Friday, October 22, 2010

The size problem.

I have been to Singapore on a few days trip, attending a conference and giving a talk. The energy in Singapore is incredible. Even politicians are open-minded and quick in making decisions, a rarity in my home country. One of the officials said that Singaporeans had to reinvent themselves constantly. I have never heard a remark of similar nature from someone in power in my native country.

Coming back to Tokyo on the plane, I was thinking about the size effect. The size of Japan is intermediate, not too big, not too small, and therefrom arise lots of problems. Japan is not big enough to assume a superpower role like the U.S. or China. Japan’s domestic market is large enough to sustain its publishing and broadcasting industries, two areas where globalization was supposed to happen but never did, probably due to the language barrier.

Japan’s peculiarities should arise not only from its unique history but also from the sheer size of its economy and culture. There one has a chance of drawing universal conclusions from a seemingly peculiar problem.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ideally, I would like to do everything en plein air.

Even small children are fond of moving their hands and leaving tiny traces of colored lines on the paper. A whole career can be built, starting from the doodling. If you take the business of drawing and painting seriously, there is no end in sight. It is an infinite process.

For sometime, I have been fascinated by the idea of the French impressionist’s “En plein air”. You paint something on the spot, without deliberation, devoid of painstaking days of hard work. Everything is conducted spontaneously, on the spot, with a dazzling result artistically.

When I visited the Musee d’Orsey a few years ago I was taken by the paintings by Monet (refer to the entry into this journal on the 9th October 2004). It was at this time that the concept of “En plein air” became so important within me that I have been thinking about its universal applicability to other fields of activities ever since.

Ideally, I would like to do everything en plein air.

En plein air.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mozart was a forerunner of John Lennon.

People might think that Mozart was a naïve guy who left for others to write the librettos of operas. If you look carefully you notice otherwise. There is something very consistent in what he wrote, not only in terms of music but also in the sense of universal humanitarian values.

At the end of the opera “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail”, the hostages are released and people dance in rejoice. The celebration of humanity, without religion, without border. Unity of men beyond the classes, races, and cultures were the penetrating theme of ALL his works. Mozart was a forerunner of John Lennon.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My personal revolution.

In the last few months, I seem to have learned that to bring about revolution to the society is a very difficult task. Yes, I am stupid enough to come to learn this at the mature age of 47.

Perhaps this is something felt only by some residents in Japan. Hopefuls truly sensed that the long overdue revolution (or evolution) of the nation’s political and government system would come about soon. Then the hopes kind of faded, with the defeat of Mr. Ozawa in the election for the leadership of Democratic Party of Japan.

Now I feel that revolution needs to start at a personal revel. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a middle-aged man in much need for revolution. The way I organize my life, breathe the culture, write, say, hear, needs to be modified in order to accommodate my dreams. I must think more of my personal revolution.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

You are a fine gentleman (2).

(Continued from the previous entry)

I walked on along the twilight street, but my inner turmoil did not seem to calm down. It was obvious now that the lady in a black formal dress at the restaurant rejected us because of how I looked. I was wearing a jacket, but underneath it I had my T-shirt on, with very vivid illustrations.

Apparently it was a question of dress code. The salaryman and his girl, who came after us, were welcomed into the restaurant without any problem. In my view, they were rather homely people, without any particular distinctions. The fact that the lady at the restaurant welcomed them seemed to tell me something deep and sinister about society in general.

Maybe it was only my youthful imagination. Perhaps I should have worn a jacket and tie like the salaryman. But then I never wore a tie, unless it was absolutely necessary. And you never know beforehand that you would walk into a restaurant with a draconian requirement as to how customers should be dressed. It seemed not at all sensible to live in the shadow of a possible encounter with such an establishment.

The more I thought about it, the heavier my heart became. At least, the lady at the reception should have told me explicitly the dress code of their place. It was not sensible at all just to tell that we were not welcome. One might take it personally. I took it personally. I had to call the place.

I happened to have the card of the restaurant, which I took casually as I left. I phoned the number. After some ring tones, a woman's voice answered. I tried to be as calm and to the point as possible.

"Hello. we are the customers who have just visited your place. You told me that you had no table this evening. After we left, we saw a salary man couple walk into the restaurant. Apparently they had no reservation. If your rejection was based on a dress code, you should have told us so. I think it would have been only fair. I don't think we would visit your restaurant ever again. Good bye!"

When I told the lady about the salary man couple, she seemed to gasp on the other end. When I hung up, I felt I had done all I could do, and the best thing would be to forget about it. But my inner wounds seemed to remain unhealed, tormenting me with every step.

