Friday 25 January 2002

Forgot to use a condom? Not on the Pill?

“I don’t want to get pregnant. A friend told me if you scoop yourself out with a coffee spoon when you’ve finished you’ll be safe. So I always carry a few disposable coffee spoons around with me,” a 17-year-old [Japanese] girl says as she waves around one of her precious utensils.

(MDN WaiWai)

Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday 27 January 2002

Let’s practice kanji

Chris Jennings, whose Tokyo Tales blog has been nominated for a Bloggie, also runs The Kanji SITE . Though “primarily aimed at people who are studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test,” The Kanji SITE is a first-rate resource for anyone who wants to improve their kanji reading skills. The random testing function is more fun than solitaire.


Wednesday 13 February 2002

The heart of things

Following TX Meryl’s advice, I’ve added a description to my site. The Chinese character to the left of my name is xin, heart. In Japanese it’s pronounced kokoro or shin, depending on the context. In Japanese it can mean mind, spirit, feelings, emotions, thoughts… Its diffuse “meaning” is one of the reasons I chose the character kokoro as the graphical title for my site.

It’s also the name of a novel by the distinguished Japanese writer, Natsume Soseki. At the end of the English translation of Kokoro, Edwin McClellan, the translator, explains: The best rendering of the Japanese word “kokoro” that I have seen is Lafcadio Hearn’s, which is: “the heart of things.”

Although it’s difficult to imagine someone less like Natsume Soseki, I also connect the word kokoro with the French poet, Francis Ponge, who wrote in Le parti pris des chose (which I think can be loosely translated as “the thing’s view of it”):

Out of the typographic thickets that constitute a poem, on the road that leads neither beyond things, nor towards the spirit, certain fruits are formed from an agglomeration of spheres that a drop of ink fills up.

Most of all, I think of kokoro, the heart of things, as representing the direction I hope to take my writing.


Wednesday 06 March 2002

A Japanese wedding

A Japanese wedding One of my close Japanese friends has three nieces. In the last couple of years, the two younger girls married (their elder sister was already married with a child when I was welcomed into my friend’s family). I attended both weddings, which were held in a church in the grounds of a “wedding hotel.”

The bride wore a white wedding dress and veil, the groom white tie and black tails. Their respective fathers wore morning suits, and the mothers black kimono. The Scots Presbyterian church was consecrated in 1877 but, as the sign outside explains, “changes in society have meant that churches have combined, with the result that some buildings have required to find new uses.” The church was purchased by the hotel, dismantled stone by stone, shipped to a large city south of Tokyo, and reassembled next to the hotel. It is easily the most popular wedding venue in the city.

The ceremony was conducted by an American minister, who spoke alternately in English and excellent Japanese. The entire proceedings were videotaped—by a camera crew augmented by a number of cameras mounted on the walls of the church. Whenever the bride and groom had their backs to the congregation—for example, during the exchange of rings—the video signal from a camera at the back of the sanctuary was displayed on two large flat screens on either side of the altar, including a zoom and tight closeup as the ring slid onto the bride’s finger.

As I was leaving the church at the end of the more recent wedding, the minister recognized me from the year before and we had an opportunity to chat briefly. He was a Christian missionary who augmented his stipend by officiating at Japanese weddings on the weekends. He seemed a kind, gracious man, well aware that almost none of the young couples he married would embrace Christianity at any point in their lives. Rather he hoped that a “Christian wedding” would leave them favorably disposed to the Christian church so that, if at any point they found themselves in need of spiritual guidance, they might include the Christian god amongst the multiplicity of gods to whom the Japanese normally pray.

In the few minutes I spoke to him, while the wedding party was getting organized for photographs outside the church, I came to like and respect him: his frankness and, more particularly, his lack of doctrinal rigidity amazed me. Then I realized that he’d absorbed—as I have—the relativism towards God and belief that underpins Japanese religious behavior.

The bride’s aunt, my friend, saw it differently. “My family doesn’t really care what religion it is,” she told me during the reception, “as long as it looks pretty.”

Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday 24 March 2002

The fragility of belief

Working in Japan taught information architect Adam Greenfield that “there is simply no such thing as a universal good.” He resisted a Japanese client’s wish that their book site have a “book sommelier” function, a tool that would elicit “a few lifestyle preferences from site visitors, after which it would recommend a book they might like.” Why the resistance? Because Greenfield thought the name was pretentious and that few Japanese would understand what it meant. As it turned out, his company never completed the project, which was assigned to another design firm.

In the end, I believe nobody won. By inflexibly holding the line on “best practices” regarding a label, and a few other similar disagreements, I contributed to a situation in which a site was built that shafts the hapless user far more thoroughly than any we might have created.

The lesson here is really not a difficult one; it’s merely hard for a headstrong person like me to accept. And that is to slowly back out of the picture and do what I claim I’ve been all about from the beginning: listening to what the user wants. It so happens that, in the States, this is easy for me because “what the user wants” may mesh quite well with all those High Modernist values I hold dear. That is, there’s a happenstance overlap between the crisp grids and clearly articulated navigational schemas I personally like, and defensibly good usability practice for an American audience.Hello Kitty toaster

But what does “usability” or “clarity” mean in a culture like Japan? Have you ever ridden a Tokyo subway? If you have, I’m sure you’ll remember those ads, stuffed to the nonexistent margins with bright yellow copy against black backgrounds, sporting celebrity headshots, bikini girls, cute mascots and entire forests of exclamation points (the one I’m thinking of is an ad for a news weekly). How about all the consumer goods, including more than a few otherwise high-end efforts, overprinted with nonsensical Japlish slogans and cartoon characters?

For me, the most important outcome of living and traveling in Japan, learning to speak and read Japanese, and mixing with Japanese friends, has been this: I’ve come to accept the arbitrary nature of belief. From my first visit I found it extraordinarily liberating to find myself in a society in which both strongly held beliefs and unconscious assumptions frequently seem irrelevant. Japan polarizes foreign visitors and I wonder if this love-hate response isn’t due to an assault on certainty that proves too threatening for some to handle.

Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday 08 April 2002

Japanese writing

Each day, as I scan the items in Moreover’s Japan News feed, the outlook for Japan seems to be getting worse and worse: aging population, impotent government, shrinking export markets, failing banks, astronomical debt. And one of today’s headlines—First miracle, then collapse - now an endless struggle. Where did it all go wrong for Japan?—reminded me of a conversation I had with a former girlfriend about the secret of Japan’s success.

According to Ayako, Japan’s rapid modernization and subsequent economic success was due not to the loyalty and endurance of the Japanese worker, nor to the symbiotic relationship between business and government, nor even to the legendary Japanese ability to copy and refine ideas and technologies from elsewhere. The foundation for Japan’s success, she said, lay largely in the power and flexibility of its writing system.

Whereas the French fanatically attempt to preserve the purity of their language—to the extent of having a government committee police the introduction of foreign words (like le coke)—the Japanese took the opposite approach, first by basing their written language on Chinese pictographic characters, then by borrowing and adapting words as needed, mainly from English but also from Dutch, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

“We are an island people,” Ayako said, her voice trembling with uncharacteristic vehemence, “we have no resources apart from our own diligence.” I heard in these words her father’s or a high school teacher’s admonition.

She meant that Japan, with no oil or mineral wealth and barely enough arable land to feed its population, could survive only by importing raw materials and exporting finished products. Doing this successfully depended solely on the skill and imagination of its people. Unlike the French, the Japanese regarded language as a raw material like any other, to be imported and fashioned into something useful.

The Japanese had no native writing system until, during the Asuka period (593-710), they began to borrow Chinese ideographic characters (called kanji). Each kanji represents a concrete word or concept but does not indicate how that word is pronounced, as an alphabetical writing system (such as English) does.

Nihongo (the Japanese language) written in kanji, hiragana, katakana, and romaji

Moreover, kanji are ill-suited for representing grammatical markers and inflectional endings. To circumvent these problems, by the middle of the ninth century the Japanese had developed two phonetic syllabaries: the curved hiragana and the angular katakana.

Thus, the word for the Japanese language—nihongo—can be written using either kanji, hiragana, or katakana.

Alternatively, it can be written in romaji (Roman letters), used for teaching elementary or conversational Japanese to foreigners and to enter Japanese text on a computer with a standard English keyboard.

Kokkyou no nagai tonneru wo nukeru to yukiguni de atta. (The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country.)

A typical Japanese sentence contains characters from each set — as in this sentence, one of the best-known in modern Japanese, which opens Kawabata’s Yukiguni (Snow Country):

Kokkyou no nagai tonneru wo nukeru to yukiguni de atta.
The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. (in Edward Seidensticker’s translation).

The kanji appear in yellow (the nouns “borderline” and “snow country,” the stems of the adjective “long” and of the verb “came out”); the katakana word tonneru (tunnel) is magenta; and the hiragana are white (the particles, adjectival and verb inflections, and the final verb).

Interestingly, in the original, there is no “train.” The Japanese literally reads: “When [something/someone] emerges from the long tunnel at the borderline, the snow country exists.” The nominal subject of the sentence might be “the snow country” but the implied subject (60% of Japanese sentences lack a subject) is the person (the protagonist or the reader) sitting in the train.

Seidensticker is one of the greatest translators of Japanese into English, yet his rendering provides none of the sense of the original, in which one experiences the feeling of being confined in a dark tunnel and then being suddenly thrown into the white brilliance of northern Japan in winter. Nor is there any sense of leaving heavily populated Central Honshu and entering the Deep North that Basho immortalized—all of which is implied in the single word “borderline.” Such are the difficulties of translating one language into another. Still, just learning Japanese is problem enough.

Of more than 40,000 possible kanji characters, just under 2,000 comprise over 98% of those in current usage, the “Common Use Kanji” that Japanese school children are expected to know by the end of high school.

The basic katakana set consists of 48 syllables used for writing loan-words (words borrowed from other languages such as makudonarudo, McDonalds), for onomatopoeic (shikushiku, sniffling) or mimetic (nyaa, miaow) words, for the names of flora and fauna, and for emphasis (like bold or italic in English).

The hiragana (meaning “commonly used,” “easy,” or “rounded”) duplicate the katakana in rounded, more easily written characters and are used to write indigenous Japanese words and grammatical markers and inflectional endings.

Ayako’s point was this: not long after they were forced by Commodore Perry to abandon the policy of national seclusion that had lasted from 1639 to 1854, the Japanese sent scholars and experts all around the world to study Western systems of law, medicine, engineering, education, and military science. The ease with which the ideas and techniques they brought back were readily described to their fellow countrymen was due in no small part to the versatility that, over centuries, had been designed into the Japanese writing system.

As fascinating as Ayako’s hypothesis was, it couldn’t match something else I learned about Japanese writing—later on, when I started to read Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji and Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. These early classics of Japanese literature—and many others—were written not in Chinese—as was the custom for official or serious writing — but with an early variant of hiragana called onnade (women’s hand). But that’s another story.

Permalink | Comments (17)

Thursday 11 April 2002

Women’s hair

Much of my reading these days is about the Yoshiwara, the Edo period pleasure quarter that lasted from the early 1600s to shortly after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In that period, Japanese women’s hairstyles denoted their social class: the tsubushi-shimada-mage was worn by geisha, the shima-momo-ware by unmarried girls, and the maru-mage style by married women. During the Edo period, when women married, they dyed their teeth black and, when they had baby, shaved their eyebrows (just as the female nobility did in the time of Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon).

My search for illustrations of each of these styles was unsuccessful. Then I remembered a book I bought a long time ago — What’s What: A Visual Glossary of the Physical World. I thought it might have illustrations of traditional Japanese hairstyles but it turned out to be a Diderot-style visual encyclopedia, designed to introduce to Japanese readers the English terms for a vast range of objects in the world circa 1985. Still, it does contain this remarkable illustration of a composite hairstyle (though I knew most of the terms, the “flip” came as a surprise):

Illustration of various women's hairstyles applied to a single head of hair

Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday 29 April 2002


I am not an accomplished cook. I’ve been told often enough — mostly by girlfriends — that I cook as though I’m conducting a chemistry experiment. I suppose it could look like that. What with majoring in chemistry at university and then becoming a photographer, much of my life I’ve been carefully measuring and mixing chemicals.

Those habits must have followed me into the kitchen. I never stray from the recipe: measuring quantities accurately, setting the oven temperature precisely, timing each dish to the minute. By eschewing flair or imagination, applying scientific methods, and restricting myself to a repertoire of three dishes, I can make a meal for two or four people with little fuss and no risk of failure.

I always ask potential guests whether they’ve eaten at my place before and, if so, what did they have: grilled Atlantic salmon with asparagus and new potatoes; chicken cacciatore with steamed corn, carrots, and broccoli; or veal campagnola with a green salad? For newcomers, I like to serve the chicken cacciatore. It seems more ambitious and can be prepared ahead of time, leaving just the vegetables to steam.

So that’s what I cooked for Ayako, the first time she came to dinner. The aromas of garlic, basil, and tomato filled the apartment. Chopped anchovies, olives, and parsley lay in piles on a large white plate. Ayako stood in the doorway of the tiny galley kitchen, holding a glass of white wine, watching me slice carrots and broccoli.

The lid of the saucepan clattered gently. I lifted it, poked at the corn with a fork then — relaxing for a moment — took a sip of beer.
“You should put the broccoli in now,” she told me.
“No,” I replied. “The carrots go in next, for eight minutes, then the broccoli for two.”
Shinjirarenai,” she exclaimed, laughing.
I’d only recently started studying Japanese again and didn’t know the meaning of shinjirarenai.
“Unbelievable,” she said. “A man who knows how to cook broccoli.”

Permalink | Comments (0)


We’d ventured west, combining a picnic in the mountains with a visit to see H’s new baby at the hospital. Now — after presenting the flowers, admiring the baby, and mixing uneasily with the relatives — we were filling up with petrol for the 35 mile trip home.

Shrieks and yells pulled my attention from the spinning numerals on the bowser to a gaggle of teenagers at the next line of pumps. Tattoos, shaven skulls, bovver boots. We were deep in skinhead country. I felt uneasy, and ashamed of my unease.

The noise evaporated as they scrambled back into their Chrysler. A hard boy — older than the others — strode out of the 7-Eleven. Short and stockily built, he wore a dark green T-shirt with SPIT in huge white letters across the chest. Looking at Natsuko’s old Volvo (and me) with loathing, he slid into the driver’s seat, slammed the door, flicked the ignition, and revved the V-8.

I ran through a checklist of possibilities, from bundling Natsuko into the 7-Eleven to locking ourselves in the car to fleeing without paying for the petrol. Still, I consoled myself, it’s broad daylight. There are three other cars filling up. They won’t try anything here.

As though he’d read my mind, SPIT-man threw the car into gear and careered out onto the main road. I relaxed and tried to cast off my shame.

But, rather than diminishing, the roar of the Chrysler’s engine increased in intensity as the car zoomed back alongside.

Two brutal young faces crowded the rear passenger window.

“Why don’t you and your wife get back to Asia where you belong?” one of them yelled.

“Fucking Asian cunt,” screeched his offsider. And just as suddenly they were gone.

It was my first encounter with racism, or rather, my first time I’d been subjected to racist taunts. I felt embarrassed for Natsuko and — perversely — wanted to apologize for my countrymen’s behavior. But, her face flushed with excitement, she interrupted before I’d uttered a word:

“Did you hear what they said? They thought I was your wife.”

Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday 03 May 2002

Japan’s newest export

Douglas McGray’s Foreign Policy essay, titled Japan’s Gross National Cool offers the most insightful analysis of Japanese culture I’ve read in a long time. McGray suggests that, despite the crash of the bubble economy and the resulting economic woes of the last decade, Japan “has been perfecting the art of transmitting certain kinds of mass culture—a technique that has contributed mightily to U.S. hegemony around the world.”

Japan has become one of a handful of perfect globalization nations (along with the United States). It has succeeded not only in balancing a flexible, absorptive, crowd-pleasing, shared culture with a more private, domestic one but also in taking advantage of that balance to build an increasingly powerful global commercial force. In other words, Japan’s growing cultural presence has created a mighty engine of national cool.

McGray peppers his serious social and economic arguments with marvellous examples of contemporary Japanese attitudes and behaviour. For example, the manufactured tarento (talent) pop groups that rocket to the top of the charts and disappear just as quickly:

Consider the case of a new band, Lipless X Sister… Like most Japanese pop music acts, Lipless X Sister is a concept group, dreamed up by record producers and marketing executives and then assembled through auditions. In this case, the concept was 18- to 22-year-old girls with 2-year-old children. A producer explained the band’s name to local press: “You can like them. But they’re mothers, so you can’t kiss them.”

And, of course, Hello Kitty:

Sanrio licenses so many products with Hello Kitty’s likeness that a company spokesman could not confirm the current count. Put it between 12,000, the estimate he gave, and 15,000, a number that is widely reported. You can buy individually wrapped Hello Kitty prunes. You can buy a toaster that burns Hello Kitty’s face into a piece of bread. You can buy a Hello Kitty vibrator. “We don’t have such strict regulations,” the spokesman said. “Hard alcohol, maybe that would not be appropriate.”

(Link via Arts & Letters Daily)

Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday 06 May 2002

Heian women’s writing

During the entire Heian period… Chinese remained the language of scholars, priests, and officials, occupying a role analogous to that of Latin in the West. Despite the steady emancipation from foreign tutelage, Chinese characters retained their overwhelming prestige and were the exclusive medium for any serious form of writing among men.

