Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sixth sense

As the sheer volume of information available for an average individual increased, we really need a keen and well-tuned "sixth sense" while surfing on the web.

More often than not, when using the internet, there is no logical necessity to look up a particular website, except for cases where the purpose is specific. Out of the possible sequential combinations of web visits, one can only conduct a single track visit, killing all other possibilities.

When you think about it, it is an awesome sight. While the texts on the web are "read" by search engines and robots, the human mind is ever restricted in its capacity and spans of attention. There is a "jump" from the multitude of possibilities to the finitude of actual choices. Thus, you really need a "sixth sense" to make most of the web and enrich your life. The next website you are going to visit my change your destiny, or forever confine you in the mundane every day.

The question is, what constitute the "sixth sense" in terms of practical actions and reviewing customs?

Sixth sense

As the sheer volume of information available for an average individual increased, we really need a keen and well-tuned "sixth sense" while surfing on the web.

More often than not, when using the internet, there is no logical necessity to look up a particular website, except for cases where the purpose is specific. Out of the possible sequential combinations of web visits, one can only conduct a single track visit, killing all other possibilities.

When you think about it, it is an awesome sight. While the texts on the web are "read" by search engines and robots, the human mind is ever restricted in its capacity and spans of attention. There is a "jump" from the multitude of possibilities to the finitude of actual choices. Thus, you really need a "sixth sense" to make most of the web and enrich your life. The next website you are going to visit my change your destiny, or forever confine you in the mundane every day.

The question is, what constitute the "sixth sense" in terms of practical actions and reviewing customs?

Friday, August 20, 2010

A fool can be cured only when he dies (II).

(continued from yesterday)

The phrase "a fool can be cured only when he dies." is a very famous one in Japan, known even among the children (in its original Japanese expression, of course). I grew up with the phrase, saying occasionally the phrase "a fool can be cured only when he dies" to each other as a kid. The implication was that being a fool was a condition that could not be cured so easily. The message was to accept each other's unique condition, including being a fool. Because "a fool can be cured only when he dies", one had to be tolerant to each other.

It was only after I grew up that I learned that the phrase actually came from the famous Rokyoku piece "The Tale of Jirocho Shimizu" by Torazo Hirosawa. Jirocho, a powerful and thoughtful leader, thought highly of and loved one of his disciples, Ishimatsu of Mori. Ishimatsu was a courageous and strong man. Ishimatsu, however, was a foolish man. Ishimatsu lacked the ability to calculate, take precautions, and make necessary preparations. Precisely because Ishimatsu was foolish, he could be brave and endeavoring at the same time. The phrase "a fool can be cured only when he dies" is thus a praise of Ishimatsu's boldness. Looking back, I think we knew its deep significance intuitively when we were throwing the phrase to each other in our elementary school days.

A record cover featuring Torazo Hirosa and Ishimatsu of Mori.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A fool can be cured only when he dies.

Japanese literature has a rich tradition in the philosophy of life. The genre of Rokyoku, in which important events and life histories of famous persons are recounted in a dramatic and engaging way, provides a particularly resonant medium for the appreciation of life.

Torazo Hirosawa (1899-1964) is a universally recognized genius in the genre of Rokyoku (musical and dramatic recounting of the life of historical figures). Torazo's mastery resides in the organic combination of the tragic and the comic.

Torazo's legendary performance of the Life of Jirocho Shimizu (1820-1893), a gangster and political activist at the same time, is full of heart-wringing drama of life and death. A particularly poignant phrase is "A fool can be cured only when he dies."

(To be continued tomorrow)

Torazo Hirosawa

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cartoons unawares

We have our weekly lab meeting, where we hold the journal club and also discuss things. One of my students (he has a Ph.D now so he is technically no longer a student of mine but I always feel that he is still one), Takayasu Sekine, is very good at making drawings.

I am often caught unawares by a cartoon of my image on the white board. Yes, I am a bit overweight, but I am not THAT
overweight. He draws me as a fur seal, lying lazily on the rock. I might be lazy at times, but not THAT lazy.

Here's a recent drawing of me (apparently) that I discovered on the white board. When I realize that Takayasu has made another cartoon, I look at him glaringly, and he returns a peevish smile. Maybe one of these days I will take revenge. Takayasu looks like a platypus, some people have said.

One of the cartoons apparently depicting me found on the white board at the occasion of a recent journal club.