I started to walk on street again, looking for a place to rest my soul.

My girl friend, who was listening to my conversation on the phone and therefore understood the situation for the first time (she was not someone who would naturally notice these things), held my hand and said, "you know, you are a fine gentleman".
Her gentle voice finally provided the consolation for the evening. It came as unexpected as the rejection at the reception.

(End of this essay.)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

You are a fine gentleman (1).

When I was young, I wanted to try new things. One day, I found a posh building in central Tokyo. I went in. There was a rather nice French restaurant. I examined the menu. Although in those days my means were limited, I would somehow be able to manage it on that day. Yes, I wanted to venture into this establishment. So I asked my girl friend, who was standing beside me, if she would like the idea of a romantic dinner together. She said she would actually very much love it.

So I went to the entrance, and a lady in black formal dress welcomed us. When I said "we are two", she said she could not accommodate us on that evening, she was sorry, because all the tables were booked. I shrugged my shoulders, and walked off, thinking that nothing could be done, since all the tables were booked. Apparently it was a very popular restaurant.

Then something strange happened. As we strolled in the corridor, I looked back. There was a middle aged man and a younger lady in front of the French restaurant, looking at the menu just as we had been doing a few moments ago. From their behavior, it was apparent that they were just passing by, had not made a reservation, and were now examining the menu to see if they would like it. The man was a typical "salaryman", wearing a bland jacket and tie. The girl's dress was no better in taste.

Then something extraordinary happened. The lady at the reception came out, said hello to the salaryman and his girl, and welcomed them in. I could not hear what they were saying, but she was apparently inviting the salaryman and his girl into the restaurant, without any reservation, making no fuss. In a moment I understood what had happened. I walked away slowly into the street, trying not to disturb my girl friend.

It was a warm summer evening, and I was wearing a T-shirt and a jacket. My face was red with something, which I could not fully grasp. As I walked on, a sense of deep humiliation overtook me.

Whenever I lose the balance of my mind, I tend to remain silent, trying to contain my inner turmoil. My girl friend apparently noticed my transfiguration. Since she was a sensible person, she also walked on slowly, without asking me why or how.

(This essay to be continued tomorrow)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Abrupt concentration.

For some time, I have been making a point of abrupt concentration. I may be idling on the sofa, and all of a sudden, I would start concentrating on something, whether it is work or play.

When I give a lecture, I would shortcut all the protocols and niceties, going straight to the point, often on the verge of conducting an attack of pleasant surprise on the audience.

I was discussing this particular piece of my philosophy of life with Prof. Tatsuru Uchida, a well-known scholar in French philosophy. Tatsuru remarked that what I had just said was actually the core spirit of martial arts. Tatsuru is a practitioner of Aikido, you know.

In the tradition of Japanese martial arts, the basic assumption is that you never know when the enemy would attack you. It is quite possible that when you are relaxing and idling away, the opponent suddenly attacks you from behind. It is therefore absolutely necessary to be able to "ignite" your system in a moment, reaching the highest level performance within a second. There is no time for "warming up". The enemy does not wait until you are up and ready. Tatsuru's comments made sense to me.

So, without knowing it, I have been practicing the core spirit of Japanese martial arts.

I am quite a peaceful person, though.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dear, Mr. Autumn.

Summer in Tokyo this year was unusually long. The record-breaking heat spell went on and on, until we residents started to think that we were now officially in the subtropical zone, the high temperature prevailing and becoming a permanent reality of our lives in the capital.

Then, the persistent heat suddenly disappeared. A few days of rain bought a chill which made us think that the winter has arrived without the mellow and yellow autumn in-between.

Damn that! I do love autumn. I love the deep blue sky over the sober tree. I love to watch a persimmon tree bearing red fruits all over the place. I miss the cool breeze that make the leaves rustle. It is too hard to go straight into the cold winter, without the soothing effect of a gorgeous autumn.

Dear, Mr. Autumn, please don't go away without giving us a chance to come back to our sincere selves after the carefree summer.

Please, please give us a fair share of autumn. Someone responsible up there, please!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Myself and the red-bellied newt (5)

So the newt was alive, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Once in a direct contact with the reality, a sense of practical wisdom took hold of me. I scooped the poor chap out of the tank, and put it on a dish. I changed the water with brisk vividness. I even washed the stones one by one, rubbing off the algae on the surface, something that I had never done before. I fed the newt, once it was back in the refreshed habitat. From its still posture, it was hard to tell whether the small creature was grateful for what I had done finally after all these days, or held a justifiable resentment against my negligence, which almost cost his life.