Ivan Morris, The World of the Shining Prince

Upper-class Heian women were actively discouraged from learning to read and write in Chinese, no doubt to ensure that they posed no threat to male political dominance (although, as Morris points out, not until a thousand years later, after the Pacific War, would the status of Japanese women improve beyond that of their Heian ancestors).

In her diary, Murasaki Shikibu recounts that she would listen as her younger brother was learning the Chinese classics and that she

became unusually proficient at understanding those passages that he found too difficult to grasp and memorize. Father, a most learned man, was always regretting the fact: “Just my luck!” he would say. “What a pity she was not born a man.” But then I gradually realized that people were saying “It’s bad enough when a man flaunts his Chinese learning; she will come to no good,” and since then I have avoided writing the simplest character.

Even so, after her husband’s death in 1001, she continued to read the Chinese books that he had left in a cupboard “crammed to bursting point,” thereby attracting the disapproval of her servants. “‘It’s because she goes on like this that she is so miserable. What kind of lady is it who reads Chinese books?’ they whisper.”

This prohibition conferred on Heian women an unintended advantage since it left them free to write in vernacular Japanese, employing an early variant of the hiragana script, called onnade (women’s writing).

For a period of about 100 years, the main genres of classical Japanese literature — nikki (diaries), kiko (travel accounts), zuihitsu (essays), and monogatari (tales or romances) — were pioneered by women writers who, using a supposedly inferior writing system, mastered the difficult process of forging (in Richard Bowring’s words) “a flexible written style out of a language that [had] only previously existed in a spoken form.”

The Tale of Genji

Their writing speaks to us across the gulf of a thousand years with passion and immediacy, in works such as Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji, Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, the Izumi Shikibu Diary, the Gossamer Years, and the Lady Sarashina’s As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams.

Heian men persisted in writing in the Chinese-Japanese hybrid language which — as it was designed for the keeping of official records — was ill-suited to recording either spoken Japanese or the sad, sweet mysteries of everyday life. With one notable exception: Ki no Tsurayuki, a distinguished poet who adopted the persona of a woman to write the beautiful Tosa Diary in the hiragana script.

Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday 16 May 2002

The Waiting Years

Eleventh century written Japanese is so different from modern Japanese that a novel like The Tale of Genji must be translated for contemporary Japanese readers, as if into a foreign language. In the twentieth century this task was undertaken by the poetess Yosano Akiko and the novelists Tanizaki Junichiro and Enchi Fumiko.

As I become more deeply immersed in my project of reading the three English translations of Genji, I’m taking various side trips by reading Genji-related books such as Edward Seidensticker’s Genji Days and Enchi Fumiko’s A Tale of False Fortunes. The latter brought back memories of discovering Japanese literature.

A long time ago I realized that it would be years before I could achieve my dream of experiencing Japanese novels in Japanese; so I resolved to read whatever was available in English translation and—having purchased J. Thomas Rimer’s A Reader’s Guide to Japanese Literature—began to work my way systematically through the authors he suggested, reading anything I could find by Ogai, Soseki, Kafu, Shiga, Tanizaki, Ibuse, Kawabata, Inoue, Dazai, Endo, Mishima, Ariyoshi, and Oé, all the acknowledged masters of modern Japanese literature. And, with the exception of Ariyoshi Sawako, all men.

I would not understand until years later that, consciously or not, Rimer was following a long tradition in Japanese literary criticism which—using terms such as “joryu sakka” (woman writer) and “joryu bungaku” (women’s literature)—places most women writers in a separate (and implicitly inferior) category.

Book cover: Enchi Fumiko, The Waiting YearsI must have picked up Enchi Fumiko’s Onnazaka whilst searching for a rare title by the one of writers on Rimer’s list. After reading just a few pages I was at a loss to understand how or why he had excluded her. (She finally rates a mention, along with Kono Taeko, Hayashi Fumiko, and Uno Chiyo, in a later edition of Rimer’s book.)

To be sure, condensing modern Japanese literature into a list of twenty classical and thirty modern works is a close-to-impossible task but I could have easily nominated three or four books that Enchi’s novel deserved to displace.

Set in the Meiji period (1868-1912), Onnazaka was published in installments between 1952 and 1957 and translated by John Bester in 1971 as The Waiting Years. Onnazaka does not mean “the waiting years.” It’s a made-up word, constructed from the characters for “woman” and “hill” or “slope.” It conjures up an image of a woman struggling up an endless incline.

In the novel’s opening scene, Tomo, comes to Tokyo from the north of Japan to find the first of the concubines she will, during the course of her married life, be forced to procure for her husband Shirakawa, a wealthy bureaucrat.

“Should she refuse to accept the task it was almost certain that her husband would simply introduce into the family a woman chosen without consulting her. His leaving the choice to her was a sign of his trust, of the importance he attached, for the family’s sake, to her position.”

Such is Tomo’s devotion to her husband and his ie, or household, that she conceals her resentment of both her husband’s cruel infidelities and the patriarchal family system which makes her an accomplice in the exploitation of other women.

Enchi FumikoBased on stories told to Enchi Fumiko by her grandmother, The Waiting Years is an extraordinary book: beautifully written, filled with wisdom and compassion, sad beyond belief in its careful delineation of Tomo’s repressed emotions.

The year after the English version was published, Enchi Fumiko commenced work on her translation of The Tale of Genji.

As it happened, my former girlfriend Natsuko was reading Enchi Fumiko’s Genji when we first started seeing each other. She’d had to study the novel in high school, much as Western children have to read Shakespeare, and her schoolgirl memory was that it was etchi (lewd or obscene).

We used to sleep late on Sunday mornings: making love, eating breakfast in bed, and reading books or newspapers.

“I must have been so naïve then,” Natsuko said one such morning, balancing Genji on her knees as she tore off a piece of croissant and dipped it in her coffee. “To think Genji was etchi just because it’s about a man who has lots of affairs.”

I thought about Hikaru Genji, the Shining Prince, with his many wives and mistresses; and about Tomo’s husband Shirakawa in The Waiting Years.

A few weeks later in the Kinokuniya bookstore, I found a copy of Onnazaka in the Women’s Literature section and bought it for Natsuko. On the train home I slowly turned the pages and scanned up and down the columns of characters, occasionally encountering a kanji I could understand, wishing with all my heart that I could read Japanese properly, that I could connect directly with Enchi Fumiko’s prose.

Natsuko loved getting presents and she responded as she always did: by wrapping her arms around me and whispering a thank-you in my ear. But the book sat on the shelf for months until one Sunday she plucked it off the shelf on her way back to bed with our coffee.

She finished Onnazaka within a matter of days and when I asked her how she’d liked it, she simply said it was omoshiroi, an adjective that like its English equivalent—interesting—can mean almost anything at all.

Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday 27 May 2002


The entry for hototogisu in Kodansha’s Japan, An Illustrated Enclyopedia reads:

The clear, gentle call of the hototogisu is one of the most appreciated of Japan’s bird songs and has inspired Japanese poets from the days of the 8th-century Man’yoshu to the present as a symbol of early summer.

Ceramic tile with image of an hototogisu

In all my travels throughout Japan I’ve neither seen nor heard the hototogisu (or Japanese cuckoo, Cuculus poliocephalus)—though I’ve frequently read of its distinctive song. It was an unexpected pleasure to discover the elusive bird on a tile set into the wall of the pedestrian tunnel under the main street in Okayama, where I’d gone to visit the garden, Korakuen. I snapped a picture, thinking of a passage in Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book:

…during the short summer nights in the rainy season one sometimes wakes up and lies in bed hoping to be the first person to hear the hototogisu. Suddenly towards dawn its song breaks the silence; one is charmed, indeed one is quite intoxicated. But alas, when the Sixth Month comes the hototogisu is silent. I really need say no more about my feelings for this bird. And I do not love the hototogisu alone; anything that cries out at night delights me—except babies.

Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday 12 June 2002

Identity in 11th century Japan

AKMA wrote about identity:

some (“many”? “most”?) of us know people online whom we have grown to trust and (I dare say) love—without ever having encountered them in physical space. That trust and that affection may be ill-founded, but it’s real. This surely implies something about the “reality” of physical space relative to online interaction.

A scene from Chapter Four (Utsusemi) of the Tale of GenjiIn Heian Japan it was possible to conduct a relationship in physical space which was almost as insubstantial as many online interactions, since social relations—even between equals—were not always conducted face-to-face but rather via intermediaries. Screens, curtains, and blinds were also used to establish an appropriate distance as well as to shield the ladies of the house from prying eyes. As Royall Tyler explains in the introduction to his translation of The Tale of Genji:

This is particularly striking in scenes of courtship. In many the man complains about having to talk to the woman through one of her gentlewomen. Of course, he cannot see her, and he may have no idea what she looks like. He will not normally see her even if she speaks to him in her own voice, since she will still be in another room, behind a blind and a curtain, and the curtain will remain even if she allows him into the room where she is. If he then takes it upon himself to brush her curtain aside and go straight to her, he will by that gesture alone have claimed something close to the final intimacy.

Obviously these ethereal relationships were not always brought to resolution. In the Fireflies chapter of Genji, Prince Hotaru sits outside the girl Tamakazura’s screen, making an impassioned declaration of love, “only to be informed by a lady-in-waiting that Tamakazura has long since retired to the inner room and that he has been talking into thin air.” (Ivan Morris, The World of the Shining Prince)

Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday 23 June 2002

‘L’ as in chocorate

In response to my post about English-to-Japanese transliteration, Stavros writes about the English-to-Korean version:

But this creative mangling of the sounds of names and other words imported from other languages drives me moderately batty sometimes, as one of the things I have to do in my work is (for example) to disabuse my students of the notion that the proper English pronunciation of ‘sports’ is ‘suh-PO-chuh’, which is the correct way to pronounce the word as it is written in Korean. This tends to be difficult, as they’ve seen and heard the word in all it’s Konglish glory every damn day of their lives for 20 years, on the evening news.

I wonder if Stav’s started speaking Konglish, perhaps without even being aware of it? Because I lapse into Japlish (or Engrish) more often than I’d like. One of the consequences of investing an inordinate amount of time and emotional energy into learning to speak Japanese—attaining a level that a Japanese friend describes as “cute”—is that I frequently mix my R’s and L’s, in the Japanese style. There’s a book on the subject, called Gems of Japanized English: “Is that ‘L’ as in Rome?” “No, it’s ‘R’ as in London.” And a Web site,

So I routinely say “Frash” when teaching a Flash class. In a restaurant I’ve ordered “lack of ramb.” And a friend who’s used to my doing it in our private conversations nearly fell off his chair when, at a Content Management seminar a few weeks back, I said: “Next I’ll show you the workfrow.”

Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday 24 June 2002

Mizu shobai

mizu-shobai the bar and entertainment business

Kodansha Furigana Japanese English Dictionary

mizu-shobai, water trade
the vulgar term for any precarious form of trade yielding an income entirely dependent on the patronage of its customers; for example entertainment provided by geisha, bars, cabarets, and so on

John David Morley, Pictures from the Water Trade

Pub Blue Moon

“What’s mizu shobai mean,” I asked Ayako. We were eating breakfast.

“There’s no such thing,” she flatly replied, without looking up from her newspaper.

Twenty minutes later she folded the newspaper, pushing it to one side. She moistened the tip of her middle finger and began to collect the crumbs on her plate, one-by-one.

“Where did you hear about this mizu shobai?” she asked, as she daintily retrieved each crumb with her tongue—yet another provocative gesture from her seemingly inexhaustible repertoire.

“I read it in a book.”

“Which book?” I loved the way she pronounced it, saying ‘buke’ as in Luke.

“A textbook,” I fibbed, certain this would annoy her. A former high-school teacher, she regarded textbooks as inarguable sources of fact.

In a way though, I was telling the truth. Though John David Morley’s Pictures from the Water Trade, is a kind of shi-shosetsu, a lightly-fictionalized account of the author’s several years in Japan, at a crucial point it had functioned as a textbook, my only reliable reference to the enigma of Japanese behavior.

Unless I’d discovered and diligently read Morley’s book I would never have been eating croissants with Ayako on a Sunday morning, arguing about the existence of the mizu-shobai, the water trade.

Ayako had been evasive, the first time I invited her on a date—to see Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-ga the following Sunday afternoon. She asked if she could call me on Sunday morning, that it would take her until then to decide.

She did call back and we saw the movie, which made her laugh and cry. We went on to dinner, chatting so easily and happily together that when I dropped her off in front of her apartment building, I was already falling in love.

I asked her if she wanted to do it again and she said: “Mmm, sometimes.” She gathered up her coat and bag, climbed out of the car, and stood stock still as I drove away. All the way home I tried to decipher what had passed between us in those last moments.

She called me frequently on the phone after that yet it was always the same. Ayako would imply an interest in seeing me again—perhaps another Japanese film?—but the moment I tried to pin her down she would retreat in a flurry of vague apologies.

Our stop-start relationship seemed to have permanently stalled. Around then, fortuitously, I bought Pictures from the Water Trade. The answer to my difficulties was on page 69.

John David Morley, Pictures from the Water Trade (book cover)“The framing of questions in Japanese was an art, an instrument to be handled with great delicacy and care. A direct question at an untimely moment could prove very destructive, merely by virtue of its directness. Direct questions (with obvious exceptions in professional, business life and so on) were not much liked. The typical question was really a feed line, what in a court of law would be disqualified as suggestive, full of loop-holes, offering escape-hatches, and in fact as unlike a question as it was possible to be. The person who had been asked the question could thus be indicted on no more serious charge than of aiding and abetting the person who had asked the question; an accessory to the answer, as it were, not the principal malefactor. He had merely conspired to answer.”

John David Morley, Pictures from the Water Trade

Suddenly it all became easy. She’d call, I’d make a nebulous remark about reading a restaurant review in the newspaper or mention in passing that a friend had enjoyed such-and-such a movie and, almost magically, Ayako and I would be seated at the counter eating sushi or standing in line to buy tickets to the film.

I put Morley into practice with a diffident vengeance: shying away from any attempt at precision; using qualifiers like “perhaps,” “maybe,” or “apparently;” omitting the subject of a sentence, or the verb; speaking, in effect, a kind of ethereal English that mimicked the oblique, tentative quality of spoken Japanese.

And the wonderful paradox was that the vaguer my speech, the more definite Ayako’s affections became.

Months later I asked her if she’d noticed what had happened.

“Of course,” she replied. I asked her what she thought about it at the time.

She said with a smile: “I liked it very much.”

So Ayako’s statement that there was no such thing as the mizu shobai—when both of us knew perfectly well there was—was meant to draw my attention to some inarguable facts: that I needed to learn that “direct questions were not much liked;” that her o-jo-sama upbringing had kept her well clear of the water trade; and that—by extension—she had no desire to associate with a man who felt at home in its relaxed, squishy world.

But most of all she was reminding me that I wasn’t Japanese.

Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday 28 June 2002

Narrative structure in The Tale of Genji

Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of GenjiThe Tale of Genji tells the story of the life and loves of Genji, the Shining Prince (so-called because he is artistically gifted, intelligent, and irresistible to women) and then of Kaoru, supposedly Genji’s son but actually the grandson of his best friend.

Written one thousand years ago by Murasaki Shikibu, an attendant to one of the imperial consorts in Heian Kyo (now Kyoto), the Genji is widely regarded as the world’s first psychological novel, with hundreds of skillfully delineated characters woven into a narrative constructed upon a series of unifying themes such as political power, ideals of feminine beauty, and the Buddhist belief in the impermanence of all things.

The Tale of Genji: The Paulownia PavilionInevitably, The Tale of Genji has been a popular subject for Japanese painters, particularly those of the Tosa school, which specialized in courtly themes and scenes from the literary classics. This painting, depicting the first chapter of Genji, is from an illustrated volume from the Tosa school containing one scene for each of the book’s 54 chapters.

It shows Genji, the emperor, the emperor’s new mistress Fujitsubo (with whom Genji will have an affair and a child), and the Princess Aoi whom Genji will marry for political reasons.

The Tale of Genji: The Broom TreeThe second chapter introduces one of the main themes of the novel: types of femininity and the qualities of an ideal woman. Genji and three companions regale each other through a night with anecdotes of women they have known and loved, describing somewhat clinically each woman’s faults and virtues.

Genji’s friend To-no-Chujo tells of a lover who bore him a daughter but who, ironically, lost his affection through being too meek and accommodating. The ideal woman, they conclude, “does not try to display her scanty knowledge in full,” nor does she “scribble off Chinese characters,” rather she shows taste and restraint and is prepared to “feign a little ignorance.”

The Tale of Genji: The Twilight BeautyIn this scene, Genji is on his way to visit his dying nursemaid when he and his companions stop at a nearby house to admire some flowers (called yugao—evening faces). A young girl comes out of the house with a scented fan on which Genji can take a flower to his nursemaid.

Genji hears about a lady living in the Yugao house and resolves to have her. He takes her away to another house where, that night, he dreams of a jealous lover and wakes to find the Yugao lady dead beside him. It later transpires that she was, in fact, To-no-Chujo’s mistress, the mother of his daughter.

The Tale of Genji: The Cicada ShellHere we seen Genji spying on the lady Utsusemi as she plays go, a Japanese board game, with a female companion, identified later in the story as Nokiba-no-ogi. Genji has come to seduce Utsusemi but she resists his entreaties and disappears, leaving only an outer robe behind.