Takayasu Sekine with one of his drawings.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I want to have everything, RIGHT NOW!

When I was in the teens, I often wanted to have everything RIGHT NOW! As ignorant youths often do, I wanted fame, not in many years later, but right then in my mature youth. I wanted a beautiful and caring lover the same day. I wanted to author a great masterpiece and be forever remembered in history. And I wanted that transition from anonymity to fame happen within a day, or better still, within a moment!

Looking back, I of course understand how ridiculous these wishes have been (otherwise I would not be living a normal social life--yes, it IS debatable whether the particular social life that I am leading in and around Tokyo is something that can be termed "normal"). However, I do feel at the same time that in the Sturm und Drang, in that ignorant storm of youth, there was something to be cherished and treasured.

Maybe I need some element of the "I want to have everything RIGHT NOW!" state of mind right now in my (supposedly) mature life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The great transition from hate to love.

Nowadays I really enjoy a cold glass of beer in the evening. After a strenuous work day in the heat island of Tokyo, what better ways are there to wind up and get relaxed than cheers and clinks of glass?

Now that beer has become an indispensable part of my life, I sometimes wonder what made me shrink from the very idea when I was a kid. Needless to say I was below the legal drinking age, but my abhorrence of beer seemed to carry something more extreme and deep. I suspect that is the case with many children. And yet, as you grow up, in the magical transformation of age, you learn to love the bitter liquid.

One day you hate it, the other day you just love it. The great transition from hate to love. Yet another enigma of life.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cream puffs

Yesterday, when I returned from the studio of All Japan Senior High School Quiz championship, I found a box. Tomio said that it was for me. Apparently, a kind editor visited me and left it as a souvenir.

After the shooting was over, we went to an Indian restaurant near the Nippon television. Several other editors came, and we had a very joyous evening.

I tend to be careless about these things, so I did not look into the box until I went home. When I opened the paper bag, I discovered that there were two, rather than just one, boxes. Inside the box, I found several cream puffs.

Had I realized that I had almost 10 cream puffs in the bag, I would have surely shared them with my friends. Due to my negligence, I had taken them all home.

Now, I love cream puffs in general, but usually do not consume more than one cream puffs in a row. Now I found myself in a situation where I had to eat several cream puffs, in order to save the value while they are fresh.

This morning, I have eaten two cream puffs already. Probably I have to extend my jogging distance by twofold, making friends with the butterflies in the forest and sweating like summer rain.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hiding (IV).

(continued from yesterday)

I left the mountain brook and started to walk towards the middle-aged man's voice. The road was covered with dirt, and the evening sunshine was casting an orange light on it. "Ooi" the middle-aged man called again. From the loudness of voice, it was clear that he was quite near me now.

I walked on, and from behind the curve in the road, the middle-aged man appeared. I saw him, and he saw me. I swung my butterfly net to and fro, pretending to search for a butterfly. Then I had nothing to do. I now had to look into the middle-aged man's eyes,

"Why didn't you answer back?" The middle-aged man said, with somewhat rough breath. "Why didn't you answer back, when I called you? I called you many times. Why didn't you say something?"

I could not answer. I could not answer, as I did not know the answer myself. I did not know why I had not yelled back to the calls of "Ooi." I did not know why I felt shy and wanted to hide from the middle-aged man. I did not know why I wanted to be alone in the forest.

"I am sorry." was my feeble answer. "I was chasing the butterflies and...." I almost felt like sobbing. The middle-aged man smiled. "It is all right. Now that I have found you safe, everything is all right. But we need to go to the bus station very quickly now. Otherwise we have to spend the night in the mountains".

Having something to do was such a relief. I hurried, almost ran, to the bus station. The emotional crisis was over.
As I galloped though the path, I started to laugh. I could not suppress the impulse. I laughed peevishly first, trying to hide the big smile from the middle-aged man. Finally, I could stand it any more. I burst out, and the middle aged man, who was running beside me, laughed heartily, too.

(End of this essay)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hiding (III).

To this day, I do not understand what was behind my impulse to hide from the middle-aged man. It was not that he looked dangerous or anything. When you think about it really hard, he looked somewhat similar to a young teacher who scolded us in the classroom when we were third graders. But that was just a superficial likeness. For all I could tell, his intentions were good. Kindness radiated from his countenance. And yet, somehow I wanted to hide from the man.

