Friday, July 30, 2010

Being in a minority position is not without its joys.

Throughout my life, I seem to have been enjoying the status of being a minority.

In the junior high, I used to chase butterflies in the field, and read grown-up's books. That was an attitude not ubiquitous among us brats, so I was always looked at as if observing something strange.

As I grew up, my tastes seemed to be shift into increasingly exotic areas in terms of sensitivity and feelings. I had to hide my true nature from time to time, but then I started to encounter people of my own kind.

I remember quite well the rubbishings and abuses we Mac users used to receive from the majority of people who uses the import from Seattle. They said that Macs are for fun and not for serious business. Corporations and schools matter-of-factly announced that their systems and apps were not compatible with the Mac. What do you care? Many computer viruses also turned out to be Mac-incompatible.

When waiting for the train in a Tokyo subway station, I tend to stand in the corners or at the farthest ends of the platform, away from where most people stay for convenience. For me, being alone seems to be more important than seeking convenience.

And the last straw is the problem of qualia. Many "serious" scientists laugh at it as if it is a pseudo-problem. They tend to maintain that functionalist approaches based on connectionist models are sufficient. Again, what do you care. One cannot change what one believes based on empirical observation and application of pure logic.

Being in a minority position is not without its joy. When you are in the majority, it is not that difficult to find people with whom you can resonate. Being in the minority, friend-making becomes an art in miraculous encounters. For example, if and when you find people who are seriously interested in the problem of qualia, that can give you a joy that lasts all your life.

May Ebizo and Mao live happily ever after.

I attended the wedding party of Ebizo Ichikawa, the young and great Kabuki actor. The Kabuki is a miracle, as it is both popular and artistically very refined. Very few genres of art achieve these often incompatible goals.

Ebizo is a great person. He has the savageness of a beast, as well as a fine-tuned intelligence of a noble man. The lady he chose as his partner, Ms. Mao Kobayashi, is a well known newscaster and a very beautiful lady.

Once on stage, Ebizo can become very furious. He can portray characters very remote from human dimensions. His energy then truly approaches that of a dragon. However, this evening, Ebizo was just a very happy man, grinning all the time. May Ebizo and Mao live happily ever after.

Ebizo and Mao cutting the cake. From

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


My favorite bar in Tokyo is "EST" in Yushima. The first time I visited this legendary bar, I was with Ken Shiotani, my fat philosopher friend. We had just turned 22. Shiotani was actually not that fat at that time. Then his belly area started to grow rapidly, and outpaced the Japanese economy.

I have a vivid image of the first night at EST. We were wandering in the small streets of Yushima, and Shiotani said out of the blue that he had a place that he wanted to try out. At that time, it was mainly Shiotani that came up with the proposals. I was rather a naive boy in the field of culinary and alcoholic delights. Shiotani was quite eager in this respect, which probably accounts for his big gain in weight.

The walk brought us to a thick wooden door. Inside, we found a polished bar table and a man in white cook coat with a gentle smile. That was Mr. Watanabe, master of EST.

Since then, EST has been my haven, EST has been my heaven, EST has been my home. EST, EST, EST. When do I go to EST next time with my fat philosopher friend?

With Ken Shiotani on the "Hanami" (cherry blossom admiring) night this March.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Passion meter.

As I go about my life, I meet many people. Some are famous. Others are young. Many are experienced. A few are truly awesome. I seem to appreciate the individualities of these persons in many different ways. One of the most important, however, is what I would call a "passion meter".

The question is how passionate a person is about his or her life. Passion can be nurtured in adversities, so the superficial success or failure are not that important. Intelligence also does relatively little to do with the passion level.

When professing a cause, the key concern is how deeply the antagonist actually believes in that cause. In many cases, people are just saying niceties, and do not actually put their energy into the realization of the causes. Some people are too established to really care for other people or themselves.