Genji later breaks into Nokiba-no-ogi’s room by mistake but pretends it was she he intended to visit and spends the night with her instead.

The Tale of Genji: Young MurasakiIn this chapter, called Waka Murasaki (Young Murasaki), Genji is recuperating from an illness when he glimpses a young girl, Murasaki, the author’s namesake, who reminds him of Fujitsubo, the emperor’s mistress. He resolves to adopt Murasaki and will eventually take her as his second wife.

The author deftly weaves together the strands of Genji’s oedipal relationships with Murasaki (whose likeness to Fujitsubo attracts him) and Fujitsubo (whom the emperor married because she resembled his late wife, Genji’s mother).

It is widely believed that Murasaki Shikibu commenced The Tale of Genji not long after she was widowed in 1001 and had completed it about twenty years later. The author of the Sarashina nikki writes, somewhere between 1020 and 1022:

I read Waka Murasaki [chapter 5] and a few of the other [early] books in The Tale of Genji, and I longed to see the later parts… But we were still new to the capital and it was not easy to find copies. I was burning wth impatience and curiosity, and in my prayers I used to say, “Let me see the whole!”

Richard Bowring’s translation of the Murasaki Shikibu Diary

This passage provides an insight into what—besides its many admirable literary features—makes The Tale of Genji fascinating to interactive storytellers. Murasaki Shikibu wrote Genji not as a single work for publication but in chapters (handwritten in individual notebooks) which were passed around the Heian court from one reader to the next.

In fact, the first five chapters outlined briefly above, have been presented not in the “correct” numerical order but as one of Murasaki Shikibu’s readers might have encountered them: in the order 1, 2, 4, 3, 5.

Yet having to read the chapters out of chronological order posed few problems for Murasaki Shikibu’s audience since she had so painstakingly constructed the work, using subtle indicators of time and place to ensure that—even over the fifty year span of her novel—it is always possible to determine the ages and relationships between each of the important characters.

As we struggle with the difficulties of writing non-linear and hypertext narratives, what a delicious irony that a Japanese woman confronted and resolved many of the problems that plague us a thousand years later.

Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday 04 July 2002

Visiting Ozu’s grave

On an overcast Friday afternoon, Natsuko’s aunt’s ashes were buried at the temple, ten minutes from the family home. After another formal meal in the temple dining room, similar to the one we’d eaten at the crematorium, Natsuko’s sister drove us quickly through the narrow streets back to the house she shared with her teenage daughter.

We spread our futons out on the living room floor, took off our clothes, and immediately fell asleep. In the past two days we’d slept only five or six hours.

The next morning, Natsuko—knowing I would return home the following day—asked me how I wanted to spend my last day in Japan. More than anything, I told her, I wished to visit Ozu’s grave.

Kita-Kamakura station signI recalled a scene from Tokyo-ga, Wim Wenders’ movie about Ozu: the railway station sign saying Kita-Kamakura, Ozu’s headstone engraved with the character mu

“I think he’s buried at Kita-Kamakura,” I told Natsuko.

“We’ll have to change trains at Ofuna,” she replied.

At Kita-Kamakura no-one knew where Ozu was buried so we walked back to the station to wait twenty minutes for the next train. I wandered out and stood by the level crossing, snapping pictures of people as they waited then crossed over the railway line. As an express clattered past, I thought of the mandatory train scenes in Ozu’s films, particularly the ninety-second sequence in Ochazuke no aji, with Taeko on the train to Nagoya in a futile attempt to escape the invented unhappiness of her marriage. Natsuko sat on a bench at the station, reading a magazine.

Eventually I strolled back and we rode one stop south to Kamakura to ask at the koban, the police box next to the station. Japanese police usually know where everyone and everything is but they had no idea who Ozu was or where he might be buried.

Natsuko suggested we look for books on Ozu in the bookstore across the square but the single book on the shelf mentioned only a memorial service held in Tokyo after his death. There was nothing about his funeral or burial.

Discouraged, we went to a coffee shop. Natsuko ordered strawberry pancakes.

Natsuko's strawberry pancakes

Suddenly, her mouth full of pancake, she said: “There must be a tourist bureau, we should have asked there.”

The young woman at the Visitors Center had never heard of Ozu but she pulled a thick blue binder from the shelf behind, dropped it on the counter with a thud, and slowly flicked through the pages. Sure enough, under “O” there was a brief note: he was buried at Engaku-ji. We bought another set of tickets for the ride back to Kita-Kamakura.

Engaku-ji was just a few minutes walk from the station. The old attendant to whom we paid our entry fee spoke rapidly to Natsuko, pointing to a steep slope above the carpark. I thought I caught the word “mu.”

“He says Ozu’s buried up there, we should look for a black marble headstone with the character ‘mu.’”

We walked across the carpark, climbed to the top of a set of worn stone stairs, and looked around the jumbled profusion of Japanese graves. Instinctively—was it my memory of Wim Wenders’ film?—I headed off to the right and there it was. Ozu’s grave.

We’d come in late April, the end of the cherry season. Damp pink and white petals lay scattered around the huge marble cube. I could just make out the character “mu.”

Ozu's grave at Engaku-jiI took some photographs. Natsuko did the same. Then we stood before the grave and bowed our heads to pray.

I looked back through my life, remembering Ozu’s films, when and where I’d seen them, who I’d been with at the time… most of all I thought of all he’d taught me about the inextricable link between beauty and sadness, about mono no aware.

It had been years since I’d prayed: like Ozu, I believed primarily in nothingness. But I recalled Murasaki Shikibu’s visit to Ishiyamadera, the temple on the edge of Lake Biwa, where she is supposed to have prayed for and received inspiration to write The Tale of Genji. I asked Ozu to guide me as I attempted to write my own book.

The sound of two sharp claps shattered my reverie. Natsuko had finished her prayers in the Japanese style.

“Ozu-san ni inotta no?” she asked me. “Did you pray to Ozu?”

“Inotta yo,” I replied. “Yes I did.”

“Eigo de? Nihongo de?” In English or Japanese?

“In English,” I told her, “it was too complicated for my Japanese.”

“Well, you know, Ozu didn’t speak English,” Natsuko said tartly. “He wouldn’t have understood your prayer.”

“The gods would have translated for him,” I told her as I walked towards the stairs, trying to recall the face of a woman I’d photographed crossing the railway tracks, a woman I would never see again.

Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday 30 July 2002

The immutable Buddha

Japanese woman wearing Western dress photographs another wearing kimono in front of the Great Buddha at Kamakura
Fashions change but Buddha remains immutable

(from Kimono by Kawakatsu Ken’ichi, Maruzen, 1936)

Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday 01 August 2002

A nude group sculpture

In an act of pity for all those poor surfers who end up on his site looking for nude photos, Jeff Ward published some gorgeous daguerreotypes from the 1850s. Inspired by Jeff’s example, I’m offering one of my favorites: the jacket photo for a book called New Japan: A Chronicle of Starting Over, a collection of documentary photographs taken from 1945 to 1970 (many of which appeared in Mainichi Graph, the Japanese equivalent of LIFE magazine).

A nude group sculpture
Thirty Beautiful Women’s Bodies

The caption inside the jacket reads:

Thirty Beautiful Women’s Bodies
This large nude group sculpture, which originally appeared on the cover of the 1955 New Year’s edition of Mainichi Graph magazine became a hot topic of conversation. An epoch-making event in magazine journalism, the picture was composed by Hara Seiichi and photographed by Nimura Jirō.

You can click on the photo or on this link to see a large (190K) version of the image. No group nudity phobia here, though suggestions as to the significance of the red and yellow scarves would obviously be welcome.

Permalink | Comments (4)

A taxing woman

Video cover: Itami Juzo's Marusa no OnnaOn our fourth date, I took Ayako to the movies again, to see Itami Juzo’s Marusa no onna (A Taxing Woman). We’d seen Tokyo-ga, the Wim Wenders tribute movie to Ozu. We’d eaten an expensive sushi dinner. And we’d “gone to bushwalking,” as Ayako phrased it—in an exact transliteration of the Japanese. I thought another movie was called for and a Japanese comedy seemed the perfect choice.

We met just before the six o’clock session at the Valhalla in Glebe, an ancient fleapit not far from Sydney University. Ayako had come straight from the merchant bank where she worked as an analyst. In her elegant gray suit and high heels, she looked immaculate and utterly out of place amongst the scruffy university crowd. Trying to balance formality with comfort, I’d chosen jeans with a jacket and a tie.

Though I’d come of age in the seventies, when sex on the first date was almost a matter of course, by the mid-eighties AIDS had arrived and by the end of the decade we were all more cautious, delaying the first kiss until the second date before tumbling into bed on the third.

But Ayako and I had yet to hold hands and we certainly hadn’t kissed. I couldn’t make up my mind: was she was prudish about sex? or was the decision to sleep together a cross-cultural mystery? Since she was the first Japanese woman I’d dated and I hadn’t yet discovered Pictures from the Water Trade, I’d resolved to take it slowly.

In the opening sequence of A Taxing Woman, a nurse unbuttons her uniform, exposes an enormous breast, and suckles her eighty-year-old patient. Twenty minutes or so into the film, the tax-evading gangster masturbates his mistress to climax while speaking on the telephone to an associate.

I began to think that I was re-enacting the scene in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which the Robert De Niro character, Travis Bickle, takes straitlaced Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) to a porno movie on their first date. I was convinced life was about to imitate art, that Ayako would suddenly stand up and walk out, leaving me in the theater. But Ayako sat quite still, intent on watching the movie.

When the gangster’s mistress gets out of bed after sex and walks across the room, there’s something white clenched between the cheeks of her ass.

Marusa no onna (A Taxing Woman)

My God, I thought, it’s a fucking tissue!

Unable to restrain myself I looked to my right, to gauge Ayako’s response. She’d raised her hand to cover her mouth as she always did when she laughed, though her face showed just a trace of a smile. She didn’t turn to meet my gaze.

We didn’t sleep together that night. But the reserve between us evaporated and, coming out of the theater, Ayako took my arm for the first time as we crossed the street to the car.

Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday 08 August 2002

Japanese remorse? Hardly.

Responding to Eric Olsen’s argument that “if the Armies of Allah are defeated, humiliated, crushed, scattered upon the four winds, then the whole philosophical house of cards collapses and you have a beaten, malleable people willing to accept a new way of life, such as Japan after WWII,” Burningbird wrote:

Eric bases his philisophical attitude about the importance of humiliation on his interpretation of Japan’s response to the atomic bombing, and how, in his opinion, they’ve become such good post-war partners because they believe that they deserved the atomic bomb. In reference to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Musem, he wrote:

The museum, the city, and the country emphasize peace and conflict resolution not because they don’t feel historical guilt for WWII, but because they do. The town and the museum almost revels in the details of the destruction wrought by the bomb, not out of self-pity, but out of a fundamental sense of sorrow and guilt FOR HAVING BROUGHT THIS DESTRUCTION UPON THEMSELVES.

The atomic bomb brought bitter remorse, not from those who dropped it, but from those whom it was dropped upon. Why remorse? Because they believe they deserved it.

I’m not going to respond to Eric’s assumptions about Japan, though I hope that Jonathon Delacour does. Jonathon, do you agree with this? Can this possibly be true?

No, I don’t agree with this. No, it can’t possibly be true.

Alan Cook has already responded to Shelley’s questions, lucidly exposing as ill-informed nonsense the “let’s humiliate the Arabs/Muslims just like we did the Japanese” position.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Eric posted in response to Paul Musgrave’s argument that:

The Japanese have long thought about World War II only in terms of the suffering they felt. Any sense of historical guilt for the actions of the wartime government (and remember, for Japan the “war” started in 1931) is, if there, entirely impossible to see. Contrast this attitude with Germany, where historical guilt has led to strong laws against Holocaust denial and the outright ban of the National Socialist Party. In Japan, the prewar parties are still extant, and are in fact in power; even more, the fate of the Showa Emperor (Hirohito) illustrates the continuity between pre- and postwar Japan.

Although Paul’s statement struck me as entirely reasonable, Eric was having none of it. Drawing on his visit to Hiroshima and “the conversations [he has] had with hundreds of Japanese from all walks of life about this subject,” Eric constructed a fantasy post-war Japan in which the Japanese “internalized the shame” of their humiliating defeat, embraced “the nobility of American ideals,” admitted that they had been entirely at fault in starting the war, and contritely accepted as well-deserved the destruction of most of their cities and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Nothing could be further from the truth. (And one can’t help noting the irony in the fact that Eric buttresses his argument with totally conventional, left-wing Japanese anti-war sentiment, which if it was uttered by Americans, would attract only his derision.)

The Japanese embraced democracy for a variety of reasons, not one of which was “the nobility of American ideals.” Rather they equated democracy with the American industrial and military might that had defeated their army and navy in the Pacific and created the B-29 which, in a matter of months, had reduced Japan to rubble:

Despite the havoc inflicted by the American bombers, the Japanese realized that the B-29 was a magnificent machine, one far beyond their own capabilities to produce… The sight of a glistening B-29 trailing white vapor high in the sky, or flying low over the land… not only inspire[d] hatred and fear in the people it threatened; strangely enough they could not resist admiring its beauty and its technological perfection. It came to symbolize the superior strength and higher civilization of the United States.

Masataka Kosaka and Masuo Kato,
quoted in Kenneth P. Werrell’s Blankets of Fire

In the aftermath of the war, the majority of Japanese were preoccupied with:

  • finding food and shelter for themselves, their children, and their parents;
  • tending to the survivors of the firebombing and the atomic bomb attacks;
  • repatriating their defeated servicemen from the Pacific and (over a much longer period) from Russian labor camps;
  • enduring the humiliation and hypocrisy of the War Crimes Tribunals;
  • setting to work to rebuild their country and lay the foundation for Japan’s economic recovery.

Eric Olsen attributes to the Japanese a capacity for remorse and a readiness to follow a higher ideal that is entirely at odds with their essential pragmatism. Not so long ago, I asked a Japanese friend why she believed that the Japanese had so readily embraced democracy in the post-war years. She thought for a long time and then replied, “I think it’s because we Japanese don’t really believe in anything.”

What she meant was not that the Japanese had no belief system but rather that beliefs are something you put on and take off like a set of clothes. They realized that militarism had led to a catastrophic defeat at the hands of democratic America and so they thought, “Let’s try democracy instead (particularly since the Americans are insisting that we do).” Or, more exactly, let’s run American-style democracy through the Japanese blender and see what comes out. Exactly as they had done during the Meiji Restoration when, within a couple of decades, they replaced over three hundred years of Tokugawa autocracy with a complete social system based on British, French, and German models.

The Japanese film director Tadashi Imai—whose career straddled the wartime years—provides a classic example of this peculiarly Japanese pragmatism. Imai made pro-Communist films before and after the war and pro-militarist films during it. As Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie explain in The Japanese Film:

One of the most arresting things about Imai’s early films, however, was not that they were poorly made but that a man of Imai’s convictions, and reputation, should have made them at all. From The Numazu Military Academy right through the war, Imai made films which were straight government propaganda, containing material which, one would think, any right-thinking young leftist would have avoided like the plague. The majority of Imai’s wartime films were purposely made to glorify those very ultra-rightist tendencies within the nation which, both before and after the war, Imai so often fought against.

It is always difficult—and usually foolish—to attempt to reconcile inconsistencies in character, even—or particularly—when they are so glaring as in the character of Tadashi Imai. One can, at any rate, be fairly safe in saying that there was no Machiavellism involved: Imai is idealistic to the point of embarrassment. Nor was there any simple opportunism: Imai’s integrity, no matter what the cause, is quite above reproach. Yet, having said this, one must then accept the fact that Imai was just as dedicated to the Imperial cause during the war as he was to the Communist cause both before and after it. In way of explanation one can only again call attention to the Japanese genius for the volte-face, and for the completely apolitical quality of the Japanese character. That this often approaches intellectual dishonesty no foreign observer of the Japanese can fail to appreciate. At the same time, however, it is equally apparent that the Japanese themselves do not appreciate the illogic of their position and, far from believing in their own dishonesty, are acting in the best faith of which they are capable.

In a very real sense, Tadashi Imai is the Japanese Everyman, swaying with the prevailing ideological breeze, blissfully free of either guilt or remorse. After the war he performed what Anderson and Richie describe as “a real ideological somersault, [landing] on his feet with An Enemy of the People, a vicious and almost personal attack on the Emperor-system.” One day a militarist, the next day a democrat, but not out of the idealism mixed with contrition that Eric Olsen would have us believe.

This moral flexibility underpins Paul Musgrave’s assertion that the Japanese lack “any sense of historical guilt for the actions of the wartime government.” In my next post, I’ll explain why I believe he is correct.

Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday 10 October 2002

The nation prepares for war (03)

Firebomb disposal practice, Japan 1937
A scheme for using a galvanized iron protection shield when dealing with firebombs. Although the thermal power of a firebomb is very strong, it is said that if one can manage to get within about a meter the fire can be extinguished. To ensure that that the firefighter does not trip during the approach, the lower section of the shield is hinged. (August 1937)

Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday 15 December 2002


Looking for something light to read while I recovered from my cold, I remembered something Robert Birnbaum had said in his second conversation with Allan Furst:

Martin Cruz Smith’s latest book, December 6, is set in pre-WWII Japan and it was the first book by a current practitioner that reminded me of you. I think people use the word ‘atmospheric’ to describe you. Smith seemed to get the pre-war Japanese culture right as well as placing the reader in an authentic, palpable Tokyo.