Perhaps I felt that peace and tranquility had been disturbed through the conversations with him. Although the chat was lively and enjoyable, probably I would have preferred being alone in the forest, listening to the sound of silence. Possibly I was secretly indignant that it was too late to regain that desired tranquility. The day was already almost spent. And I had to start heading for the station very soon. Probably I was angry with the man. Or perhaps I was just being a little bit shy.

"Ooi! Where on earth are you?!" "Ooi, are you all right?" The middle-aged man kept shouting, and his voice became louder gradually. He started to sound quite concerned. Probably, he thought that I was lost or something. He might have been thinking that I was hurt and unable to move. It might have well been that he feared I was unconscious.

When I put myself in the position of the middle-aged man now, I can well understand his concerns. Here was a 12 years old boy alone in the mountains, chasing butterfly. The boy had been chatting in a very friendly manner all the while, and all of sudden the boy was no more. No matter how often and loud you called, the boy did not answer. Maybe there had been an accident. Maybe there had been something serious. With the benefit of hindsight, it was no wonder that the middle-aged man was concerned.

I could see such a line of logic on that day, even. I felt that I had a moral obligation to yell back. However, something inhibited me from doing so. There was this strange and uncontrollable agitation in my heart. As time passed, and as the middle-aged man's calls became louder and more desperate, I increasingly felt that it was now probably too late to answer back. In the beginning, it was just a tiny twist in my whimsical mind. I just failed to answer the first few yells. And yet, now that I had remained silent for such a long time, the middle-aged man should be suspecting that there was some intention on my part, something hideous, something even vicious. And I could not bear such thoughts any more.

(This story is to be continued tomorrow)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hiding (II).

The middle-aged man I met along the mountain brook said that we walk together. I said fine. So both of us set out to look for Panchala ganesa loomisi.

Within my bosom, my secret wish was to just glance at this lovely butterfly in flight. The ephemeral bluish color on the wing should present a fascinating flickering light when the butterfly is airborne, I imagined. It was almost like an anguished longing.

However, no matter how hard we looked, Panchala ganesa loomisi did not come into view. There were some other butterfly species which looked similar to Panchala ganesa loomisi. Narathura japonica, for example. Every time a likely candidate came into the view, I jumped and run. Every time it turned out to be yet another false alarm.

Time passed, and the sunlight started to weaken. Evidently, I had to start heading home in a few minutes. At that time, I was wandering in the forest on my own. I had been walking with the middle-aged man, but had parted at some time earlier. This was not an unusual action for a butterfly chaser. After all, nature is vast, and it is always a good idea to cover different habitats, in an effort to conduct a joint "filtering" operation.

Suddenly, I heard the man yell out for me. "Ooi", I could hear his voice. "Ooi, where are you?" I could tell that he was quite near. Maybe he wanted to make sure that I was O.K. Maybe he was thinking that he would kindly take me to the station. After all, I was only 12 years old. However, due to the thick foliage, I could not see him. And vice versa.

Out of the blue, I wanted to hide. I felt that I did not want to join that man anymore. I did not know what happened to me. I just wanted to hide, in the tranquility of the forest.

(This story is to be continued tomorrow)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hiding (I)

When I was 12 years old, I wanted so much to capture a particular butterfly species, Panchala ganesa loomisi,. It was a small and lovely butterfly. The habitat of this rare species was very limited. Around Tokyo, there was one mountain range where the butterfly inhabited. One Sunday I could not stand it anymore. I jumped onto a train and ventured off to that area of promise.

It was not long after arriving that I realized that the search was going to be difficult. The forestation was quite dense, and the biomass was large. That should have been a good sign in the general sense. However, it also meant that the butterflies would be dispersed and hard to find, even if there were any.

I knew from prior knowledge from books and magazines that I would have to go down to the mountain brooks to have a good chance of encountering the butterfly. When I was walking along a flow, I met with a middle aged man. The man held a butterfly net in his hand, just like me. He asked me "did you come for the Panchala ganesa loomisi?" I answered "yes". We started to chat. The man said that it was great of me to come all the way to this mountain alone, considering my age. I felt proud and happy to hear that. Evidently, he was a very nice man.

(This story is to be continued tomorrow)

Panchala ganesa loomisi

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ebizo keeps a dragon.

Ichikawa Ebizo XI is a good friend of mine and a great Kabuki actor. He has a big secret. Ebizo keeps a dragon, and the dragon keeps growing.