The greatest tragedy in life is the loss of passion. When a nation or a society suffers from it, inevitable decline follows. In many cases, people do not notice the decline, as their eyes are blind to the fact that they can convert difficulties into passion, if and only if they have the courage to do so.

So I go about the world today again with my passion meter. When I encounter an outlier of magnitude in the passion measure, I consider it as one of the rare blessings to my life.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Responding to the invitation of a senior high school headmaster Mr. Kawasaki, I gave two lectures in Sapporo. After the strenuous but enjoying hours, I strolled in the streets towards a local restaurant. It is always refreshing to venture into the unknown. Your instinct to discern the good from the mediocre, the tasty from the not so tasty, is highly invoked and something in you that remained dormant for so many years become active.

It occurs much slower than in a video game. The number of choices are also limited. You cannot fast-forward or keyword search.
But then everything is embodied, here and now.

Finally, we decided on a fisherman's restaurant. The defining moment is the taste of the evening's first beer. As I talked into the late hours with people from around the northern city, the joy of being on the road slowly unfolds itself.

In traveling, you are lost once and then find a transient home. You rest your weight on the newly found ground and then dissolve it without regret. The rather quick procession of things assures that your life is well revived and taken care of. You find that, once again, traveling has refreshed the life in you.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The 10 years wait of James Joyce

The Dubliners by James Joyce is a sublime example of English prose work. Written in 1904, the classic masterpiece, however, did not get published until 1914. Seen from the perspectives of today, there is nothing objectionable in the work. At that time, however, some of the expressions in The Dubliners (such as "have a girl") were considered inappropriate.

The fact that James Joyce could not get his work of genius published for 10 full years is a testimony of the fact that reception is not always automatic or immediate.

Let the 10 years wait of James Joyce be a source of inspiration for every young would-be creators and young-at-hearts.

James Joyce.

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.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The rage of the young Nicol was a reflection of his deep love towards Nature.

I had a wonderful conversation with Mr. C.W. Nicol, the famed writer who resides in the Kurohime district, Nagano prefecture, Japan. Mr. Nicol, (or Nick, as his friends are wont to call him) is a very kind, generous man with a big and deep smile.

What he told me about his youth was quite interesting. "Used to be an angry young man", Nick said. "I used to fight all the time, with these people who had no qualms about cutting down big trees in the mountains for meager "economic" reasons."

Perhaps for being so frequently angry, Nick got the nickname of "Aka Oni" ("Red Devil") from the local residents. An nickname, in the Japanese context, is not without the cute and attractive connotations.

In order to save the forests of Kurohime, he started the The C.W Nicol Afan Woodland Trust, named after the Afan Argoed Forest Park in Wales, his home country.

In my view, the rage of the young Nicol was divine. It was not based on personal interest, such as jealousy, hurt pride, or competition. The rage of the young Nicol was a reflection of his deep love towards Nature, the rich forest in Kurohime in particular.

"I started aiming for a big project", Nick told me. "Then it became smaller and smaller, until it could be contained in a nutshell. Now I would like to do what I can in this forest of Kurohime. I have finally found my home".

Today, Mr. Nicol looks like an old oak tree. The divine rage at young times has taken root deep in the soil, and the foliage of
experience flourishes.

With Mr. Nicol in the Afan Forest in Kurohime, Nagano, Japan.
(photos by Tomio Takizawa)

Friday, July 16, 2010

So here's to the fat ones.

Partly because my best friend Ken Shiotani is one, I seem to be drawn to a fat man. Although when I first met him when I was 18, he was rather like a slim bear. Then the rapid growth started, to my utter amazement.

Once I was traveling in the rural areas. I stayed at an Onsen (hotspring) ryokan (Japanese style Inn). There was a fat man figure in the bath. It was actually a deity, but my memories are rather faint there. In any case, the fat man figure stayed with me to this day. The symbol of reassurance, good things in life, and perhaps a little bit of indulgence. Just the right amount.