So yesterday afternoon I bought the Cruz Smith book—in the British edition available in Australia it’s called Tokyo Station—and took it home to read in bed.

December 6 opens with five boys playing a game based on one of the best-loved stories in Japanese history, The Loyal 47 Ronin. Halfway through the second paragraph, I already regretted buying the book:

The story was tragic, true, profoundly satisfying. Lord Asano had been taunted by the unscrupulous Lord Kira into drawing a sword in the shogun’s presence, an act punishable by death. He was beheaded, his estate confiscated, and his retainers dispersed as ronin, wandering samurai with neither home nor allegiance…

Well, actually, no.

Lord Asano assaults Lord Kira in Mizoguchi's The Loyal 47 Ronin
Lord Asano assaults Lord Kira in Mizoguchi’s The Loyal 47 Ronin

Lord Asano attacks Lord Kira in an open corridor in the shogun’s palace, but the shogun is nowhere near. The seriousness of the offence lay not only in the fact that the assault took place in the palace but also that it occurred on the day of an important ceremony. Nor was Lord Asano “beheaded” for this breach of etiquette—in the sense that we in the West understand the term—since it is unthinkable that such a punishment would be imposed on someone of Asano’s rank. Rather Lord Asano was sentenced to commit seppuku (harakiri), ritual suicide, one of the five grades of punishment for wrongdoers among the samurai class. The Kodansha Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japan explains:

All aspects of the seppuku ritual were prescribed with precision: apparel, site, time, witnesses, inspector, and assistant. When the site had been readied and the witnesses, guards, and inspectors assembled, the doomed man would open his kimono, stretch out his right hand to grasp his knife, and cut into his abdomen from left to right. Often this wound was neither deep nor intended to bring on death. He would then make a prearranged signal to his kaishakunin (assistant), whereupon the kaishakunin’s sword slashed down, severing his head.

Nor does Cruz Smith “get the pre-war Japanese culture right as well as placing the reader in an authentic, palpable Tokyo.” He makes a reasonable stab at it, but the novel is populated with stock characters and the descriptions of places and customs never feel authentic. I couldn’t help but think that Alan Furst’s novels about Europe just before and during World War II are infinitely better researched and written. But perhaps it’s because I know so little about Furst’s milieu that I find his books authentic.

I was, however, engaged by one of Cruz Smith’s descriptive passages, about a fire in a tailor shop in Asakusa—ironically the epicenter of the first American firebombing raid on Tokyo in March 1945:

The house was old, built of wood frame with a bamboo front, the typical tinderbox Japanese lived in. The fire was already in full throat, an oven roar accompanied by exploding glass and the excited whoosh of paper screens. The crowd inched close, in awe of how a hovel’s straw, books, bedding, needles and thread could transcend themselves into such a beautiful tower of flame, the sort of fireworks that spread, rose and blossomed a second time into a glowing maelstrom. The way Eskimos had words for different kinds of snow, the Japanese had words for fire: deliberate, accidental, initial flame, approaching blaze, invading, spreading, overwhelming fire. Harry found himself next to the tailor, who was explaining through his tears and with many apologies how the girl had left her homework on a space heater. The paper had caught fire and fallen and lit a mat, then a screen and scraps of rayon that lit as fast as candlewicks. Sufu was worse. It was a new wartime material, ersatz cloth made of wood fibers, basically cellulose that disintegrated after three or four washings but burned like hell. One minute, the tailor said, one minute the family was out of the room, and then it was too late. Harry saw the wife and children, everyone painted orange and black in the fire’s glow. Two Red Cross workers bore off the grandmother on a litter. Air-raid drills were all the fashion. Well, this was more like the real thing.

It’s said that Eskimos have words for different kinds of snow, or different words for white. I have no idea whether this is true or not. [Burningbird sent me a link to this essay by Stephen J. Derose, which argues that they do not.]

The Chinese (Japanese) character for fireBut I was taken by the assertion that the Japanese have a multiplicity of words for fire, so I checked my dictionaries. Sure enough, there were a hundred or more. (The Chinese character for fire is pronounced ka, hi, ho, bi or bo, depending on the context.) Some fire-related words:

kachū in the fire
hisaki direction in which the flames are spreading
hosaki flame tips
kataku house on fire
kasai conflagration
kaji mimai sympathy visit after a fire
kajidoro thief at a fire
kajiba scene of a fire
hiyo(ke) protection against fire
hibashira pillar of flames
hidaruma mass of flames
hiashi spreading of a fire
hiusturi catching fire
kasei force of the flames
kaen fire and smoke
kanan’yoke charm against fire
shōka, boya small fire
yamakaji forest fire
tenka fire caused by lightning
inkasei flammability
shikka accidental fire
tsukebi arson
bōka yosui water for putting out fires
kinka, chikabi a fire in one’s neighborhood
jika a fire starting in one’s own home
haikakyō fire worship
kaika fire of mysterious origin
to(bi)hi flying sparks, leaping flames
kyūka a sudden fire; a nearby fire
rekka raging fire
funakaji fire aboard a ship
mora(i)bi catch fire (from a neighboring burning building)
gyoka, isa(ri)bi fire for luring fish at night
ruika a spreading fire

It’s hardly surprising that there are so many Japanese words for fire. In Tokyo alone, two single conflagrations have each taken the lives of around 100,000 people: the Meireki Fire in March 1657 and the American raid nearly three hundred years later.

Meireki Fire in Tokyo (March 1657)
Woodblock print of the Meireki Fire

So I haven’t given up on December 6. With a little luck Cruz Smith may still have one or two sparks awaiting me.

Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday 09 January 2003


Ayako had no sympathy for the disabled.

This morning, when I read in an email from UsableNet that the European Union has designated 2003 as the “Year of the People with Disabilities,” I recalled a conversation we had one evening over dinner. There’d been a story in the Herald about a group of disabled Japanese who were here on a fact-finding tour, with a photograph of a young paraplegic man being carried down the stairs from a Qantas aircraft to a wheelchair on the tarmac.

“Naze kita no kashira. Ano hito.” Ayako asked. I wonder why they came. Those people.

“To check out how we help people with disabilities in Australia,” I replied.

“They shouldn’t be here.” She struggled to suppress her irritation.

“Why not? They just want to see how we do things here. Maybe they’ll get some good ideas to take back to Japan.”

“They’re an embarassment,” she told me. “The government shouldn’t have allowed them to leave Japan.”

I was stunned. I’d spent much of my childhood with an intellectually-handicapped girl named Jennifer who was a year or so older than me. Jennifer had no hair so she always wore a wig or a woolen beanie, she had steel braces on her legs, and her speech was severely limited. Almost every day a dozen or so kids would play in the street and in each other’s yards for hours at a time—running, chasing, hide-and-seek, roller-skating, riding our bikes and billy-carts—and for an hour or so Jennifer’s parents would allow her to join us. Whenever she did, we switched to gentler games so that she could join in. Occasionally a new family would move into our street and the routine was always the same. One of the new arrivals would poke fun at Jennifer and would be very quickly put straight: “She’s just like you and I,” someone would tell them, “only different. When she comes out to play it’s our job to look after her.”

“How would you like to be in a wheelchair?” I asked Ayako.

“I wouldn’t mind,” she replied. “How could I be upset if I’d never known anything different?”

“What about if you’d had an accident? You’d always been able to walk and now you couldn’t. Or if you’d been born crippled, how would it feel to see everyone around you walking and running?”

“You don’t understand!” she said passionately. “People have accidents or they’re born like that because they did something terrible in a past life. They have to spend this life atoning for their sin.”

I knew Ayako saw the world differently—from the start I’d been attracted by her ability to surprise me. And I knew better than to persist.

“Let’s do the dishes,” I suggested, “then we’ll drive down to Bondi and buy an ice-cream.” She loved lemon gelato.

Stuck behind a bus on Bondi Road, Ayako sitting quietly at my side, I remembered Kevin, another handicapped figure from my boyhood. When I was in senior high school, Kevin—who had Downs Syndrome—must have been about twenty. He lived with his mother. His father, who’d been a bus driver, had died suddenly when Kevin was young and, once he was no longer attending his special school—there were no jobs for the handicapped in those days—the guys at the bus depot, his dad’s workmates, did this marvellous thing. Realizing his mum needed a break now and again, they got Kevin a bus conductor’s uniform, with a leather satchel, a ticket holder, and a whistle.

Conductors were only assigned to buses during peak hours or on busy routes; the rest of the time the driver collected the fares. So, a couple of mornings a week, a neighbor would drop Kevin off at the depot after the morning rush. He would board a driver-only bus and spend the day riding back-and-forth, handing out tickets and putting the coins he received into his satchel. At the end of the day, one of the drivers would drop him off at home and he’d proudly show his mother the money he’d earned.

It could never happen now. Everyone would have a nervous breakdown about workers compensation and public-liability insurance, do-gooders would complain that Kevin was being exploited, and the Transport Union would argue that he was doing a conductor out of a job. But back then, we all thought it was marvellous to get on the bus and find Kevin walking up and down the aisle, blowing his whistle when all the passengers had alighted, calling out: “Fares please!” and “Move right down the back of the bus.”

Ayako ate her lemon gelato at the water’s edge, salty foam lapping at her toes. We drove home and went to bed. The first night she came to sleep at my place, many months before, she’d brought a nightlight. “I don’t like to sleep in the dark,” she explained. I didn’t mind. We spent hours making love in its soft glow.

“When I was little,” she said as she lay with her head on my shoulder, “around four or five years old, if I was naughty my mother would lock me in the tansu for an hour.” A tansu is a Japanese chest of drawers or a cabinet with deep drawers at the bottom.

“That’s unbelievable,” I said. “You must have been terrified.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” she replied. “I was lucky in a way. If my older brother was naughty, she would tie him to a maple tree for an hour, even in the middle of winter when the garden was covered in snow.”

I held her tight, speechless once again.

“When I grew older and became too big for the tansu,” Ayako added, “my mother told me that if I was naughty I would come back in my next life as a cripple.”


Permalink | Comments (8)

Wednesday 22 January 2003


By an odd coincidence, on the same day that the new 12-inch and 17-inch PowerBook models were announced I received from the Dynalab Type Museum, a CD-ROM containing 100 Japanese TrueType fonts for Windows, fonts that I’d assumed would be the final nail in the coffin of my waning—though perhaps soon to be resurrected—Macintosh career.

I’ve held on to my old PowerPC 8500 in order to use a brush-style Japanese font that I found on a Macintosh WordPerfect installation CD. Windows 2000 only ships with full and half-width versions of the two Japanese fonts shown in the following illustration: MS Mincho (upper) and MS Gothic (lower). As you can see, they’re roughly equivalent to Times New Roman and Arial—and equally uninspiring.

Windows 2000 Japanese fonts, Mincho and Gothic

Which is not to say that Japanese language support under Windows 2000 isn’t adequate. It’s actually fine, roughly equivalent to the Macintosh Japanese Language Kit that I was using in 1992.

But it seemed crazy to keep a whole computer just to use a nice Japanese font once in a while. My friend Gerrit Fokkema has an 8500 he’s about to donate to a local school and it would be nice to give them two instead of one. So I ordered the font CD and, when I checked later, I realized that the UPS truck had pulled up at precisely the time that Steve Jobs was introducing the new PowerBooks.

The Windows fonts turned out to be pretty good, as this small sample may suggest:

Japanese fonts, Dynalab selection

I can’t write about fonts with any authority—Dean Allen is in charge of that department. (Dean’s Twenty Faces is a fascinating introduction to the joys of type.) And, just like those used in English or any other language, Japanese fonts can be incredibly expressive too. I’m looking forward to having fun with Japanese type on my PC (though I understand that Mac OS X ships with some cool Japanese typefaces).

Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday 04 February 2003

lang=”ja” and the attribute selector

Following up on a comment Sean Conner made on my post Archive organization re-viewed, I stumbled upon a fascinating post titled I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so, which deals with how certain browsers treat the lang attribute:

JeffK mentioned that over the past few days, when he views The Boston Diaries his browser asks if he wants to download and install Japanese language support.

Sean traced the “problem” to an entry he’d written that included the Japanese words, dojinshi and manga, which—rather than simply slapping some <i> tags around them—he’d treated semantically:

The <SPAN LANG="ja" TITLE="fan art">dojinshi</SPAN> market .... <SPAN LANG="ja" TITLE="comic book">Manga</SPAN> publishers ...

I’ve followed a similar practice, though not as elegantly as Sean. For example, my recent entry, Tansu, includes:

A <i xml:lang="ja" lang="ja">tansu</i> is a Japanese chest of drawers or a cabinet with deep drawers at the bottom.

Note that I’ve added the lang attribute to the <i> tag, whereas Sean includes it in a <span> tag wrapped around each Japanese word.

He neatly explains the browser’s request to install Japanese language support:

Since I seem to already have the Japanese language support installed I didn’t notice anything odd when I loaded the page to proof read the entry. But it seems that other browsers that don’t have the Japanese language support saw the language attribute for “Japanese,” realized they weren’t installed, so decided to ask the user if it was okay to install Japanese language support. But I’m using an Anglicized spelling for a Japanese word so there’s no real need to download Japanese language support for what I used, so how do I get around that?

Sean figured out a workaround: “fudging it… by using lang="x-ja" which is allowed (any language code starting with “x” is for private use).”

I also have Japanese language support enabled on all my computers so I wouldn’t have noticed a request to install it when I checked my post in a browser. I’m wondering if anyone who read that post encountered a similar request to install Japanese language support. Or is my inclusion of the xml:lang="ja" element acting as an auxiliary fudge.

But that’s not all. In Sean’s original post, the words dojinshi and manga appear italicized, yet there’s no class attribute within the <span> tag—though this is how I would italicize the text, as in:

<span class="lang-attr" lang="ja" title="fan art">dojinshi</span>


.lang-attr {font-style: italic;}

Instead, Sean’s stylesheet contains the following declaration:

span[lang] { font-style: italic;}

Sean Conner is using an attribute selector! How cool is that? I’d never even heard of attribute selectors but there they are in Eric Meyer’s Cascading Style Sheets 2.0: Programmer’s Reference:

X[attr]  Selects any element X with the attribute attr.

X[attr="val"]  Selects any element X whose attribute attr has the value val.

X[attr~="val"]  Selects any element X whose attribute attr contains a space-separated list of values which includes val.

X[attr|="val"]  Selectes any element X whose attribute attr has a value which is a hyphen-separated list that begins with val.

I can see myself putting attribute selectors to good use from now on, thanks to Sean. And I’m still curious about whether I can trigger a request by your browser to install Japanese language support by mentioning kimono, sushi, geisha, haiku, and anime.

Permalink | Comments (13)

Wednesday 05 February 2003

Can I CITE you on that?

I didn’t realize, when I asked in my previous post about how to correctly cite Japanese words written in romaji, that I was setting myself up for a thorough dousing in the complexities of markup and the semantic Web.

It has been my custom to wrap Japanese words such as nejimakidori in an <i> tag with xml:lang="ja" and lang="ja" attributes. I noted Sean Conner’s use of a <span> tag with lang="ja" plus a title="wind-up bird" to provide the meaning; except that this prompted various browsers to ask to install Japanese language support so he fudged it with lang="x-ja".

Bertilo pointed out that writing 'lang="x-jp"’ is no solution, since "x-jp" does not mean “Japanese”, and suggested using only xml:lang="ja" (if your pages are XHTML). Joe Clark said we should be using <cite lang="ja">. Adam Rice disagreed, saying that’s not a canonical use of <cite>. Language Hat asked: “What’s wrong with italics?” Spoutnik suggested using <dfn>. Kris agreed with Joe on the use of <cite> and also emailed me, suggesting that it might be worth trying UTF-8 character encoding instead of ISO-8859-1.

In the unlikely event that I’m ever asked to join a Web standards committee, I already have my answer formulated. You can easily guess what it is.

The entry for <cite> in the O’Reilly HTML Reference included with Dreamweaver MX reads:

The CITE element is one of a large group of elements that the HTML 4.0 recommendation calls phrase elements. Such elements assign structural meaning to a designated portion of the document. A CITE element is one that contains a citation or reference to some other source material. This is not an active link but simply notation indicating what the element content is. Search engines and other HTML document parsers may use this information for other purposes (assembling a bibliography of a document, for example).

Browsers have free rein to determine how (or whether) to distinguish CITE element content from the rest of the BODY element. Both Navigator and Internet Explorer elect to italicize the text. This can be overridden with a style sheet as you see fit.

<P>Trouthe is the hyest thing that many may kepe.<BR>
(Chaucer, <CITE>The Franklin's Tale</CITE>)</P>

It seems to me that this bears out Adam Rice’s assertion that <cite> is not the appropriate element to use with foreign words, particularly since I use Japanese words for quite a different reason than that suggested by both the O’Reilly and Adam’s examples—not to quote from a book or a speech but because there is no accurate English equivalent for the Japanese word or because I wish to include fragments of Japanese as a stylistic device.

For now I’m sticking to my original method but I’d love to get both these issues sorted out:

  • Which element should I use to quote Japanese words in romaji?
  • How can I stop the browsers asking to install Japanese language support for such words?