So the newt crisis was over. After that fateful day, I lived with the newt in peace, taking regular care of the tank, until a few years later, it died of natural causes. Although my conscience was now clear, a strange aftertaste lingered in my mind.

The fact that I was unable to come face to face with an unpleasant truth hurt me in a permanent way. In the sure knowledge of the gradually deteriorating situations, I could go about with my life as if nothing was happening. I could not bring myself to do the simple task of newt tank maintenance. There, you had it.

The whole process revealed something ominous and yet unavoidable about the human nature. The significance of the newt episode in my life remains and grows within me to this day.

(End of this essay.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Myself and the red-bellied newt (4)

The clock in my heart started to tick slowly. The passage of the every day became painful. I felt the urge to take a look at the newt tank, but was too afraid to do so. Sometimes, we avoid the truth at all costs.

During the course of a day, I would suddenly feel a pang in my breast. Then a wave of agitation would run through my system. What has happened to the newt? Was it starving to death in the murky water? Was it crying for help desperately, which I did not hear? "It is too late now". I thought. The remorse of having done something irreparable was growing like a beast lurking in the darkness.

Three days, four days, five days, ....then eventually a week passed without my going to the tank to witness what had happened. I lived a life of an increasingly troubling nature, with the Sword of Damocles hanging above. And there seemed to be no escape from the stalemate.

Then, one afternoon, there was an unexpected turn in the wind. I was coming back home from school on the usual route, when I noticed that something had changed in me. It was as if an entity, which had been dispersed like a cloud, was made into a rigid spinning ball which could now be handled. Now I was ready to go to the newt tank.

Opening the house door, I went straight to the tank, as if in fear that if I stopped even for a moment I would lose the energy to go through. My heart pounded like an wild animal as I approached the tank in the dark corner.

I was finally ready to accept whatever would come. The verdict was imminent. Gingerly, I peeked into the tank. There it was--the newt, although somewhat feeble looking, was alive, hiding itself as if it was shy of its existence. To my surprise, the water was not that dirty either, although visibly at a lower level due to evaporation.

(To be continued tomorrow)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Myself and the red-bellied newt (3)

(Continued from yesterday)

I had completely forgotten about my pet newt. Oblivion be damned! It was a horror realization. Apart from the smelly water concern, the most serious worry was that I had not fed the newt for days. Exactly how many, I could not remember. It all started with the disappointment in the rather dull reaction that I got from the creature. But, at the end of the day, it was the moral responsibility of a pet keeper to take a good care of the animal. I was negligent in that.

Of course I blamed myself. Then something extraordinary happened. I did not immediately rush to the newt tank to perform the overdue caring. I knew that I had better take a look at the newt, but I simply could not bring myself to it.

Maybe it was all a matter and workings of imagination backfired. I imagined that the newt was now dead, its body dried up and shrinking. My unconscious vividly depicted the fatal end of the lovely animal. It was all my fault. Or possibly it was still alive, suffocated in the dirty and smelly water, crying for help. Maybe it was covered all over with sticky and repelling materials now. In all likelihood it was too late.

Nothing could be done now, I kept saying to myself, as I went to school and tried not to think about the newt. My adult logic tells me now that no matter what the situation, there was no sense in postponing the actual getting to know. However, I was a weak child. Maybe every child has this weakness. The more I thought about the newt, and the more I felt responsible for it, my remorse turned into a strange inability to take any action. A agitated period of procrastination had set in. Maybe I was fearful of fear itself.

(To be continued tomorrow)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Myself and the red-bellied newt (2)

(Continued from yesterday)

Days passed, and I kept playing with the arrangements for the newt paradise. Within the small dimensions of the transparent glass case, I put some small stones, plants here and there, and kept changing their placements. The only thing was that I was not too sure whether the newt appreciated my efforts at all.

Then, the change gradually happened. I kept changing the water, feeding the newt, with less and less enthusiasm. There must have been ups and downs within the systems of the little creature even within the artificial bounds, but these were not immediately evident for me. A child's mind is whimsical. It is always seeking something interesting, and when there is nothing more to explore, the enthusiasm fades. Shining existence would so easily transform into dull non-existence.

One day, coming back from school, I realized that I had not looked into the newt's paradise for several days. It was the end of summer. The weather was still warm, with occasional heat spells. I could easily imagine that the water would be smelling now, due to the activities of the microorganisms which I did not care to think about. And the newt--I suddenly came to realize that I had not fed the newt all these days. Then the worry started.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Myself and the red-bellied newt

When I was about 10 years old, I went to a pet shop and encountered my newt. It was the Cynops pyrrhogaster (Japanese fire belly newt) species. Its cute form, and the vivid red color on the belly immediately captured my imagination.

