Saturday, July 02, 2011

This is entropy!

The novelist Yoshinori Shimizu once wrote a masterpiece titled "Don't talk about entropy on your date". This humorous short story (written in Japanese) depicts how a science student, once he starts talking about entropy, gets carried away and forgets to take care of his lover, only to be dumped. Serves him right, right?

Don't talk about entropy on your date. This is a very valuable piece of advice for certain kinds of people, including myself. The subject of entropy is so fascinating, deep, and engrossing that it is really a danger to start talking about it.

Oh, you don't know what entropy is? Well, in a nutshell, it is a measure of the...wait, don't get me started. I will never stop.
Mr. Masanobu Koike, a long-time editor for the great literary critic Hideo Kobayashi, told me this fascinating story. One evening, Kobayashi drank with his artist friend in Tokyo. On their way back to Kamakura, Kobayashi started talking about entropy.

Kobayashi was a man of incredibly broad and deep learning. He once discussed at length the philosophy of Henri Bergson, in a famous unfinished work titled "Reflections".

They talked all the way on the train, but the artist friend did not understand what entropy was. Getting off the train at Kamakura station, they kept talking, walking along the road that runs parallel to the precincts of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

As the artist friend did not get it, Kobayashi became all the more excited. While explaining entropy, Kobayashi got closer and closer to the artist friend, with the result that the artist was cornered towards the shallow stream along the road, until finally, he lost balance and dropped into the water.

Splash! The artist lay on his back, quite surprised and bewildered, wet all over. He looked up at Kobayashi, who triumphantly said, "now you see? This is entropy!"

We don't know how and if the artist got even.

I sometimes visit the beautiful old residence of Hideo Kobayashi on the mountain. Getting of the train at Kamakura station, and passing the aforementioned road, I tend to remember this great story of a passionate intellect. With entropy even Hideo Kobayashi can be carried away.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Perhaps fireworks are mirrors.

The great Fireworks Festival of Nagaoka started, I learned on my last visit, after the city was burned to ashes during the Second World War. Thus the beauty and splendor are dedicated to the souls of the dead. Most of the onlookers would probably be unaware of the significance of the airy show. That's OK. The fireworks work for our aesthetics even in sheer ignorance.

We were standing on the snow, and were looking at the fireworks above, an annual winter display of the magnificent technology. Although on a smaller scale compared to the summer one, it was still grand. There was an eerie quality of the beautiful, lived and experienced, enshrouded by the cold.

Takumi was standing next to me. He has been my sidekick ever since I met him when I was teaching at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

Takumi is a terror to many girls. He is known as "P. Ueda". The prefix comes from the fact that the subject of his oil painting is mainly his private part. He claims that his thing is shaped like the Jaguar emblem.

We were standing on the white field, far from the cheering crowd. All of a sudden, Takumi started to tell me about his mother. She left home when he was six years old, never to return. The next day an aunt came, and made him the first milk coffee of his life. He has not seen his mother ever since.

It is not clear, to this day, what made Takumi tell me the story of the tragedy of his life on that evening, in the show, shivering from cold, looking up at the great display of the fireworks. Maybe it had something to do with the souls. Perhaps fireworks are mirrors.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cannot go to school.

I recently met a few pupils who had extraordinary characters. And they can't go to school. Chatting with them, looking at their faces, they appear quite normal, lively, and thoughtful. And yet they cannot go to school. Something within them apparently tells them that going to school is not such a good idea. And I must say that, as far as I could trust my intuition facing them, that it was a sensible choice.

In a country where "home schooling" is an exotic idea, if a boy or a girl boycotts school attendance, parents panic and teachers reproach. Because there is such a narrow range of what could be considered to be "normal behavior", once a pupil steps out of the fairway there's a tremendous pressure to go back.

Talking with headmasters and chairman of the educational board, I sometimes feel that the disease is in the system, rather than in the pupils who boycott it. The air of conformity is so thick that it is suffocating, rather than life saving. If you can go to school, that's fine. Myself, I could go to school everyday and rather liked the experience. But if a child finds it difficult to go to school, that's fine and normal, too. The disease is not in the child. The disease is in the society that enforces conformity, where "home schooling" is still an exotic and "illegal" idea, after all these years.

Monday, June 27, 2011

First bitterness.

As can be observed from my earlier blog entry (Red bag was the object of desire), I was fond of coffee flavor as a child. Coffee, however, always meant a sweet drink. I never took black coffee. Actually, properly ground and brewed coffee was not so ubiquitous when I was a child.

It was therefore only at the age of 11 that I had a proper black coffee. I was with my mother's sister in a bar, in the southern city of Kokura. My aunt was a woman of the world. She had a wide knowledge of the pleasant and the adorable. She was a gateway into the grown-up world, at least in the eyes of the child.

On that day, for some reason I did not quite comprehend, the bar was open in the afternoon, and I was there, in the ambience of sophistication and posh. My aunt offered me to buy anything I wanted. I looked at the menu, and was quick to see that the most expensive item in the soft drinks was the "blue mountain" coffee.

"Blue mountain coffee, if you please", I said timidly. My aunt looked at me with her big round eyes. "You're a child, and yet you crave for the best", she said. "All right then, a blue mountain coffee. But listen, since you're taking it, no sugar or milk. You've got to drink it black. OK?"

I said fine. My heart was pounding wild as I took my very first taste of the black coffee. To this day, I remember quite vividly the sensation of the black liquid going into my system. It was the encounter with my life's first bitterness. And I didn't regret it.