Further suggestions enthusiastically welcomed but, please, no invitations to join either a CITE or romaji subcommittee of any W3C standards body.

Permalink | Comments (15)

Monday 10 February 2003

Just make sure you spell it incorrectly

I’d completely forgotten there were different romanization systems for Japanese until Bertil Wennergren mentioned it in a comment. As a foreigner, I’m familiar with the Hepburn/Hyōjun system though I’ve always tried as much as possible to avoid rōmaji, believing that relying on transliterated Japanese makes it more difficult to read the actual language. Even so, since all my kanji dictionaries contain rōmaji, it’s impossible to avoid.

The entry on rōmaji in my Kodansha Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japan notes that the first romanization system, based on Portuguese, was developed by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century. The Hepburn system, named after a Philadelphia medical missionary who arrived in Japan in 1859 was later modified and expanded into the Hepburn/Hyōjun system while the main alternative still in current use, the Kunrei system, has its origins in the Nippon system developed by Tanakadate Aikitsu, a physicist and professor at Tokyo University. The encyclopedia entry explains:

The Kunrei system remains in use for grade school textbooks and the National Diet [parliament] Library, among others, while the Foreign Ministry and most Japanese-English dictionaries continue to use the Hyōjun system.

The differences between the systems are shown in the illustration below:

Hepburn/Hyojun, Kunrei, and Nippon Romanization Systems for Japanese

A Google search on “rōmaji” turned up a fascinating article by Andrew Horvat titled The Romaji Conundrum in which he points out that although until recently the differing romanization systems were only of interest to educators, “these days, however, the party most concerned with Japan’s romaji chaos is the International Standards Organization which has put Japan on notice to come up with a single, rational, unified system.”

Why? Email addresses.

Horvat uses the example of a Japanese man whose given name would be transliterated as “Jun’ichi” (using the Hepburn/Hyōjun system). The Kunrei system would render the same name as “Zyun’iti” but the computer engineers who assigned his email address mixed up the two systems and assigned him the name “Jyunichi”. As he told Horvat, “if you don’t spell my name incorrectly you won’t be able to reach me.”

If past precedent is any guide, neither the ISO nor anyone else should hold their breaths. Anarchy is likely to reign for a long time to come. Instead, it might be an idea for those with an abiding interest in Japan to learn that “rōmaji” (the use of Latin letters to write Japanese) can be spelled as “roumaji,” “roomazi,” “roomadi” and any number of other variations.

Needless to say, the Japanese bureaucrats charged with deciding on a uniform standard are said to favor the Kunrei system even though young Japanese—those most likely to own computers and have email addresses—feel more at home with the Hepburn system.

Permalink | Comments (13)

Saturday 08 March 2003

Ikuko’s name

“When I was in middle-school,” Ikuko told me, “I hated my name.” We were lying in her bed, drinking champagne, fooling around. I traced her name in the glossy film of perspiration on her stomach. (On our second date, I’d asked her to write the characters for me. Since then I’d written them dozens of times in my notebook and on scraps of paper.) I could already guess what she wanted to say.

Whereas in the West we “come” during sex (or “cum” as they say in pornland), the Japanese “go,” saying iku (I’m going) as they approach a climax and itta (I went) immediately after.

But Ikuko never said “iku.” Sometimes she would bite her wrist or the pillow instead. Nor did she ever say “itta” though she came easily and often. The only time I asked, saying “Itta?” (Did you come?), she simply replied “Mmm, yokatta wa” (It was great).

Japanese characters for IkukoIku has multiple meanings since it can be written with a variety of kanji, all with the same pronunciation. I tried to reassure her. “But it’s a lovely name. I looked up your iku in my dictionary. It means ‘aromatic, fragrant, sweet-smelling’.”

“I was teased about it constantly,” she replied, “all through middle school. The boys were always saying to me ‘Iku! Iku!’ Even some of the girls joined in.”

“So what did you do? Did you tell your parents? Or the teachers?”

“How could I do that? I would have been too ashamed.”

I knew it was pointless to ask why she hadn’t changed her name, if she hated it so much. Not only might she have offended her parents; worse still would have been asking the local bureaucracy to record the new name in her family register.

Naze o-namae o kaeta’n desu ka?” (Why did you change your name?) When, not long after we’d started seeing each other, I told Ikuko that I’d changed my name—from John Anthony to Jonathon—she’d changed the subject. Now, six months later, she was suddenly curious.

Yume o mita’n desu yo.” (I had a dream.) In my dream I was standing in line, listening as a female voice called a roll. When she said “Jonathon Delacour”, I thought: “That’s me.” I looked down and saw that I was holding a three-by-five index card in both hands, white, with JONATHON DELACOUR written on it in a neat script. I woke up, knowing that I’d discovered my real name.

Ikuko sipped her champagne. Drops of condensation splashed gently on her stomach, nearly obliterating the character ko.

“I knew they were having sex and that they knew I wasn’t. Not that I was saving myself for someone special, it’s just that none of the boys in my school appealed. But I knew, even before having sex, that I’d enjoy it, because I’d already discovered how to give myself pleasure.”

“Now, occasionally after I come, I think of my stupid classmates. None of those boys will ever have me and the girls are stuck with children and salaryman husbands. They probably can’t remember when they last had sex.”

She took a mouthful of champagne, rolled nimbly onto my chest, and kissed me, filling my mouth with warm bubbles.

Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday 21 April 2003

Exploring downtown Tokyo

Loren Webster, Jeff Ward, and the Dynamic Driveler (amongst others) have made fresh contributions to the truth in blogging debate; Liz Lawley pointed to a post by Jill Walker that offers me the perfect opening for a series of posts about the Japanese “I-novel”; Language Hat’s MOTYHOLE entry (caution: “misogynistic language and rank etymological speculation”) has encouraged me to write about the variety of characters used to construct the different Japanese words for prostitute; that should amuse the Happy Tutor while I’m scouting out more information about Ikuko… and what have I been doing? Looking at maps.

A few days ago, the Dynamic Driveler sent me a link to an online collection of Japanese historical maps from the East Asian Library at UC Berkeley:

The Japanese Historical Map Collection contains about 2,300 early maps of Japan and the World. The collection was acquired by the University of California from the Mitsui family in 1949, and is housed on the Berkeley campus in the East Asian Library. Represented in this online collection are about 100 maps and books from this Collection. The maps were selected by Yuki Ishimatsu, Head of Japanese Collections at the East Asian Library, and scanned and put online by David Rumsey and Cartography Associates. The project was initiated by Peter Zhou, Director of the East Asian Library. Funding and project management is provided by Cartography Associates and the East Asian Library.

The collection can be viewed in three ways:

  • The Insight® Browser that requires no plug-ins or downloads (I couldn’t get this to work with Windows Mozilla 1.2.1 but had no trouble with IE6).
  • A downloadable Insight® Java Client that provides greater functionality.
  • A special GIS Browser that allows detailed overlays of historical maps and current geospatial data.

I started with the Insight Browser but soon switched to the Java Client, which offers vastly improved scrolling, measurement and scaling options, and the ability to add annotations. (This Help page gives a good idea of what’s possible.)

1858 map of Edo (Tokyo) by Mori Fusai and Subaraya Mo

I’ve spent hours exploring the Shitamachi (downtown) district on two maps of Tokyo: an 1858 case map by Mori Fusai & Subaraya Mo and a 1905 pocket map by Ando Rikinosuke. This detail shows the Azuma Bridge, joining Honjo and Asakusa wards, close to the epicenter of the area attacked in the fire bombing raid of March 9-10, 1945.

Even if you’re not interested in Japan, the entire David Rumsey Historical Map Collection comprises over 8,000 maps online with a particular emphasis on rare 18th and 19th century North and South America cartographic history materials. When you launch the Java client, you can choose between opening the complete collection, the Japanese maps, or both. Anyone with even a slight interest in geography or cartography will be richly rewarded. (If you are working to meet a deadline, under no circumstances should you visit David Rumsey’s site. If you’re looking for an excuse to avoid work, you won’t find anything better than this.)

Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday 28 April 2003

The cafe universe

Stavros’s Linguistic Relativism and Korean essay continues to resonate, giving rise to some terrific comments on my previous entry, including a pointer from the Dynamic Driveler to a rather skeptical view of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis by Mick Underwood which, nevertheless, contains a couple of fascinating references to Wittgenstein’s views on language. The first made me laugh out loud:

Wittgenstein said that he was once asked by one of his colleagues whether Germans think in the order they speak in or think normally first and then mix it all up afterwards.

Though I’ve never studied German, I do know that the verb comes at the end of the sentence, as in Japanese. I’m not sure, however, what other characteristics Japanese shares with German.

For example, Japanese uses post-positional particles to indicate grammatical and interpersonal relationships and these particles follow the element (e.g. Tokyo ni, “Tokyo to”, meaning to Tokyo). Similarly, the basic word order in Japanese is reversed in that modifying clauses precede the element being modified; as in the Japanese sentence, Tokyo de katta hon o yonde iru.

Tokyo de katta hon o yonde iru
Tokyo in bought book object marker reading am
(Someone) is reading (a) book (they) bought in Tokyo.

The weird thing is that—as long as I don’t think about it too much—there’s no need to “think normally first then mix it all up afterwards” into Japanese. Somehow the “mixed up” order seems perfectly logical.

The other interesting reference is a quotation from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Philosophicus:

The limits of my language indicate the limits of my world.

Mick Underwood comments:

This is often advanced in support of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. (Actually, given the context in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, I’m not at all sure that that’s what he was saying, but it’s a good quote, anyway!)

Although I recognized this quotation immediately as coming from a voiceover commentary in Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (mentioned in my previous entry), what struck me was an observation that Language Hat had made about Godard’s films:

The funny thing is that as I read your post I had my video of Comment ça va? on the tv. I find it helps with Godard to not always watch intently but also to just have the movie going, picking up bits here and there that I might not notice watching in a more connected way. You’re never going to get everything in a Godard movie, after all. And the more I see the movies, the more I realize that a huge percentage of the dialog is a quotation of or reference to something else, poetry or philosophy or other movies. Tout se tient.

Of course you’ll need to understand French in order to “not always watch intently but… just have the movie going, picking up bits here and there that [one] might not notice watching in a more connected way.” I certainly can’t do that with Japanese movies though, now that I think about it, that sounds like something worth trying.

But Language Hat is absolutely correct about Godard’s movies being packed densely with quotations or references to poetry, philosophy, linguistics, and—of course—other movies.

Coffee cup still frame from Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her

The Wittgenstein quotation occurs in one of the most arresting sequences in any Godard movie, the one that James Monaco calls in his book, The New Wave, “the café universe,” in which shots of Juliette watching a young couple alternate with close-ups of a cup of coffee, as a male voice (Godard himself?) speaks:

Perhaps an object like this will make it possible to link up… to move from one subject to another, from living in society, to being together. But then, since social relationships are always ambiguous, since my thought is only a unit, since my thoughts create rifts as much as they unite, since my words establish contacts by being spoken and create isolation by remaining unspoken, since an immense moat separates the subjective certitude that I have for myself from the objective reality that I represent to others, since I never stop finding myself guilty even though I feel I am innocent.

A spoon is stirring up the cup of coffee. It is withdrawn. A small circle of foam is left swirling round on the surface.

Given the fact that every event transforms my daily existence and that I invariably fail to communicate… I mean to understand, to love, to be loved, and as each failure makes me feel my loneliness more keenly, as… as… as I can’t tear myself away from the objectivity that is crushing me nor from the subjectivity which is driving me into exile, as I can neither raise myself into Being nor allow myself to sink back into Nothingness… I must go on listening. I must go on looking about me even more attentively than before… the world… my fellow creatures… my brothers.

…the world today, alone, where revolutions are impossible, where bloody wars haunt me, where capitalism isn’t even sure of its rights… and the working class is in retreat… where progress… the thundering progress of science gives to future centuries an obsessive, haunting presence… where the future is more present than the present, where distant galaxies are at my door. My fellow creatures… my brothers.

A lump of sugar tumbles into the coffee and breaks into crystals. The dark circle of the cup glistens with bubbles, like galaxies.

But where to begin? But where to begin with what? God created the heavens and the earth. Of course, but that’s an easy way out. There must be a better way of explaining it all… We could say that the limits of language are the limits of the world… that the limits of my language are the limits of my world. And in that respect, whatever I say must limit the world, must make it finite. And when logical, mysterious death finally abolishes these limits, and when there are, then, neither questions nor answers, everything will be blurred. But if, by chance, things become clear again, they would only become so through the phantom of conscience. Then, everything will fall into place.

It’s impossible to do justice to the spectacular beauty of this sequence, particularly in a cinema, where the coffee cup fills the gigantic TechniScope screen, acting as a counterpoint to the intimate tone of the narration. “This is not a film talking, it is a man,” writes James Monaco. “It is the most personal—and most painful—moment in all of Godard.”

I was surprised to learn from Language Hat’s comment that he loved Godard’s films, that he’d “wanted the video [of Two or Three Things] for years, and finally got it.” And yet I shouldn’t have been, since I cannot think of another filmmaker who cares as much about language—and, by extension, the ethics of film language—as Godard.

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.

Language is the house in which we dwell.

I bought the video of Two or Three Things I Know About Her ages ago and must have watched it a half dozen times. Might be time to watch it again.

Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday 30 April 2003

Missing Persons

Scene from Naruse's Meshi (Repast)Earlier this evening I slipped over the Harbor Bridge to see Naruse’s Meshi (Repast, 1951) at the Japan Foundation. Audie Bock, in Japanese Film Directors, describes Meshi as:

Superb psychological description with a minimum of plot and a maximum of nuance, the kind of woman’s film Ozu tried to make in his 1952 Flavor of Green Tea over Rice but could not surpass Naruse. A childless couple living in the Osaka suburbs are drifting apart. The woman dreams of escape from the dreary life of a low-salaried white-collar worker’s wife, and returns to her family in Tokyo, where she hopes to find a job. In a trapped ending Naruse added to Hayashi Fumiko’s unfinished novel, the woman resigns herself to going back to her husband.

Naruse and Mizoguchi are known in Japan as feminisuto (feminist) directors—meaning not so much that they are committed to equality for women as that they made films sympathetic to the female point of view. (The Japanese have this endearing—or, depending on your point of view, irritating—habit of reinterpreting foreign loan words in ways that bear little resemblance to their original meanings. Accordingly, my Japanese-English dictionary defines feminisuto primarily as “a man who is polite and attentive to women”, adding almost as an afterthought “a person involved with the struggle for women’s rights”).

Despite the fact that Naruse handles the wife’s decision to return to her husband more convincingly than Ozu, I prefer Flavor of Green Tea over Rice—even though it is generally regarded as one of Ozu’s lesser films.

Still, a few lines of dialog in Naruse’s Meshi touched me deeply. In Tokyo, the unhappy wife, Michiyo (played by Ozu’s favorite actress, Hara Setsuko), is talking to her mother who tells her bluntly that she should return to her husband. If she’s not careful, her mother says, he may find another woman.

“Who’d be interested in him?” asks Michiyo scornfully.

“There are lots of women,” her mother replies.

And it suddenly struck me—as it no doubt did Michiyo—that there were lots of women, eager to have a man, in Japan in 1951, since so many Japanese men were dead or missing. Michiyo has already encountered an old school friend who, six years after the end of the war, still doesn’t know what has happened to her husband. Later she sees the woman again, selling newspapers in the street to support herself and her young child.

In Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II, John Dower describes the efforts individuals made to locate missing loved ones:

Throughout the country, makeshift notice boards carried handwritten notes asking for information about missing family members or providing information about the writer’s own whereabouts. This was not just a phenomenon of the months immediately following surrender. Beginning in January 1946, a radio program called Returnee News provided ongoing information concerning the names of incoming repatriates as well as their vessels and ports of entry. When this proved inadequate, a program called Missing Persons was introduced in June 1946. Almost immediately, the station was inundated with four to five hundred written inquiries a day in addition to dozens of phone calls. By August, broadcast time had been increased to twice daily, five days a week. For a while the program included a special segment—“Who Am I?”—devoted to inquiries from disoriented returned veterans. Missing Persons had considerable success in accomplishing its mission. Initially, some 40 to 50 percent of the inquiries it broadcast were answered, and until 1950 the program continued to clear up the whereabouts or announce the deaths of significant numbers of individuals. Missing Persons continued on the air until March 31,1962.

Between 1.6 and 1.7 million Japanese soldiers surrendered to Soviet forces in Manchuria and northern Korea, of whom 300,000 remain unaccounted for. Dower recounts how, in 1950 (the year before Meshi was made):

General MacArthur received a remarkable appeal from some 120,000 individuals living in Shiga Prefecture, all of them relatives of still-missing soldiers. It was accompanied by an unusual gift, laboriously made over an eight-month period: an embroidered portrait of MacArthur, to which all 120,000 petitioners had each contributed a stitch. The inspiration for this striking present lay in one of the more intimate symbolic acts of the war years—the practice of sending soldiers cloth stomach warmers sewn with a thousand stitches, each by a different person. Both making and wearing the sennin-bari haramaki (“thousand-stitch belly bands”) were affirmations of the closeness between men fighting abroad and their communities, especially their womenfolk, back home. A short letter accompanying the gift thanked the supreme commander for his “immeasurable compassion” in ensuring the repatriation of millions of Japanese, and pleaded for his continued endeavors on behalf of those who still remained abroad. Four and a half years after the surrender, great numbers of people still wrestled with grief and uncertainty, and cherished the hope that their shattered lives might be made whole again.

Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday 11 May 2003

This is a test of Japanese

I’ve implemented Trevor Hill’s Movable Type modifications (explained by Stavros in his comment on my previous post) by:

  • Turning on the PublishCharset UTF-8 and NoHTMLEntities 1 configuration settings in mt.cfg.
  • Ensuring that the character encoding in each of my templates is set to use MTPublishCharset rather than a hard-coded charset i.e. <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=<$MTPublishCharset$>" />
  • Modifying the send_http_header code in lib/MT/ (using Trevor’s code sample from his post in the MT forum).

So now I should be good to go. Here’s the obligatory test post, with Japanese characters (I’m following John’s example and using a proverb). If you have Japanese support enabled in your OS and can see the characters (or not), please leave a comment. (Please note that you don’t have to go through the above rigmarole just to see the characters.)


Language Hat made the excellent suggestion that for visitors who can’t or don’t want to enable CJK support, “it would be good policy to always accompany [Asian text] with transliterations.” (I think I would probably have done that but it’s good to have it as a formal policy.)

So, the transliterated Japanese is San nin yoreba monju no chie, which means “three people together have the wisdom of a Buddha”; or as we would say in English, “two heads are better than one”. A related proverb plays on the fact that the Chinese character for kashimashii (“noisy, clamourous”) is made up of three small versions of the character for “woman”:


Or Onna san nin yoreba kashimashii (“where three women gather, there is a noisy clamor”). As Kittredge Cherry points out in her book Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women:

Of all the characters imported from China, [kashimashii] is almost always the first example that springs to mind when linguistic sex discrimination is discussed. Three women add up to a sin worse than noise when the same character is pronounced kan. This spells wickedness or mischief, and it can be stretched into the verb form kansuru, meaning to seduce, assault, or rape. The hidden corollary to the kashimashii character is that a trio of men getting together is nothing remarkable. There is no character composed of three male ideograms. In fact, the male symbol almost never appears as a component of other characters.

Other words reinforce the concept that women can cause a hubbub. In old Japan, the most likely spot for women to gather was beside the well (idobata) where they drew water and washed clothes, so the term “well-side conference” (idobata kaigi) is still used to describe a group of gossiping women. The word for chatterbox (oshaberi), which literally means “honorable talker,” is almost always used to describe—or put down—a woman. Gossip is considered something women do, while there are few similarly derogatory terms for men who babble about trivial topics.

Permalink | Comments (27)

Wednesday 30 July 2003

Japanese Text


If the characters above look like the ones in this illustration

Japanese text: kore wa nihongo no tekisuto desu. yomemasu ka? (This is Japanese text. Can you read it?)

then you have Japanese support installed or enabled in your OS. If not, and you’d like to be able to see the Japanese characters, you’ll need to install or enable Japanese support.

Jim Breen, coordinator of the EDICT Project (Japanese-English dictionary), has a helpful Japanese page, with lots of information about his various dictionary projects and Japanese computing (from which I’ve extracted some of the following links).

Note that the processes for enabling Chinese and/or Korean support are similar to those described for Japanese.

Reading Japanese text on a Windows PC

If you are using a non East Asian version of Windows, the procedure for setting up your PC to read and write Japanese depends on the flavor of Windows you are running.

Users of Windows 95/98/ME must install the Microsoft Global IME (Input Method Editor) and associated fonts. Users of Windows 2000 and Windows XP Pro do not have to download the IME or fonts, although they will need to install them since they are not installed by default.

The most complete set of instructions is available at:

Side-by-side instructions for Windows XP Pro and Windows 2000 are available at:

Reading Japanese text on a Macintosh

Although I started using Japanese on the Macintosh in the late eighties, I haven’t used a Macintosh for a long time. These instructions will probably be enough to get you going:

Reading Japanese text on a Linux system

Japanese just seemed to work automatically when I installed Red Hat Linux. Information about Japanese support in SuSE Linux, which—according to Jim Breen—applies to other Linux distributions too, is available here:

Creating CJK content in Movable Type

Publishing Movable Type posts containing CJK characters is a little more complicated. There is some background material in Trevor Hill’s post Asian Languages… and mine on Enabling CJK Language Support (particularly the comments). In summary, you will need to:

  1. Modify your mt.cfg file so that MT does not use the Perl module HTML::Entities to encode characters into HTML entities.
  2. Modify mt.cfg to override the default character encoding (based on your “Preferred Language.”
  3. Modify the send_http_header in lib/MT/ as suggested by Trevor Hill in the MT forum.

Specifically, you will need to:

  1. Find the line in mt.cfg that says
    # NoHTMLEntities 1
    and remove the # so that it reads
    NoHTMLEntities 1
  2. Find the line in mt.cfg that says
    # PublishCharset Shift_JIS
    and modify it to read
    PublishCharset UTF-8
  3. Find the sub send_http_header code block in lib/MT/ and replace it with:
    sub send_http_header {
    my $app = shift;
    my($type) = @_;
    $type ||= 'text/html; charset=utf-8';
    # if (my $charset = $app->{charset}) {
    # $type .= "; charset=$charset"
    # if $type =~ m!^text/! && $type !~ /\bcharset\b/;
    # }
    if ($ENV{MOD_PERL}) {
    } else {
    $app->{cgi_headers}{-type} = $type;
    print $app->{query}->header(%{ $app->{cgi_headers} });

After that, all you have to do is generate CJK text in a Unicode-compliant application and paste it into MT’s Entry field.

Permalink | Comments (15)

Sunday 10 August 2003

As We May Incinerate

“Ah. They destroyed all the napalm in 2001, you see,” writes Jill Walker. “What they dropped on Iraq wasn’t napalm, it was Mark 77. Well, yes, it does has the same effect but the chemical structure is slightly different. Really!”

Reading Jill’s entry—after I’d read the Sydney Morning Herald article to which she refers—and knowing that Jill is a hypertext theorist, I couldn’t help reflecting on the connection between hypertext and napalm, via Vannevar Bush, whose seminal essay As We May Think was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in July 1945.

Vannevar BushIn an article by Torill Mortensen & Jill Walker titled Blogging Thoughts, the co-authors summarize Bush’s ideas:

Computers were deliberately designed to reflect and augment our thinking. Vannevar Bush, a prominent developer of analogue computers, argued for mechanical, non-hierarchical ways of organising information which would be more suited to the associative thought patterns of our brains. In a 1949 article tellingly titled ‘As We May Think’, Bush sketches designs for a device he called the memex. Though never realised, Bush’s descriptions and thoughts about the memex are commonly seen as direct ancestors of today’s digital hypertext.

And connect Bush’s memex with blogging:

A blogger can be seen as a modern version of Vannevar Bush’s trail blazers: a person who links separate documents together, creating a trail or a path through them for others to follow.

In addition to being the prototypical “hypertext theorist,” Vannevar Bush was the director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), the US government agency responsible for coordinating R&D for most of the new American weapons developed during World War II, including the proximity fuze, the bazooka, the DUKW amphibious vehicle, the atomic bomb, and napalm.

In his biography of Vannevar Bush, Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the Twentieth Century, G. Pascal Zachary describes a conversation between Bush and General “Hap” Arnold, the head of the United States Army Air Force:

Bush… had piqued Arnold’s curiosity about firebombing in the first place by telling him about a new incendiary jelly called napalm. After hearing about the jelly, Arnold imagined the terrifying power of firebombs, fixated on one chilling image of napalm thrown in all directions and burning with such intensity that if dropped near the entrance to a cave or a building, they caused all the air to rush out and anyone inside died from lack of oxygen.

Since napalm was invented in 1942 by Dr. Louis Fieser and his team at Harvard, it is quite probable that Vannevar Bush was the first person to tell General Arnold about the new incendiary. It is, however, highly unlikely that Bush had “piqued Arnold’s curiosity about firebombing in the first place” nor that it was the first time Arnold had “imagined the the terrifying power of firebombs.” The possibility of subjecting vulnerable Japanese cities to attack by fire had arisen in the 1920s and 1930s, when American strategic bombing theorists were trying to imagine how a war with Japan might be conducted.

According to Kenneth P. Werrell’s Blankets of Fire: U.S. Bombers over Japan during World War II,

The bombing of Japan was very much in the public’s mind on both sides of the Pacific. Knowledgeable Americans and all Japanese knew that the latter’s cities were extremely vulnerable to fire, as demonstrated by the numerous earthquakes Japan had suffered throughout its history, particularly the earthquake of 1923. The fires from that monster quake raged for three days and in Tokyo cost the lives of about 110,000 and destroyed about 20 percent of the buildings. To the Japanese “the disaster was really the most horrible ever known since authentic history began.” The impact of the 1923 earthquake was the basis for much of the speculation concerning the potential of air attack, particularly fire raids, against Japan.

During the 1920s, according to Werrell, the leading American proponent of strategic bombing, General Billy Mitchell, “often asserted that the congested and flammable Japanese cities were especially vulnerable to air attack. He prophesied that bombers would lay waste to these cities from bases in the Aleutians, Kuriles, eastern Siberia, or Kamchatka.”

And Werrell quotes the top army airman, Oscar Westover as saying in 1937 that:

Japan was menaced by air bases in Siberia and “may expect a ruthless bombardment of her tinderbox cities. She [Japan] has not forgotten the terrible fire which followed the earthquake.” Incendiary attack, Westover surmised, would equal many such earthquakes.

The Japanese were equally worried, with many experts predicting that an air attack on Tokyo would result in destruction and casualties comparable to the 1923 earthquake or the other great fire that ravaged Edo (as Tokyo was called then): the Meireki Fire of 1657, which killed at least 100,000 people, though some estimates run as high as 200,000. Fire was “the greatest fear of all Japanese” and yet the Japanese firefighting service was poorly trained and ill-equipped to deal with fire on the scale being contemplated by bombing theorists.

In early 1940 General Claire Chennault also suggested the firebombing of Japanese cities:

Chennault wrote Hap Arnold concerning the potential of small incendiaries against oriental cities. The United States, Arnold responded, was only interested in the precision bombing of military targets, and the “use of incendiaries against cities was contrary to our national policy of attacking military objectives.” Chennault countered that, with 500 aircraft built, crewed, and maintained by Americans, [his Chinese airforce] would be able to “burn out the industrial heart of the [Japanese] Empire with fire-bomb attacks on the teeming bamboo ant heaps of Honshu and Kyushu.” Whereas Arnold and the airmen rejected the idea, Roosevelt was delighted by the proposal and ordered his top cabinet officials to work on the project.

General Arnold’s refusal to countenance the firebombing of Japanese cities was an unambiguous expression of the USAAF’s tactical doctrine of precision bombing: in Werrell’s words, “the destruction of vital physical objectives, not the killing or the terrorizing of populations.” As late as 1939, one of the USAAF Tactical School lecturers

objected to the concept of the direct attack of civilians with bombs and gas, even though “most of the European nations are definitely contemplating such a method of attack.” Such action, he continued, is “repugnant to our humanitarian principles, and is certainly a method of warfare that we would adopt only with great reluctance and regret.”

Yet on 15 November 1941 Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall gave a secret briefing to seven Washington journalists in which he told them that the US was on the brink of war with Japan and “intended to fight a merciless war, with B-17s being ‘dispatched immediately to set the paper cities of Japan on fire. There won’t be any hesitation about bombing civilians—it will be all out.’”

Most of General Marshall’s subordinates in the Army Air Force did not agree, believing instead that precision bombing could be achieved with the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers, each fitted with up to ten .50-caliber machine guns and equipped with the Norden bombsight. They were confident that by dispatching 300 bombers or more at a time, the heavily-armed formation could fight its way to the target and back without the fighter escort that the British and Germans had already discovered was essential for any kind of daylight bombing. Once over the target, the highly accurate Norden bombsight would ensure that no bombs would go astray and cause civilian casualties.

According to Werrell, tests of bombing accuracy conducted in the late thirties showed that the bombers could get their bombs “within 270 feet of the aiming point from altitudes below 10,000 feet—extrapolated to 20,000 feet, this was equal to less than 460 feet.” The airmen called this “pickle-barrel” bombing, failing to realize that a theory “proven” under clear American skies with no enemy opposition would count for little when applied to the real situation in Europe where dense cloud was common, the flak (anti-aircraft fire) was concentrated and accurate, and the German fighter pilots were well-trained, resolute, and courageous.

Under the optimum conditions—clear weather, light flak, and few or no fighters—precision bombing was indeed possible, as shown by the raid on the Messerschmitt aircraft factory at Regensberg on 17 August 1943. Colonel Curtis LeMay’s force bombed so precisely that, according to Martin Middlebrook’s The Schweinfurt-Regensberg Mission:

The people of Regensberg were full of admiration and respect for the accuracy of the American bomber crews. One [German] lady made me promise to record her comment: “Everyone in the town was surprised that the Barmherzigebrüder Hospital was untouched when almost every building in the factory was hit. We all said that it was a perfect example of precision bombing.

But under the conditions that frequently prevailed over Germany, the Eighth Air Force was forced to bomb “blind” using radar during the day, as the British did at night. As late as January 1945, it was accepted by USAAF bomber commanders that “the average bombing error using instruments was still about two miles and that to hit the target involved drenching an area with bombs to achieve any results.”

In that respect, although the American aircrew regarded precision bombing as morally superior to the British methods, the results of many USAAF raids were hardly different to those of the RAF’s area attacks, which used incendiary bombs to burn out the workers’ housing in the center of many German industrial cities. Ironically, LeMay had to resort to area bombing when the unpredictable weather and the high-altitude jetstream made precision bombing against Japanese targets virtually impossible.

By March 1945, when (the now) General LeMay was under pressure to achieve results in the air war over Japan, the USAAF had a variety of available incendiary munitions, most of them developed after the US had entered the war. Werrell explains that the US airmen “recognized that incendiary conditions in Japan differed from those in Germany”:

80 percent of Japanese cities were built with wood and paper, whereas 95 percent of German cities were constructed of brick and stone. Roof construction was most important, as the incendiary had to penetrate into the building’s interior to be effective, which was easier to do in the straw or thatch roofs of many of Japan’s structures. In addition, Japanese cities were much more crowded, with the result that fires would be more difficult to control. And although German fire-fighting capabilities were perhaps the best in the world, Japanese firefighters were few in number and their equipment was sparse.

By 1941, the AAF had two incendiary bombs: the 73 pound M-47 (for penetrating roofs) and the four pound M-50, based on a British design, which easily ignited wooden buildings. The M-50 was dropped in a cluster of 34 bombs, which separated a few thousand feet over the target, ensuring that the firebombs were “distributed for maximum effect.”

However, as Werrell explains, “a third incendiary bomb… became the AAF fire starter of choice:”

In September 1941 Arnold wrote that U.S. airmen required an incendiary bomb and urged that a substitute be found for magnesium, which was in short supply. Jellied gasoline, or napalm, was one of the fillers developed and has been the standard ever since. The end product was small (3 inches in diameter and 20 inches long) and light (weighing only 6.2 pounds). It was first tested in early 1942 and proved superior to all other small bombs under development. (The advantage of small bombs was that they could start many fires and overwhelm firefighters.) One of its negative characteristics, however, was that it tumbled as it fell, which proved a major problem since it had to hit a target with its nose to ignite the fuse. In 1943 the bomb was fitted with a three-foot cloth streamer—a stabilizing fin would have been too bulky for the small device—and it solved the problem. Initially, this bomb was called [the] M-56, and then was redesignated the M-69.

Diagrams of M-69 incendiary bomb
M-19 Aimable Cluster containing 38 M-69 incendiary bombs
Nihon kūshū: beigun ga kiroku shita
(An Account of the Air Raids on Japan—Based on US Military Records)

The first napalm bomb was used in the invasion of Tinian which commenced on 23 July 1944—after nearby Saipan had been captured. These islands in the Marianas, once taken, would provide sites for airfields from which B-29s could attack Japan. (The 509th Composite Group, which dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was based on Tinian.)

By the time the B-29s of LeMay’s XXI Bomber Command took off from Guam, Saipan, and Tinian on the evening of 9 March 1945, the M-69 had been thoroughly trialled:

To provide more realistic tests of incendiary devices, U.S. military authorities built replicas of both a German and Japanese village at two locations. They went to great lengths to duplicate conditions as closely as possible. The Japanese “village” at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, consisted of a dozen two-family houses complete with wood, tatami (straw floor covering), and furniture simulating Japanese construction. Tests began there in May and lasted through September 1943. Four types of bombs were used, with the M-69 proving to be the most effective. When the results of these tests were challenged by the British, who had been running their own incendiary tests, the tests were reassessed. Experts concluded that the Dugway tests were done under conditions that were drier than those of Japan, while British conditions had been too wet, since the climate of Japan is more like that of eastern North Carolina than that of either Utah or Great Britain. In further tests at Elgin Field [Florida] in April 1944, B-17s dropped incendiaries on surrogate Japanese houses. Firefighters reached the fires three and a half minutes after the incendiaries ignited and found five or six fires burning that could not be handled by anything except the major fire equipment of large city fire departments. All of the buildings were destroyed.