The newt was not very expensive, well within the reach of my humble pocket money. I paid, and asked the owner to put it in a plastic bag. Gingerly, and with a heart full of imagination, I took the newt back home.

At that time, I was fond of devising all kinds of habitats for my pets. I made a grass jungle for my grasshopper. For the rice fish (Oryzias latipes), I put lots of small stones and water plants and imagined that I was one of the small creatures. For my newt, I prepared a whole small world of water, stone, and dirt, arranged in a way that I imagined would provide a high quality entertainment for the chap.

It was not long before I discovered that the newt was a rather dull animal. It does not move most of the time, and when it does, it jerks and then just stops. There was no question of a friendship between us. I did touch the newt and handled it in my hand from time to time, but from the way it wiggled its tails and opened and shut its mouth, I could not say that it was enjoying the experience very much. Soon, I learned that watching without interfering was the best newt policy for our co-existence.

(This essay to be continued tomorrow)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Master Darling and Kiyo

Yesterday, as I was moving through the maze that is Tokyo, I finished reading Botchan, written by Soseki Natsume, and translated by Yasotaro Morri, on my Amazon kindle.

The novel ends thus:

I forgot to tell you about Kiyo. On my arrival at Tokyo, I rushed into her house swinging my valise, before going to a hotel, with "Hello, Kiyo, I'm back!"
"How good of you to return so soon!" she cried and hot tears streamed down her cheeks. I was overjoyed, and declared that I would not go to the country any more but would start housekeeping with Kiyo in Tokyo.
Sometime afterward, some one helped me to a job as assistant engineer at the tram car office. The salary was 25 yen a month, and the house rent six. Although the house had not a magnificence front entrance, Kiyo seemed quite satisfied, but, I am sorry to say, she was a victim of pneumonia and died in February this year. On the day preceding her death, she asked me to bedside, and said, "Please, Master Darling, if Kiyo is dead, bury me in the temple yard of Master Darling. I will be glad to wait in the grave for my Master Darling."
So Kiyo's grave is in the Yogen temple at Kobinata.

As I perceive Japan to be in a great need of and actually in the process of serious transitions, and I myself have loads of things to worry about in my life, the last few weeks have been full of turmoil. After the storm, it was deeply rewarding to read the story of pure love (or "affection", should I say?) between Master Darling and Kiyo, who are not related and separated by age in a large number.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Time for change.

I have not written into this English Journal for a little longer than a week now. The writing streak is now officially broken. I don't really care. Maybe my life is moving into a new stage.

One of the reasons why I did not (or could not) write into this journal was because I was busy tweeting in Japanese with my twitter account @kenichiromogi. (The English account is @kenmogi) It seemed, for a few glaring days, that the time for change has finally come to Japan. Away from the dominance of organizations and job titles, more freedom to individuals, farewell to the old press, and more important than not, a true reform in the political system.

I was being an accidental "activist" on the twitter, with much love and peace, together with some notable individuals in the Japanese cultural and political scene. And yet, (you know these things take time and make some surprising twists when you least expect them), it seems that we need a certain reflection period before it really happens.

It is probably true that the time for change is imminent for this country. For the time being, I am back to normal. There are loads of things to do, pro-change or otherwise, and there probably will be more bends in the road, both private and public.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The summer is gone.

I don't know how, but I do feel that the summer has gone.

Ever since childhood, at some time in August or September, I would suddenly come back to myself, and feel that the summer has now gone. I instantly go into a serious mood, ready to tackle heaps of books and do some thinking.

During the summer, I tend to be carefree, not really knowing where I am going, and would just let myself go, here and there, into the blue sky, over the sunset horizon. Then, when the cool breeze of September touches my cheeks, I would suddenly realize that there are things that only hard work and serious commitment can bring.

So this year, again, a few days ago, I suddenly felt again that the summer was now gone. Life welcomes change. Another wave has come and gone in my life. That makes the rhythm. Now I am ready to take some autumn and seriousness.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Socratic method.

In many cultures a truth is simply bestowed upon the youth as given. You are not supposed to question the authorities, let alone to have new ideas yourself.

The Socratic method is quite the opposite. It emphasizes the process, rather than the end result. In a Socratic dialogue, nobody has the absolute authority. The ultimate truth, or something fuzzily and convergently approaching the truth, is to be co-discovered through the exchange of ideas.

In the internet era, with the advent of communication tools such as twitter, the Socratic method is finding a new significance. Now it is easy to exchange ideas with people over a large physical distance. The sheer density and purity of the dynamics of exchange is contributing to the amassing of the critical mass.