When I "interview" Misako, Ken Shiotani's wife, she invariably tells me that Shiotani's protruded belly is an attraction, rather than an obstacle, in her loving of her husband. Misako actually loves to pat on the belly. She cannot get enough of it. It is actually like touching the immortal "Totoro" in Hayao Miyazaki's film. Patting on the belly is an action repeated many times by the onlookers to the Sumo wrestlers. Perhaps here you can find one of the reasons for the popularity of Sumo wrestlers.
A heavenly cushion in the flesh.

So here's to the fat ones. I dedicate some photos I took while on the road. I don't recall where they were taken. I must have drawn to the atmosphere of reassurance and indulgence. We all need a little bit of them in today's health over-conscious world.

The fat man figure.

The fat one, Ken Shiotani, in the front.
The slim one, Takashi Ikegami, in the back.
Both are my soul mates, fat or slim.

Shiotani's belly, taken on 10th June 2009.

Mr. Okada does not charge for belly touching.

I made an entry about the fat ones in yesterday's blog. Even before I get the feedbacks (as the publication was delayed due to my stay in the mountain area, cut off from the internet), here's yet another entry about the fat ones.

Mr. Kengo Okada is one of my most respected editors. He is excellent with a capital E. Once he starts talking about his favorite subject, films, there is no stopping him. He talks on and on and on. His incredibly broad knowledge about that genre is both awesome and inspiring.

This much ado about his verbal exercise, however, did not stop him from building up an excess reservoir of energy materials around his belly area.

Below you can find a photo of Kengo Okada examining his belly in anticipation of an particularly demanding afternoon work session in the Chuo Koron (Central Review) office, where he is in charge of important sections in an important woman's magazine. Chuo Koron is a venerable and respected publishing house based in central Tokyo. Mr. Okada, while nurturing a robust belly section, has been kind enough to edit some of my books in Japanese.

So here's to the fat ones again. How could we live without them? I look forward to many beautiful collaborations with Mr. Okada, as well as touching his soft and relaxing belly from time to time.

And it is all free! How generous! Mr. Okada has a "no charge" policy for belly touching.

Mr. Kengo Okada, an editor at Chuo Koron (Central Review), showing off his well-kept belly.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The hole was rather large once you notice its existence.

On the night that I became aware of the quality of the train noise, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, I did not actually know the word "qualia". At that time of my career, I haven't done much research into the phenomenological dimensions of this universe. I was simply trained as a physicist, with some diversions into biology. The encounter with the word itself came a few months later, when I was reading a book on neurophilosophy. Only then did I realize that the problem that I bumped into was quite an old one, occupying the minds of philosophers and philosophically oriented people for many years.

Although I did not know the word "qualia", as I listened to the train noise, it became suddenly clear to me that the approaches of the physical sciences, in which you try to describe the events in this world in terms of numerical equations, cannot be applied to the origin of the quality of the noise that I was listening to. You may be able to Fourier-transform the sound waves, and discuss the frequency spectrum. That kind of logic, however, would not explain the origin of the phenomenal quality of the sound that was reaching my consciousness. It was clear that, there was a "hole" in the physical description of the universe as we know and experience it. And the hole was rather large once you notice its existence.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I did not have any idea that there should be something "external" to the physical description of the universe.

Although the fact that our phenomenal experience is "composed" of qualia should be evident from infancy, it is actually difficult to become aware of the full richness of the qualia dimension.

Myself, I did not become aware of the problem of qualia until the age of 31. On that fatal night, February 1994, I was returning home from the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), where I was conducting my postdoctoral research. I was on a train. I was writing ideas, diagrams, and equations into my notebook, as was my custom at that time. That particular night was rather "productive", at least in quantity. I remember that I made about 10 pages of entry.

I was standing at the edge of a car, where two carriages are connected by the coupler bridge and rubber covers. As you know, this part of the train is particularly susceptible to the noise that the train cars make as they go along the railway.