German housing at the Dugway Proving Ground(Though the Japanese village at Dugway was completely annihilated, an article by Jonathan Glancey describes the “single block of high-gabled, prewar Berlin working-class housing” that remains in the Utah desert. “It is accurate in every respect. And it should be: commissioned by the chemical warfare corps of the US army, it was designed by Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953), the German architect who settled in the US in 1941 after a spell in England.” Even more bizarre is the fact that “German-emigré set designers from Hollywood’s RKO studio” used their expertise to design “the proletarian Berlin interiors down to the last detail.” Recently the remaining building in the German village has been repurposed as “a training center for tactical offense against domestic terrorism.”)

“Sixteen square miles of the city [of Tokyo] was destroyed,” writes Robin Neillands in The Bomber War, about the March 9/10 raid on Tokyo:

18 per cent industrial, 63 per cent commercial, and the entire working-class residential zone, amounting to around 250,000 houses. The US Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,792 people lost their lives, 40,918 suffered injuries, and over 1 million lost their homes on that one mission. And yet this raid on Tokyo is virtually unknown outside Japan. It is a fair assumption that every reader of this book will know about Dresden but that not one in a hundred—at a generous estimate—will know what happened to Tokyo on 10 March 1945, just three weeks later.

In the ABC radio documentary, Tokyo’s Burning, B-29 pilot Chester Marshall recalled the experience of bombing Tokyo that night:

You know, you didn’t know whether you were killing a lot of women and children or what. But I do know one thing, you could at 5,000 feet you could smell the flesh burning. I couldn’t eat anything for two or three days. You know it was nauseating, really. We just said “What is that I smell?” And it’s a kind of a sweet smell, and somebody said, “Well that’s flesh burning, had to be.”

As for Vannevar Bush, “the father of hypertext,” it seems he never forgot either napalm or Tokyo. In his biography of Bush, G. Pascal Zachary writes that Merle Tuve, whose team developed the proximity fuze under Bush’s direction, believed

that Bush suffered from war guilt. Not from the atomic bomb, but from his role in aiding the ghastly firebomb raids against Japan. “For years after the war Van Bush would wake up screaming in the night because… he burned Tokyo,” Tuve later recalled. “The proximity fuze didn’t bother him badly… even the atomic bomb didn’t bother him as much as jellied gasoline [napalm].”

Permalink | Comments (16)

Wednesday 13 August 2003

Thunderbird is go!

Once I discovered the wonder of UniCode, I realized I needed a new email client. Eudora is my everyday email client but it’s not Unicode-aware so for the past few years I’ve been using Rimarts Becky! to send and read Japanese email. I had no trouble creating and reading Chinese messages in Becky! (not that I understand Chinese but I’ve developed an interest how kanji are written differently in Chinese and Japanese). However, despite my best efforts, I’ve had no success with Korean (not that I understand Korean either but I suspect the WonderChicken will come up with a reason). So I went hunting for another email client. A Google search on “unicode email client” yielded a Multilingual Browsers & Email Clients page, with recommendations for Outlook Express, Netscape, Mozilla, and Opera plus several standalone email clients:

  • Scribe
  • TabMail
  • The Bat
  • Becky!
  • LingoMAIL

I’d rather give up email than use Outlook Express and I don’t like browser-based email clients. I gave Scribe a spin but couldn’t even get it to work with Japanese, let alone Chinese or Korean.

Then I recalled Phil Ringnalda saying something about Thunderbird. Who in our neighborhood, apart from Phil, wouldn’t be wary about installing a 0.1 version of an application? But I dived in and, fifteen minutes later, had sent and received a series of test messages in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. And ten of those fifteen minutes were spent locating my Berlitz Korean for Travellers Phrase Book then figuring out how to get the Korean IME to work.

I’m used to simply typing romaji to enter Japanese (and it took ten seconds or so to suss out pinyin) so I thought I’d be able to type ch’an maek⋅chu⋅rŭl chu⋅se⋅yo (“I’d like a cold beer, please”) on my English keyboard—just as I’d type bīru o itadakitai’n desu ga in romaji—and that the IME would convert the hanglish to Hangul. But the only way I could enter Korean was by referring to this keyboard map. Maybe someone can tell me where I’m going astray.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a CJK email client, look no further. The 0.1 version of Thunderbird is better than anything else I’ve tried.

Permalink | Comments (16)

Tuesday 19 August 2003

Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi

It was probably silly and unfair to watch Richard Linklater’s Waking Life immediately after seeing Miyazaki Hayao’s Spirited Away. I’d been looking forward to Linklater’s “animated-live-action” movie for a couple of years, ever since reading the Stephanie Zacharek’s Salon review.

The picture, which Linklater both wrote and directed, is a collagelike meditation on the nature of dreams, on the ways in which we proceed through our lives with varying levels of awareness (or a complete lack of it), and on the degree to which we’re influenced by random elements like art or physics or language.

What’s not to like? Art and language absorb most of my attention. And, it’s not just that I have intense, engrossing dreams almost every night—I’ve long been convinced that life is a yume no ukihashi (“a floating bridge of dreams”), in the words of Ivan Morris, “a flimsy, dreamlike structure which we cross in our journey from one state of existence to another”.

There’s no point in trying to explain why I didn’t persist with Waking Life; under different circumstances I might have loved it. The real surprise was the degree to which I was spirited away by Miyazaki’s film. My interest in Japanese language and culture—intense as it is—has never encompassed anime. I’ve seen and enjoyed some of the classics such as Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell, The Castle of Cagliostro, Akira, Wings of Honneamise, Neon Genesis Evangelion plus a few hentai titles. Earlier in the year I even waited in line for a special screening of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, only to be turned away when they sold the last tickets to a couple just ahead of me. Still, that hardly qualifies me as a anime fan—you’d cover all the movies I’ve mentioned and more in the first week of Anime 101.

To be honest, I’d been put off by the hype surrounding Spirited Away. But on Thursday nights it’s only AU$2.95 per three-day rental so I grabbed Spirited Away, Waking Life, and a Henry Jaglom movie, Festival in Cannes, which turned out to be a disappointment too. (I’ve admired Henry Jaglom ever since his first feature, the magical A Safe Place, with Orson Welles, Jack Nicholson, and Tuesday Weld but I wrongly assumed that Anouk Aimée would more than compensate for the irksome Gretta Scacchi.)

Poster for Spirited Away (Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi)Though I expected to watch a different movie each night, on Thursday night I didn’t even get half-way through Spirited Away. I kept rewinding (do you rewind a DVD?) and watching scenes over and over again—partly to savor the dialog, mainly because the movie is so densely packed with intriguing characters, gorgeous animation, and nostalgic details of everyday Japanese life. On Friday night I managed to get to the end. At which point, even though it was late, I started to watch Spirited Away a second time.

On Saturday morning I spent some time at, where I was astonished to learn that the Japanese title is 千と千尋の神隠し (Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi) which is (literally) “Sen and Chihiro’s spiriting away” or “Sen and Chihiro’s (experience of) being spirited away”.

神隠し (kamikakushi) is derived from (kami: god) and 隠す (kakusu: hide/conceal). One of my dictionaries offers the following example sentence:

Mukashi, kodomo ga yukuefumei ni naru to kamikakushi ni atta to itta mono da.
Formerly, when children were missing, people used to say they had been spirited away (by a fairy [ghost]).

Sen and chi are alternate pronunciations for the character , meaning “one thousand”, while hiro, , means “fathom” (1.8 meters or six feet). Jim Breen’s Enamdict dictionary of Japanese names, offers the meanings “one thousand fathoms”, “great depth”, and “bottomless” for Chihiro though the second meaning, “great depth”, is probably closest.

I’m sure that 99.99% of a Western audience would think of 10 year-old Chihiro as the protagonist of Spirited Away. Chihiro and her parents wander into an invisible parallel world populated by gods and monsters, a hot spring town where “eight million gods come to rest their weary bones”. Her parents are turned into pigs and Chihiro’s only chance of surviving long enough to set them free is to work for Yubaba, the greedy witch who runs the bath house where most of the action takes place. Yubaba deprives Chihiro of her name, saying that it’s too complicated, and that from now on she’ll be known as Sen.

Thus, from a Western perspective, a timid, querulous little girl Chihiro is “turned into” Sen and discovers through the course of the story that she is resourceful, loyal, and courageous whereupon, at the end, she “turns back into herself” (Chihiro) again. Not only does the English title, Spirited Away, infer that the story is about Chihiro alone but the French and Spanish titles are completely unambiguous: Le Voyage de Chihiro and El viaje de Chihiro respectively. The Russian version is called Unesenniye prizrakami (I trust a Russian speaker will reveal the meaning in a comment) whereas the Chinese title is Shen Yin Shao Niu (The Missing Girl).

But the original Japanese title, Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi (“Sen and Chihiro’s spiriting away”) implies that Sen was always present within Chihiro and one of the story’s themes is Chihiro’s discovering a lost or unacknowledged part of her identity. I’m not suggesting that a Western audience won’t understand the story at this level; I’m simply pointing out that the Western translations of the title fail to communicate something that—from the Japanese perspective—lies at the heart of the story. Sen always understands that her “real” name is Chihiro and that if she forgets her name she has no chance of freeing herself and her parents. In that sense, another theme of the film is the need to value words, including one’s name. As Miyazaki Hayao explains:

A word has power. In the world into which Chihiro has wandered, to say a word out of one’s mouth has a grave importance. At Yuya, which is ruled by Yubaba, if Chihiro says one word like “No” or “I wanna go home,” the witch would quickly throw Chihiro out. She would have no choice but to keep aimlessly wandering until she vanishes, or is changed into a chicken to keep laying eggs until she is eaten. In turn, if Chihiro says “I will work here,” even the witch cannot ignore her. Today, words are considered very lightly, as something like bubbles. It is just a reflection of reality being empty. It is still true that a word has power. It’s just that the world is filled with empty and powerless words.

The act of depriving (a person) of one’s name is not just changing how one (person) calls the other. It is a way to rule the other (person) completely. Sen becomes horrified when she realizes that she is losing the memory of her name, Chihiro. And every time she visits her parents at the pigsty, she becomes (more) accustomed to her parents as pigs. In the world of Yubaba, you should always live in the danger of being eaten up.

In this difficult world, Chihiro becomes lively. The sullen, listless character would have a surprisingly attractive expression in the end of the film. The essence of the world has not changed a bit. This film will persuade one of the fact that a word is one’s will, oneself, and one’s power.

Permalink | Comments (33)

Monday 25 August 2003


Over the next two months, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is staging an exhibition entitled Seasons: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art, co-organized with Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Japan Foundation and consisting of 94 works, covering the 15th to early 20th centuries. Because of the fragility of many of the works, the exhibition changes halfway through. Currently, the seasonal focus is on spring and summer, with the theme switching to autumn and winter during the second month. Yesterday I attended a tour, organized by the Australia-Japan Society, in which the curator of the exhibition, Dr Chiaki Ajioka, acted as a guide to the works.

I went without high expectations since so many overseas exhibitions that come to Australia consist of a few major pieces along with dozens of minor works to make up the numbers. Not in this case: almost every work was first-rate, making me aware of how little I’ve seen in Japan and elsewhere, despite all the museums I’ve visited. Consequently, there is simply too much to take in at a single viewing. (Who was it that suggested you should only look at one or two works when visiting an art museum?) But, since a ticket for both exhibitions only costs AU$10 (US$6.50), I can afford to go once a week.

In addition to the traditional screens, scrolls, lacquerware, and ceramics (and a few “modern” paintings), a variety of kimono were displayed. My interest in kimono is comparatively recent—when I was younger I would have foolishly dismissed kimono as “craft” rather than “real art”. But a 1998 exhibition of ukiyo-e and kimono at the National Gallery of Australia—titled Beauty and Desire in Edo Period Japan—cured my ignorance.

Kosode with moon and chestnut treeMost of the kimono in the current exhibition are kosode (小袖), the traditional name for what is regarded nowadays as a typical kimono. The kosode, whose name comprises the characters for “small” () and “sleeve” (), is more practical than the long-sleeved furisode (振り袖).

This 19th centurykosode uses paste-resist dyeing and embroidery on purple and yellow silk crepe to depict a chestnut tree with the moon behind the clouds on the left shoulder and bush clovers and chrysanthemums on the ground below the tree.

The kimono illustrated on this page devoted to an exhibition held at the Suntory Building a few years ago, titled Edo á la Mode: Aesthetic Lineages Seen in Kosode Kimono Motifs, demonstrate the elaborate tie-dyeing, embroidery, and paste-resist dyeing techniques used in decorating both kosode and furisode.

Furisode with tea-picking scenesMy favorite from the Seasons exhibition is a relatively simple 19th century furisode, in which paste-resist dyeing has been employed on glossy gray silk to depict a variety of tea-picking activities. According to the catalog, “no other designs of tea-picking scenes in kimono are known, making this an unusual piece.” It’s the austerity rather than the rarity, as well as the explicit connection to everyday life, that I find appealing.

The furi () in furisode primarily means “wave, oscillate, swing” but the character has a range of secondary meanings including “dress, personal appearance”, “make-believe, pretence”, and “posture, gesture”. It is the numeric counter for Japanese swords (as in sanburi, three swords) and—using its on reading, shin—can refer to a baseball swing so that sanshin, 三振, (three + swing) means “strikeout”.

As a suffix, -bu(ri), it can mean “after a lapse of” and is used in the common expression 久し振りですね (hisashiburi desu ne), “I haven’t seen you for a long time”. It can also mean “manner” or “style”, as in 飲みっ振りが良いね (nomippuri ga ii ne), “You can really down it [alcohol], eh!” (which I’ll be able to say to the WonderChicken when we eventually get together).

Historically, the furisode is associated with the disastrous Meireki Fire of March 1657, which broke out in the Honmyōji temple in the Hongo district of Edo (now Tokyo) and swept through the city for two days, killing more than 100,000 people.

Woodblock illustration depicting the Meireki fire of 1657

In the woodblock illustration, people plunge into a canal in an attempt to escape the flames, just as they did nearly 400 years later during the firebombing raid of March 1945.

The Meireki Fire is also known as the Furisode Fire since, according to my Illustrated Japanese Encyclopedia, it is believed to have been “caused by sparks from a kimono being burned in an exorcism ceremony” (although I always imagined it occurred when one of the female attendants accidentally brushed the long sleeve of her kimono against a lit brazier). Whatever the actual cause, this may be another example of blaming women for disasters, whether natural or man-made.

Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday 30 August 2003

You can put your god over there…

Years ago, while waiting at a bus stop outside a Hungry Jack’s hamburger outlet in downtown Sydney, I found myself standing next to a young Asian woman holding a thick Bible and wearing a badge on which was inscribed, in white letters on a black background:


I’d seen hundreds of young Mormon men over the years, in their short-sleeved white shirts and black trousers, with identical Bibles and similar badges—particularly around the entertainment district where I was waiting for the bus—but Sister Nakajima was the first Japanese Christian I’d ever encountered. I’ve often wished I had overcome my reticence and asked about her religious faith. My feeling of being in the presence of a freak (in the sense of “an eccentric, peculiar, or unorthodox person”) was nothing more than an expression of the widely-held belief in the incompatibility between Christianity and the Japanese Weltanschauung.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “worldview” as:

  1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.
  2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.
    In both senses also called Weltanschauung.

I chose the original German word rather than its English equivalent because its “weight” seems to better express the idea that the Japanese do see and interpret certain aspects of the world differently. (So do the Kurds and the Peruvians, you might say, and I agree—but we’re discussing religion and the Japanese willingness to accept different religious traditions is unusual, if not unique.)

I thought of Sister Nakajima of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when I read Burningbird’s essay, Shinto Commandments, itself a response to Joi Ito’s entry, The whole “there is only one God and my God is the best” thing…, in which Joi wrote:

As we Shintos like to say, you can put your god over there next to our other gods. While you’re at it, why don’t you get off your high horse and quit defining Good and Evil as Us and Them.

Burningbird concluded her discussion of Chief Justice Roy Moore’s granite statue of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building by saying:

All in all, I like Joi’s Shinto beliefs, with the concept of there being room for all gods. Yeah, hard to fight about that one.

I like Joi’s Shinto beliefs too, as does my friend Natsuko who, as she was eating the last of her pancake stack in my garden this morning, said: “I’m not religious, that wasn’t part of my upbringing, but I do believe in supernatural beings. And it suits me to know that there are gods everywhere—in these plants and stones, in this pancake and that unko.” (The unko in question being a lump of dried cat shit that Reimi had neglected to cover with soil.)

But it’s not just the animist belief that there are gods everywhere that I like. It’s the fact that Japanese “religious” belief encompasses Buddhism and Confucianism as well as Shinto. As Edwin O. Reischauer explains:

Since Shinto was unconcerned with the problem of the afterlife that dominated Buddhist thought, and Mahayana was no exclusive, jealous religion but throughout its spread easily accommodated itself to local faiths, Buddhism and Shinto settled into a comfortable coexistence, with Shinto shrines often becoming administratively linked with Buddhist monasteries. The Japanese never developed the idea, so prevalent in South and West Asia as well as the West, that a person had to adhere exclusively to one religion or another. Premodern Japanese were usually both Buddhists and Shintoists at the same time and often enough Confucianists as well.

“Hard to fight about that one”, said Burningbird, which is precisely the point. For me, the defining characteristic of Christian and Islamic religious belief is sectarianism, not just the bigoted conviction that “there is only one God and my God is the best” but “although we both believe in the same God, my way of expressing that belief is superior to yours.” When I was a child, this kind of partisan adherence to one Christian denomination or another was still common, although not as deeply entrenched as it was before World War II when it was impossible if you were a Catholic to get a job in certain department stores or Government departments.