The Socratic method needs to be studied and practiced in earnest, in search of the new principles of distributed enlightment.

The Socratic method.

Michael Sandel.

On Thursday, I had a wonderful time interviewing Michael Sandel in Tokyo for a magazine. Sandel's "Justice" ( is very popular in Japan, as elsewhere in the world. The whole lecture has been broadcast on NHK educational. Lots of people were deeply inspired by Prof. Sandel's passionate teaching.

Prof. Sandel told me how much hard work has been put into the making of the series. Although there are lots of open coursewares on the web, the "Justice" program is unique in the quality of the video work, not to mention the academic excellence.

Although the ambience of the Harvard classroom was one of the key elements in the "Justice" experience, the defining moment came from deep thinking. In the first lecture, after discussing the Trolley car example, Prof. Sandel goes on to deliver a short speech. That's when he says that the purpose of the lecture was to incur a "restlessness of reason" in the students. I almost gasped when it came. The restless of reason has been in me ever since.

With Michael Sandel in Tokyo.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Which is a good thing.

For a long time, Japan has prided itself as the first nation to modernize in the region of Asia. Despite the terrible and self-brought defeat in the Second World War, Japan has somehow clung to the title of "the foremost in the region." Until recently, that is.

Now Japan seems to have lost all its confidence. In my own perspective, for someone born and brought up in Japan, this shift in the national psyche is needless to say sad, although admittedly tinged with the excitement of new competitiveness.

Personally, in my own life, I have always enjoyed the game of catching up. My home country losing the position of no.1 is no problem for me, especially as I tend to base the value of my own existence and others' independent from any nationalistic thinking anyway.

Recent travel to Singapore (I just got back to Tokyo this morning) convinced me that now the tropical nation of 5 million people is more advanced than Japan in many respects. Especially as regards the immigration policy. I never understood how it is, but some people in Japan are ultra-conservative about welcoming people from abroad as collaborators in society building. As far as I am concerned, people are people everywhere. There is no reason why people from abroad should not be encouraged to come to Japan and enjoy the opportunity for a slightly different way from the ethnic Japanese, perhaps, therefore adding to the diversity of people's traits in the process.

As I have stated, I think Japan is losing its self-confidence. Which is a good thing. One always has the chance of reviewing oneself from the external point of view, when one has a crisis in one's self confidence. Most probably, the time for self-doubt and soul searching has come to Japan.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Institution is the last resort of a scoundrel.

On the second day at the CUTE center in NUS (National University Singapore), we had another hectic and yet deeply enjoyable time. In the morning, we discussed in the session of Society 2.0, chaired by Penny Low, Member of the Singaporean Parliament. Adrian Cheok and Masa Inakage joined in, adding stimulation to the already heated and heating debate.

In the afternoon, we had a public talk on the NUS campus. The groove was fantastic. Thomas Crampton, social media guru specializing in China and Asia, (Thomas Crampton's webpage) started his talk capturing in video the dialogue with Yair Goldfinger, founder of ICQ. When I asked Thomas what he was doing, he said he was just shooting for youtube. A speaker on stage capturing his own talk for youtube! That was just the right atmosphere for me.

Talks by Yair Goldfinger and Penny Low followed. It was my turn to give a talk. I discussed how the evolving contingency structures on the net was nurturing humanity 2.0. Woo Woontack then gave an excellent talk on augmented reality.

In the Panel discussion that followed, I said something that I would only say when I felt certain that the audience was the right kind and the reception would be electric. I said, just as in the famous quote by Samuel Johnson "Patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel", nowadays "Institution is the last resort of a scoundrel." Thomas Crampton jibed in, saying that universities should aim to be open to the public as much as possible, as it was the mission of the universities to spread knowledge to the wider society.
There was a memorable response from a man in the auditorium who said that he was living on an island which was 12 hours ride on boat from Singapore, and how he was accessing all the academic information thanks to the internet.

Before we knew it, it was twilight. We had a wonderful party on the NUS campus. At such times, I have a habit of strolling away from the people. When I was admiring the Singaporean sunset alone, I noticed there was another soul looking in that direction. It was none other than Masa Inakage.

At these moments one feels that two souls are resonating. Masa was admiring the same natural wonder with me, without knowing that I was hiding myself in the darkness of night.

Penny Low, M.P, in the morning session.

Adrian Cheok and Masa Inakage

Thomas Crampton capturing his own talk for youtube. Yair Goldfinger is being interviewed.

The sunset on the NUS campus.

Masa Inakage admiring the same sunset.