weep for my midget existence. I would have liked to live up to the vast multitude of existence, but that is not to be, confined as we are in the flesh.

I am otherwise practical and hard working. Why this state of mind today? I think it is the result of the spring gust entering me.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

More cows than humans

I came to the city of Kanazawa. I met with my best friend Yoshihide Tamori.

Whenever I come to a far-off land, nowadays, I think about how the internet made every place directly connected to the intellectual heritage of mankind. And I imagine myself living in the city, while fully connected to all the exciting things that the internet can provide.

Often imagination is the only limit. The world has really been transformed. We do not need any organizations or institutions. Every place is the best place to learn.

This ubiquitous presence of learning opportunities would surely change the landscape in years to come. Yoshihide, my best friend, was born and brought up in a very rural town where there were more cows than humans. He taught himself mathematics, engineering, and life. Had Yoshihide been born today, he would have gone even further, reading all the relevant materials on the internet. I am sure there are many ambitious and gifted young individuals growing up in the wonderful opportunities provided by the net.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Essay contests

When I was a senior high to university student, I used to enter essay contests and win prizes. When I was 15, I won a trip to Canada. I went to Hawaii for an essay prize at the age of 18.

When I was at the University, Japan was in the middle of the "bubble economy". I did not benefit directly from the frivolous festivities that went on nightly in the clubs and restaurants in Tokyo (at these times my life was really modest, simple, and without excitement, just concentrating on physics). However, I did get some bonuses by winning prize money in essay contests held by corporations and organizations with fat purses. I used the money to go to operas, kabuki plays, and concerts. Thus, I used the essay winnings to cultivate my knowledge and sensitivities. To this day, I think that was a very good investment.

I remember one particular essay contest well. In the essay, I argued that our society needed a project to inspire people for something beyond the realm of the daily experiences. Without such an enterprise, human spirituality would suffocate. After warning against a danger of the closing of the human mind in the modern society, I argued that one of the best projects would be SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

My essay won the first prize. I was twenty-something then. (Needless to say, all these essays were written in Japanese. I am yet to win my first English essay contest.)

At the prize ceremony, one of the judges said very nice things about my prose. He was a famous critic. He said that "Mr. Mogi writes with fire. His style shows much promises". I was pleasantly flattered. His words were music to my ears. But then he went on to say that "the argument was very well, until Mr. Mogi came to the last part, arguing for the necessity for SETI. I wonder if the project provides an appropriate ending to this essay."

Thus, at the very end, I was discouraged. The judges all nodded in agreement with the critic. Apparently, they did not think that SETI was a proper subject to be discussed in respectable social contexts. Not like building an arts theatre or promoting a sports event.

At that very moment, I think, a theme that continues to run in my life even today emerged. I might be able to come to (or appear to come to) an agreement with the society in general on the surface, but when it comes to things that really matter, I am rarely in agreement with the comfortable mainstream.

I partially regret the situation. Had I been more conformant, I would have led an easier life. But then it would not have been as fun.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The enigma of Japanese intellectuals.

Although it is sometimes a dirty word, I consider myself as "a kind of" intellectual. (Meaning I am prepared to be "dirty" in disturbing the well-meaning implicit assumptions in society from time to time.)

One of the enigmas of Japan is the silence of its intellectuals in the global domain. I feel personally responsible for it by the portion of "one over one hundred twenty-seven million" (which is the current population of Japan, roughly speaking).
Japan has been exporting automobiles and electronics in the peace of the postwar era. Recently, Japan has been the source of influential popular culture waves led by manga and anime. In terms of serious world view issues, however, it has been more or less silent, becoming effectively a "black hole" in this regard.

It is not that Japan does not have its share of intellectuals ("dirty" people). I know many of them in person. They write books (in Japanese), teach at universities, and conduct interesting research, think original thoughts. It is not that there are no unique or original ideas being generated here. Every country has its own traditions, and the explicit and implicit enrichments brought about by the long history of Japan should surely be a basis for adding something valuable to the world heritage of intellectual endeavors.

There are many missing pieces. For example, the Japanese concept of nature is very different from one in the West. While the western protection of nature tends to be a total withdrawal of human activities from a certain area, the Japanese tend to aim at a harmonious co-existence, as exhibited in the beautiful "satoyama" areas all over the country. It would constitute a great service to the human race to express and explain the Japanese philosophy of nature in the modern context.

There are many areas where a contemporary treatment would greatly improve the situation. Areas covered by three great books written in English originating from modern Japan ("Book of Tea", "Bushido: The Soul of Japan", and "An Introduction to Zen Buddhism") badly need a contemporary update, although these classics certainly continue to provide valuable readings today.

This particular blog is a humble test-bed to try out what I could possible say in the global context being a person based in Tokyo. I know sometimes I am clumsy, but I have to do this all the same. It is the duty of my own choice.

Japan has a relatively large economy (2nd in the world, to be overtaken and surpassed by China this year), and many intellectuals are likely to feel, although I have not interviewed them personally, that they can lead a more or less comfortable life focused on the Japanese "market" only. (I would feel the same had I been more settling.) Hence the presence of many university professors who (especially in the humanities) remain essentially domestic. I find myself increasingly uncomfortable being in this situation, both as an individual and as a member of a nation.

Thus, the (perhaps foolish) activity of writing this Englush blog persists as a practice in prose and a demonstration of spirit, although sadly at present its readership is much smaller compared to my Japanese blog. Let's see if there comes a day when the Qualia Journal would attract more readers than its Japanese brother.

While doing this, I must confess, I sometimes feel very lonely, as not many people consider the expression of their ideas in the lingua franca as a necessity of life in this country. That is actually fine with me. Ever since my childhood, I always felt lonely, when confronting essential issues.

The presence of the readers of this blog continues to be a solace for my soul. I thank you all for your kindness, from my heart.