Saturday, July 24, 2010

To express oneself.

To express oneself, in particular as a matter of being understood by the widest audience possible and giving pleasure to many, is a hard uphill climb.

You need to forsake yourself. Self protection is the worst scenario. As one famous Buddhist monk in medieval Japan remarked, you need to jump into the water flow to emerge in a new land of tranquility.

These were the words that crossed my mind as I had serious discussions with four other judges over the decision of awarding 8th Takeshi Kaiko prize. What a privilege it is to read the candidates' serious attempts at the genre of non-fiction. The torch is carried and relayed, because of the courage of these upcoming writers to forsake one's old self.

Takeshi Kaiko.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The sublime underdogs.

Nowadays Japanese manga and anime enjoy much popularity and a high respectability. Manga and anime are considered the primary cultural exports out of the island nation. They are also epitomes of "cool Japan". Manga and anime are extolled by culture lovers and government officials alike.

The situation was completely different when the pioneers of modern manga and anime cultures, led by the creative genius of Osamu Tezuka, made their headways. The reaction from the "established" circles were sneers, disgust, disregard, or mild tolerance at best. For a long time, manga and anime were considered to be catering to children's pastime, and were not considered to be serious subjects for grown-ups.

Thus, history repeated itself. It once happened there, and here again. The cold reaction from the society towards the underdogs, and then the growth of popularity and eventual coronation is a well-known pattern of acceptance. No praise could do justice to the immense courage and hard work of the pioneering underdogs. They deserve all the appreciation now bestowed upon the genre.

Now the Japanese manga and anime are in the danger of being too established. The sublime underdogs will be probably somewhere else, in another country or cultural domain perhaps, being sneered by the establishment but silently doing their home works.

Pioneer of manga and anime. The great Osamu Tezuka

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The joy of being completely out of your depth.

When I traveled to Korea a few weeks ago, I had the joy of being in a land where I found myself helpless as a three year old child. Hangul, the beautiful system of "alphabets" that the Koreans proudly use, is out of my reach at present. I can read in a very rudimentary way, but then with lots of difficulties and at an incredibly slow pace.

I remember the days when I first started to learn English at the age of 12. Then, even the difference of one letter "s" in the verb between "he plays tennis" and "they play tennis" was a discovery. I then went on to make small discoveries inch by inch, until English became my second language for reading, writing, and casting a web onto the world around me.

It is so blissful to be out of your depth. As I wandered through the streets of Seoul, I found joy in feeling helpless, surrounded by the wonderful and yet unknown universe of the Hangul. I would very much like to be out of my depth from time to time, as it is the only way to rejuvenation.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On English.

My native language is not English. I started to learn English only at the age of 12. Then my struggle began, as English and Japanese are two completely different language systems.

When I was 15, I went to a foreign country for the first time. In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, I had the fortune of being touched by the warm hearts of people and being exposed to the universe of the English language in the day to day life.

Lots of water has flown under the bridge. Partly due to the internet (it probably gave the definitive, finishing touch), English has now established itself as the lingua franca of the new world, especially on the web.

Thus, people in the world are divided into two classes. Those who speak English as their native tongue and those who learn English later. There are many different kinds of people, for sure, along the spectrum, but roughly speaking, there are those two categories of people in the world.

Shortly after I started to write about general subjects in English, I realized that writing in the lingua franca is actually a way to connect not only to the native speakers of English, but also to miscellaneous people living in various parts of the world, who have learned English as a secondary language. Thus, communicating in English has broadened my world in two significantly different ways.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The revelation of constellation

Now I am staying in the Kayoutei onsen ryokan in Yamanaka Onsen, Ishikawa prefecture.

This ryokan is famed for its magnificent breakfast, sometimes praised as "Japan's no. 1 breakfast". I am looking forward to it within a few minutes.

Yesterday, after work, we had a small party in the lounge. When the time was up, I went back to my room. There is a balcony attached to the room. Before going to bed, (or rather, going to the futon spread out on the tatami mat), I went out onto the balcony for a brief time.

What a surrounding! There was a mountain forest just behind the building, and I could see the border of treetops against the sky even in the darkness. There were stars scattered all over. The tranquility was awesome. The milky way was clearly visible, trembling with the random motions of air. Some night birds were audible, with their distinctive tones and melodies.

The day had been hot, with the sun glittering, and I think I was still carrying something of the day inside me. The moment I stepped onto the veranda, the sun and the glittering melted away like snow in the spring. Beautified serenity remained after, in which my soul found a deep solace. I felt that my mind was expanded and connected with the entities surrounding me in the universe.

I could have stayed on the terrace for longer, and ever could have slept on it. The allurement was so sweet and strong. As the more practical side of me won over, I went back to my room and put my head down on the futon. The revelation of constellation was still within me, as I finally lost my consciousness.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The great cosmic overcrowding of changes.

One of the things that we sometimes fail to recognize in life is that in this world, the time passes.

In a seemingly stationary world, as is often the case with our daily life, everything seems to be stable. However, things are actually changing, and the scenery will be transformed beyond recognition after a while. As the gradual shift is so small in the day to day, our cognitive systems often fail to register the changes. The change blindness is one of the tragedies of life.

Yesterday, after finishing a rather strenuous day of work from morning to night, I was reflecting on things on the way back. I thought of my past, what a small child I was, the recent events shaped my life, how people around me are moving around, the hopes, disappointments, impossibilities, sheer overcrowding. Then I realized suddenly that things are changing, always, without end, without exceptions. I felt a great sadness as well as a sweet consolation.

Things will keep changing, and I will keep changing, too. The only thing that I can do is to keep dancing, from morning till night, until I put my head down on the bed, swinging my hands and legs, looking here and there, moving to and fro, dance, dance, and dance in the great cosmic overcrowding of changes.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A moth that happened to cross my way

Butterflies and moths can be distinguished by a number of ways. One of them is their flight patterns. Butterflies fly in a straightforward way, while the trajectory of a moth is more perturbed and random.

When I was young, I chased butterflies in the field. One of my more important cognitive task was to distinguish between butterflies and moths. Most of the time the distinction was clear enough. At other times, you had to make some cognitive efforts to finally make a judgment whether the airborne insect in front of you is a butterfly or a moth.

I was quite earnest in my entomological pursuit. I could tell virtually any butterfly species living in Japan. Not so for the moths. Except for a few conspicuous species, moth classification was something beyond my power and interest. I could not care less about the tiny living creature in front of me, if that was a moth.

This unjustified discrimination was a natural thing for a boy, but nowadays I regret it. I should have studied the moths in more earnest, as they are part of the ecological system after all. In ecology, every species counts. There are no important and unimportant entities. Every creature is important. I realize the truth of this equality now.

If I have time, I would like to invest my time in studying moths as well as butterflies.

Here's a picture of a moth that happened to cross my way recently. I admire its beauty. I have no idea what it's called, or what it's life history is like.

My deficiency in moths knowledge is a good example of how much you are going to miss if you have a unfounded prejudice.