While making notes in a hectic speed, I must have been listening to the train noise: clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. There was nothing unusual in that situation. I did not have any premonition at all what was to come. What did come, it turned out, actually changed my life beyond recognition.

All of a sudden, I realized that the sound that was reaching my consciousness was composed of vivid qualities. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack clickety-clack. Qualities that cannot be fully described by words. Just this immediate impression of sensory qualities. It should be an evident fact for anybody. Even a child knows that a train goes clickety-clack. However, until that moment, I did not realize the very serious nature of the problem presented by the fact that our conscious sensory perception has the qualitative dimension.

I was trained as a physicist. I got my Ph.D. in the physics department of the University of Tokyo. As a physicist, I knew for a fact that the objective behavior of everything in the universe apparently obeys in a precise manner the laws of physics. As a physicist is wont to say, if you know the "Hamiltonian" of the universe, everything should be describable in terms of a set of equations.

I held that belief at that time, and actually continue to hold that belief to this day. Until that fateful night on the train, I did not have any idea that there should be something "external" to the physical description of the universe.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Depending on the traditions in each culture, the significance of a particular physical entity becomes different. The Japanese has always exhibited a vivid interest towards the insects, in particular the fireflies. And the interest has been always something beyond that of sheer entomological activities.

In Sei Shonagon's essay on the four seasons in The Pillow Book, fireflies are praised as "epitomes" of the elegance and beauty of the summer night. "Summer at night. More beautiful when there's the moon. When in total darkness, lots of fireflies airborne to and fro. Or only a few fireflies, leaving traces of faint lights. Otherwise, gentle rain falling all around."

To associate a rich "cloud" of connotations with the sight of this light emitting arthropod has been in the Japanese tradition for a long time, especially in the literary context.

Sei Shonagon's contemporary poet, Izumi Shikibu, associated the firefly with deep emotions of love.

Thinking about my love, even a firefly over the stream, appears to be my soul wandering out in longing.

Indeed, fireflies have been always associated with the longing spirit. Hideo Kobayashi, arguably the greatest critic to bless the Japanese nation since modernization, started his unfinished essay "Reflections" ("Kanso", which analyzed the philosophy of Henri Bergson) thus:

Two years after the great war ended, my mother died. Mother's death affected me deeply. In comparison the war, while historically significant, had only a physical influence on me, leaving my soul untouched. A few days after my mother passed away, I had a strange experience. At that time, my house was located deep in the Ogigaya valley. There was a brook alongside the small path that passed in front of the house. It was already twilight. Out of the gate, I saw a firefly before me. It was large like I had never seen before, emitting quite an impressive luminance. My mother has become a firefly now, I thought. Following the absorbing light, I found that it was not possible to let myself free from the idea any more."

Excerpt from "Reflections" by Hideo Kobayashi. Translated by Ken Mogi

Hideo Kobayashi, with his famous epitome "Hihyo toha Mushi wo eru michi dearu" ("Criticism is a way of attaining non-selfhood.")

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cute things

In another essay of The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon choses to discuss the cute things in life:

"Cute things. Face of a child painted on a gourd. A baby sparrow, approaching in a staccato on a calling tweet. An toddler, crawling in a hurry, keen enough to discover a very small dust on the way. The toddler then holding the dust between its tiny fingers, and showing it proudly to the adults around.

(Translated from the original by Ken Mogi)

The general conclusion, according to Sei Shonagon in the same essay, is that "cuteness is in everything, everything which is small". Although this "rule of cuteness" seems to be universal and provide sufficient basis for categorization, Sei Shonagon never gets tired of recounting the cute things one by one, possibly for the sheer pleasure of doing so.

The Pillow Book is an impressive example in the tradition in the Japanese culture to attend to and record verbally the details of qualia in the phenomenology of the world as we experience it. The torch of the tradition of cuteness is carried to this day.