The revelation came as I was having a conversation with Ebizo for a magazine article in a Tokyo hotel. Out of the blue, Ebizo mentioned in a casual and as-a-matter-of-fact manner that he was keeping a dragon with him.

The story went like this. Some time ago, Ebizo was attending a party. There was an elder man that Ebizo quite respected. When Ebizo looked at the man, there was a large dragon behind. Naturally, Ebizo was quite astonished. The man, looking at Ebizo's countenance, said dryly "Oh, do you see the dragon? It is standing just behind me, isn't it? Where you are looking at now, is the dragon's face. Do you see that? I'll tell you what. Bring a glass jar to this temple in the mountain. Normally, the master priest does not give away dragons to a first comer. But you may be different. He might give you a dragon."

So Ebizo went to this temple in the mountain. The head priest, after looking at Ebizo carefully, finally said that he might take back a dragon in the jar.

So Ebizo took a dragon in a jar back to Tokyo. As time passed, it grew bigger, and it came out of the jar. By the time I met with Ebizo, the dragon had become larger than himself.

As I listened to this story with amazement, Ebizo said to me, "just about where you are looking at right now, should be the dragon's head. Do you see that?"

I could not actually see anything, but I made a ambiguous response, partly to be diplomatic, but partly out of sincerity, as the dragon story made me think deeply.

From the scientific point of view, the whole story should be judged to be a fruit of illusion. A dragon is an imaginary animal. It does not "exist" as a physical entity.

But then there is a rich cultural history, in the far East, regarding the dragon. The dragon is a symbol of inspiration, aspiration, ambition, strength and energy. But tapping into the energy to be extracted from living with the imaginary animal, Ebizo is clearly becoming a larger figure as a Kabuki actor.

Another important point is that Ebizo is doing his day job well. Quite superbly, as a matter of fact. Once on stage, Ebizo's acting as a Kabuki actor is quite intensive, burning with energy, and has the elegance of a wild beast. Nobody questions that.
Some people, when possessed with a vivid imagination, stops functioning in their day jobs. They talk fanciful things, but does nothing. In such a case, the illusion loses its life, and begin to deteriorate.

Ebizo is different. Ebizo does not rely on his dragon. He uses his own body, practices, rehearses, thinks hard, and brings forth a wonderful Kabuki stage, moving the spectators. The dragon is then probably just a symbol of the excellence of Ebizo.
Ebizo keeps a dragon. And then he is a man with a practical sense. Ebizo is embodied. The combination of embodied practicality and the vivid imagination of a dragon is the chemistry behind the phenomenal great acting.

Ichikawa Ebizo.

Monday, August 09, 2010

I would not have been born.

My mother is originally from the southern island of Kyushu. She was born in 1936.

On August 9th, 1945, at the age of 8, she was in the city of Kokura. On that fateful day, a B-29 carrying the "Fat Man" atomic bomb flew to Kokura. As there were too many clouds over Kokura, they turned the bomber to Nagasaki instead, which was designated as the second target. At 11:02 a.m., the bomb was dropped to the city of Nagasaki, killings tens of thousands of people. Many of the victims were innocent civilians, including many children, just like my mother.

If the clouds were less dense on that day over Kokura, my mother would have been victim to the cruel bomb. She would have not grown up to meet my father and marry. I would not have been born.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

First love

I think my first love "happened" to me when I went to my mother's hometown in Kyushu at the age of 5.

One of my mother's sisters was married to a farmer with a whole mountain behind the house. They held a bon-odori (summer dancing) event in the spacious garden.

There was a girl in yukata dress. She was my first love. There was something definitely elegant and beautiful about her whole demeanor. I did not know what her name was, nor where she came from. Her impression remains vivid to this day.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The darkness itself.

(Continued from yesterday's entry "The firefly night")

My sister and I wandered around in the night, sometimes hand in hand. My mother dragged behind, somewhat breathlessly, as I and my sister were walking fast.

It was quite a while before we could get any signs of fireflies. Suddenly, there was a cry. "Look, there goes the firefly!" We dashed on, but could not really observe the light hindered by the walls of people's backs.

Then a little boy came along, with an insect cage hanging from his hand. Lights could be seen going on and off in it. There were fireflies! "Where did you capture these things?" My mother ventured to ask. "Just there, over in the forest!" The boy's caretaker answered.

"Into the forest!" I cried, and I went off in that direction, with the equally excited sister. We looked around and around, but there were no signs of fireflies. Perhaps the had all gone to bed by now.

But then, as if in a miracle, there, in the grass near a big tree, was a flickering and vibrant light. We found the firefly! We made the encounter at last!

Strangely, by this time, the zeal to capture the insect and take it home was gone. I and sister lingered on to watch the fireflies without bothering to capture them. The night breeze was cool and pleasant. And then, gradually, we made friends with the darkness itself. The fireflies did not matter any more.

In a tranquil mood, we went home and slept.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The firefly night.

When I was about 10 years old, there was an announcement in the local newspaper that a "firefly night" would be held in a nearby park. Thousands of fireflies would be released in the park for the public to enjoy, the article claimed.

The park, spacious but devoid of any clean running water, was not naturally a habitat of the light-emitting insects. The event was clearly meant to be one-off, with the fireflies brought in from somewhere else, either captivated in the wild or artificially nurtured.

In the contemporary atmosphere ever-conscious of animal welfare and environmental concerns, such an event would raise the eyebrows of many. At that time, however, thirty-something years ago, nobody seemed to have any objections. The fireflies might eventually perish in a foreign environment, but the joy that these insects give, no matter how temporary, was thought to justify the whole fuss (and mess for the insects).

I got all excited to read the article, and asked my mother to take me to the park. We had to ride the train to reach there. I took my small sister, equipped with insect net and cage. When we arrived at the station, there were already lots of kids with eager eyes. They had only one thing in mind. To see a firefly, and, if possible, to capture it to take home.

From the newspaper article, I had a vivid imagination of light points moving here and there in the dark, overwhelming the vision. The reality turned out to be more mundane. Perhaps the numbers were correct. However, averaged over the spaciousness of the designated park, the number of fireflies per unit area turned out to be disappointingly low.

"There are no fireflies," exclaimed my sister. "I would like to go home," she begun to wail. Perhaps the darkness frightened her. I did not want to go home in a hurry, so I kept saying "the fireflies would be in that direction", and continued to move around in the dark forest.

(This story is to be continued)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The beauty of butterfly watching

When I go for jogging in the park forest nearby, I am always watching out for butterflies. They are lovely creatures. I used to try to catch them when I was a child, but nowadays I just observe their behavior.

The most interesting feature of behavior to watch is the route that they take. The butterfly flight paths should be in principle chosen carefully for the survival value (i.e., in search of nectar, possible mates, and avoiding predators), and yet are full of rapid turns and apparently whimsical perturbations at the same time.

The beauty of butterfly watching is that you never know when and from where they are coming. Every corner of your vision becomes a potential route of entry for the airborne creature. By waiting for the butterflies, your sensitivities are kept alive and vibrant.

Yesterday, I was lucky to observe a beautiful specimen of Great Mormon (Papilio memnon Linnaeus). This magnificent butterfly used to be more southern bound. Probably due to the effects of global warming, we can now observe Great Mormons in Tokyo, too.

Thus, while jogging among the greens, I can sometimes encounter a messenger from the south.

A Great Mormon.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Every child is born into a system of language.

Every child is born into a system of language. I was born into the universe of Japanese, spoken by 130 million people but virtually confined to the island nation.

English came as a second language. Nowadays I use it constantly in my professional and private lives. As a non-native speaker I still have difficulties handling things.

Fortunately the situations are improving. I feel more and more confident and find tremendous joys in going over national borders and getting connected with people on the globe via the lingua franca. Having said that, the fact that English came to me as a second language has been a source of tremendous hardships in my life.

If only English was my native language. Such wishful thinking sometimes do come to me. On the other hand, there must be some advantages of being born into a minority language. I am yet to find the specific blessing. Maybe the point is too subtle to be made in a short period.

At the least, because of the difficulties experienced, I am set out to do a particular kind of soul searching. Hopefully I stumble upon some valuable truth one day because of this wandering around.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Being in a hot air.

So I am back in Tokyo, back into the heat and humidity. When at home, I do not use the air conditioner, as I don't like the artificial atmosphere. The occasional breeze from the window is just fine for me.

Consequently, when I go out, I enjoy the cool air on the train, in the buildings. A tremendous motivation for me to go out!
The reason why I am resistant to heat can probably be sought back to the days when I was chasing butterflies in the field as a child. Butterflies love fine weather, and they roam around when it is hot. I associate good old memories with the state of being in a hot air.

Having said that, today's heat in Tokyo is probably a little bit too much even for me. Good thing that I will be going out soon.