Whatever the faults of the Japanese—as Charlie Whipple correctly points out in Joi Ito’s comments, “If ever anyone defined things in terms of ‘us and them,’ it’s the Japanese”—religious bigotry isn’t high on the list. (Christianity was ruthlessly suppressed by the Tokugawa shogunate in the late 16th and early 17th century only because the imported religion was seen as a grave political threat.)

When I was 14 or 15 I incurred my father’s disapproval by suggesting at the dinner table that one religion was as good as another, that the only important issue was whether or not one behaved honorably. A few years later I might have added that, since the religions of the book appear to exacerbate and alleviate human suffering in roughly equal proportions, the best idea might be to have no religions at all. But since that is unrealistic, the Japanese solution—of believing in multiple gods and allowing Buddhism and Shinto to peacefully coexist—is a fine alternative, particularly since it also subtly underscores the arbitrary nature of religious belief.

I occasionally wonder whether Sister Nakajima remained a Christian, or whether she came to accept, as literary critic Katō Shuichi says of other Japanese Christians who eventually fled the faith, “that Christianity was incompatible with the traditional Japanese sensibilty and world-view”. If so, perhaps she transferred her allegiance to one of the “new religions” that, in Reischauer’s words, “do not cater to the typical Western religious need for individual strength through the establishment of a personal bond with God, but rather to the typical Japanese need for a supportive social environment”.

(Although it’s difficult to take these religions seriously once you’ve seen Itami Juzo’s mordant satire, A Taxing Woman’s Return, in which investigator Itakura Ryoko sets out to prove that the Chief Elder of the Heaven’s Path religion is evading tax on the billions of yen he’s making from donations and land scams.)

Most of the “new religions” are based mainly on Shinto though the biggest, Soka Gakkai, is associated with the Buddhist Nichiren sect. (I wasn’t at all surprised that Joi Ito’s entry about meeting Kenji Yoshigo, the Vice President and Executive Director of the Soka Gakkai Office of International Affairs provoked an avalanche of hostile comments.)

The third volume of Katō’s A History of Japanese Literature offers an extensive treatment of the influence of Christianity on Japanese novelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Katō describes how, in the years following the Meiji Restoration of 1868 (which replaced the feudal system with a modern unified state), Christian missionaries at the Kumamoto Western School and the Sapporo Agricultural School were able to convert a number of their Japanese students:

Many of the converts that the American Protestant missionaries made were from samurai families, particularly ones who had served the Bakufu or pro-Bakufu domains and resisted the forces of Chōshu and Satsuma. Thus their acceptance of Episcopalianism, the doctrines of the Dutch Reformed Church or another creed was not completely unconnected with their critical feelings towards the new regime. This was not the only reason however. Protestantism must have seemed to provide ‘a window on the West’, not only on western learning and technology but on a system of values that would be effective in the destruction of the values of Tokugawa feudalism. The missionaries emphasized the significance of the allegiance of Japanese to their nation in a period when one of the main problems facing the samurai class was the transfer of allegiance from domain to nation, and thus without being fully aware of it touched upon one of the most sensitive spots of their hearers. Moreover the missionaries, or at least some of them, were dearly men of integrity, dedication and courage. The attraction that their characters had for the young warriors can only have been strengthened by the fact that some of them had experienced combat in the American Civil War.

According to Katō, many of the intellectuals who had converted to Christianity left the church without any great internal drama “quite soon after being baptized”. A few made some considerable efforts to justify their apostasy:

The doctrines of Christianity and the kind of faith it required basically could not coexist with the Japanese world-view. If potential converts did not destroy the latter they could not accept the former. If however it was simply a matter of appreciating the characters of the missionaries or being attracted by western things the ‘converts’ would not have found it necessary to deny the traditional world-view.

Apart from a minority, best represented by Uchimura Kanzō, who lived his entire life according to (his interpretation of) the Christian doctrine, most Japanese writers “converted” to Christianity as a means of furthering their literary careers. Many of these, including Shimazaki Tōson, Masamune Hakuchō, Kunikida Doppo, Tayama Katai and Iwano Hōmei, were associated with Japanese naturalism. Coming from either rural or minor samurai families, they moved to Tokyo where they were soon attracted to the Protestant church, “the organization directly connected with western language (English in their case), thought and literature.” Whereas government officials and state university graduates such as Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ōgai received scholarships to study in England and Germany for four and five years respectively, Tōson and Hakuchō spent similar periods as members of the Protestant church:

Doppo, Tōson, Hakuchō and Hōmei were all baptized before they were twenty but none of them remained in the church for more than five years. The church opened a window on the West but it is probable that the essential parts of the faith—righteousness defined through a relationship with a transcendent absolute and salvation through Christ—would not have been convincing for these young writers whose ambition it was to be true to themselves.

Katō suggests that the Christian religion, in addition to providing an introduction to English and western culture, also offered the young writers a sense of community which relieved them from the isolation of Tokyo whilst providing an alternative to the bureaucratic advancement from which they were excluded.

They had to seek their own identity either within themselves or as part of a group which was neither the family they had left nor the power structure of the state. The Protestant church, preaching as it did the salvation of the individual, must have seemed to offer them a basis for their search for identity as independent personalities.

Eventually, however, they were disappointed by “all the ceremonies and forms” of the church which expected them to carry out God’s will whereas they “had hoped that it would give them the means to express themselves”.

It did not take them long to find that their hopes were misplaced and that they could also avoid isolation by becoming members of another group, made up of writers. Thus it is not surprising that Tōson and Hakuchō began to write seriously and vigorously at the same time as they left the church and that as soon as they began to write they gathered colleagues to form literary groups.

While the samurai converts in the previous generation had seen Christianity as providing a theoretical rationale for their political objectives, the naturalist group converted (temporarily) for utilitarian reasons. As I have already noted, four of the five writers left the church within five years. The other, Masamune Hakuchō, had originally converted because of a dangerous illness, as he explained in his book Ikiru to iu koto (To Be Alive):

When people are gravely ill they are in a mood to appeal to any god or buddha; at that time I had come into contact with Christianity so I was in the mood to pray to the Christian God.

Towards the end of his life Hakuchō wrote: “I imagine that at the hour of my death I will either chant [the Buddhist invocation] Namu amida butsu or murmur the name of Christ”.

In fact, he died “with the name of Christ on his lips” but, as Katō explains:

The motivation for his return to Christianity was primarily his desire to appeal to “any god or buddha” and the choice of god was secondary.This attitude is basically the same as the Japanese of ancient times who would pray to a range of Shinto and Buddhist deities when they faced danger. From Nihon ryōiki to Shasekishū and Shingaku the ordinary Japanese has not felt any need to make a choice between Buddhism and Shinto; both were accepted. When Hakuchō returned to Christianity it was not with the expectation of being judged by a transcendent power but rather with the hope of salvation, not looking for an ultimate manifestation of righteousness but ‘a place of freedom from care’ and a Christ whose mercy would be not unlike that of Amida. Hakuchō was perhaps closer than any other author since the Restoration to the traditional world-view of the Japanese masses. Christianity did not change Hakucho; Hakucho modified Christianity.

There is nothing new in this—the Japanese willingness to absorb and modify foreign cultural influences started in the third century AD with the adoption of Korean agricultural practices and intensified in the sixth century AD when the Japanese began a sustained borrowing of Chinese technology and institutional values that lasted for nearly two hundred years. A similar process occurred after the Meiji Restoration when the Japanese government “dispatched students abroad to acquire new skills and hired Western experts at great expense to come to Japan”. The Japanese created a bicameral government with a House of Peers similar to the British House of Lords and a House of Representatives elected by a tiny group of male taxpayers. They adopted a system of medicine based on German practice as well as a court and legal system based first on French then later on German models. The Japanese Navy was modeled on the Royal Navy, the Army followed the Prussian example. In 1894-95 Japanese forces easily defeated China in a war over the control of Korea and ten years later inflicted a humiliating defeat on Russia, again over who would control Korea. In a period of only fifty years, Japan had transformed itself from a feudal backwater to a modern industrial state.

Thus, in extracting what they needed from Christianity then casting the religion aside, the Japanese naturalist writers were following long-established and successful precedents.

I once asked Natsuko why she thought that Japan, alone amongst all the countries of Asia, had been able to industrialize so quickly and with relatively little internal disruption. She thought for a while and answered, “I think it’s because we Japanese don’t really believe in anything.”

She wasn’t actually saying that the Japanese don’t have strongly held beliefs since that clearly isn’t true. Like everyone else, the Japanese believe in many things. Rather I think she was suggesting that the Japanese have a more flexible attitude towards belief, that they are the kind of people who say: “You can put your god over there next to our other gods. And if we think your god might be useful, we’ll adopt that god too—but only after we’ve transformed it into something quintessentially Japanese.”

It’s this flexibility (or pragmatism) that is, I suspect—at least for those of us who are not fundamentalists—extremely appealing.

Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday 09 September 2003

Ishiyama moon

If anyone were to ask me, “Who is your favorite artist?”, I’d be hard pressed to choose between Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and Joseph Cornell. So I was delighted to see (albeit briefly) over the weekend a link in the side bar at wood s lot to an online catalog of Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, presented by the Stuart Jackson Gallery, a Canadian specialist in ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints).

One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki hyakushi), Yoshitoshi’s last major work, was published between 1885 and 1892. It comprises a set of one hundred individual woodblock prints illustrating important events in Japanese history, mythology, and everyday life—unified by the presence of the moon in each design.

The Stuart Jackson catalog includes only twenty-four prints, so most of the best (and best-loved) images are missing. But a Google search on yoshitoshi “aspects of the moon” yields lots of pages illustrating other prints in the series (this page, for example, shows 54 thumbnails, each linked to a larger image).

Alternatively, John Stevenson’s marvellous Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon provides a large reproduction of each print with an accompanying explanation of its subject together with a wealth of information on the series as well as Yoshitoshi’s life and work.

Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji is sufficiently important to warrant two prints out of Yoshitoshi’s hundred: one illustrating the Yūgao chapter from Genji monogatari, the other showing Murasaki Shikibu at Ishiyamadera, the temple on Lake Biwa (near Kyoto) where she is said to have written some of her novel.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: The  Yugao chapter from "The Tale of Genji"
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: 100 Aspects of the Moon
#29, The Yūgao Chapter from “The Tale of Genji”
(Click for larger version)

In the Yūgao chapter, the fourth of fifty-four, Genji (the Shining Prince) accidentally stumbles on a dilapidated house and garden on his way to visit the old nurse who cared for him as a child. He notices that the house is covered with beautiful white flowers—yūgao, literally “evening face,” the “floral opposite” of asagao, morning-glory—and sends his servant to ask the lady of the house if he might have a few of the flowers. Her servant brings the flowers on a fan, together with a poem written with graceful calligraphy. In the Heian period (the story takes place some time in the tenth century), this exchange was sufficient to initiate a love affair between Genji and the mistress of the house.

John Stevenson explains:

Wraith-like, not conforming to the normal standard of Heian beauty, which in the Chinese Tang tradition was distinctly chubby, the lady fascinated Genji. She refused to tell him her history or her name, so he called her Yūgao after the flowers. Eventually she accepted his invitation to visit one of his lavish villas, where they consummated their delicate passions. She died within a few hours, fading as quickly as a yūgao flower, killed by the jealous spirit of one of Genji’s former mistresses. Genji mourned her more deeply than he did most of his lost loves.

[In Yoshitoshi’s print, number 29 in the series] Yūgao’s ghost wafts wistfully through her garden on a night of the full moon: yūgao is known also as “moonflower.” Flowers and vines show through the ghost’s transparent body. Her figure seems to have no volume, as if projected onto a surface, like a screen. The shade of blue used for Yūgao’s eye and lips is subtly different from that used for the background wash, making them stand out without over-emphasising them; blue lips were a convention to indicate a person who was dead or dying. Also highlighted are the yellow centers of the flowers; in the original print the white petals are embossed. The gourd is shaded on one side to give an impression of roundness. The colors have been beautifully printed to shade into nothingness at the bottom of the picture.

Yoshitoshi’s second Genji print shows Murasaki Shikibu seated in the moonlight at her writing table, on a balcony at Ishiyamadera (Ishiyama Temple).

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: Ishiyama Moon
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: 100 Aspects of the Moon
#71, Ishiyama Moon
(Click for larger version)

The Tale of Genji is thought to have been commenced around the beginning of the eleventh century and completed by 1021. According to John Stevenson:

There is a tradition that Lady Murasaki retired to the temple at Ishiyama, overlooking Lake Biwa, to begin writing. She arrived on the fifteenth evening of the eighth month, when the moon was full, and prayed through the night for divine help in the project. Inspired by the beauty of the moonlight reflected on the lake, she used the nearest paper at hand to write down several long trains of thought before she forgot them. The paper happened to be a scroll of the Daihannya, a Buddhist sutra; later she copied out a new scroll, to atone for using the scripture profanely. This scroll is still shown to visitors to the temple, as is the room in which tradition says she worked.

A lady in Heian costume leans on a writing-desk on a balcony in the temple, deep in thought, and with a scroll unrolled in front of her. Most illustrations of Murasaki show her looking over Lake Biwa under a full moon, but Yoshitoshi has chosen to show her gazing out over a moonlit mountain—the name Ishiyama means “stone mountain.” A light purple wash deepens the shadows in the valley.

When Yoshitoshi was considering the coloration of this design, the choice for Lady Murasaki’s robe was simple; murasaki means violet… Lady Murasaki in her violet robes was such a well-known figure that Yoshitoshi did not include her name in the title-cartouche.

Exterior of Tsukinoya Ryokan with welcome Joanason-sama signIn 1994 I spent a night at the Tsukinoya Inn at Otsu, not far from Ishiyamadera. When I arrived late one evening, I was surprised to see my name on the guest board: Joanason-sama (the right honorable Joanason). I was too late for dinner—the kitchen staff had gone home—so it looked as though I’d have to take the train back to Otsu if I wanted something to eat.

But when I explained that I’d come to see where Murasaki Shikibu had written part of The Tale of Genji, the innkeeper took a shine to me, telling me that she would personally cook me dinner, which would be ready once I’d finished my bath.

She served the meal and stayed to chat about Japanese literature while I ate. She bade me goodnight, I slept soundly, and the next morning—after a delicious breakfast—headed off to the temple.

As is the case with many Japanese temples, one approaches Ishiyamadera via a huge carpark full of tourist buses and an avenue of stalls selling souvenirs (which in this case comprised mostly tacky Muraski Shikibu dolls and figurines as well as sweets, cakes, and postcards). The room in which Lady Murasaki is said to have written the Ishiyama chapters contains a tableaux of the author at her desk.

Ishiyama-dera: Murasaki Shikibu tableaux

I was surprised when I looked through the photographs from that trip that I’d taken only the one above, perhaps because I bought a set of postcards, which included a much better view of Lady Murasaki at work:

Postcard of Murasaki Shikibu tableaux at Ishiyama-dera

The caption on the back of this postcard reads “Murasaki shikibu no genji no ma”, similar to the large Chinese characters to the right of the doorway in my photograph. This probably means “The room where Murasaki Shikibu wrote Genji”.

Although I’m glad I visited Ishiyamadera and saw the Murasaki Shikibu room, Yoshitoshi’s ukiyo-e print is infinitely more truthful and evocative (as I’m sure Lady Murasaki would agree).

Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday 30 September 2003

Mojikyo fixes a bug (in me)

Reading the opening chapters of Piers Brendon’s The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s a couple of weeks ago prompted me to start work on an entry about George W. Bush’s aircraft carrier stunt and why it so greatly vexed me. But the writing hasn’t gone smoothly and, in dire need of distraction, I hit the jackpot: xiaolongnu, a Chinese language specialist who regularly comments at Languagehat (and occasionally here) had alerted Languagehat to the existence of the Mojikyō Institute, a Japanese organization that produces the Konjaku-Mojikyo, a dictionary of mainly Chinese Characters, with a free font set of about 110,000 characters plus an input program.

The Konjaku-Mojikyo includes about 20,000 Chinese characters defined by Unicode (ISO 10646), and about 50,000 Chinese characters collected in the Professor Morohashi’s 13-volume Daikanwajiten (Great Kanji Japanese Dictionary), “the most comprehensive and authoritative reference work on the subject of Chinese characters”. The Mojikyo contains a wealth of other characters including Oracle Bone inscriptions, Siddham (Sanskrit) characters, Japanese Kana , Chu Nom (the original characters used in medieval Vietnam) , Shui Script (characters used by that Chinese ethnic minority) , and Tangut (Xixia) Script.

The Mojikyō Character Map, to which xiaolongnu originally referred, is a freeware application developed from the profits of the commercial Konjaku-Mojikyo software published on CD-ROM by the Kinokuniya Bookstore (the commercial version allows more convenient searching and finding information about the characters).

Languagehat set the bait, confident that several of his readers would be interested “in all this great stuff”. As he later admitted, I was at the top of his list. Happily, I didn’t disappoint him—as I explained in my comment on his post, I could put the Mojikyo Character Map to immediate use:

Something that’s bugged me for ages is that Nagai Kafū’s Bokutō kidan (A Strange Tale from East of the River) uses an obsolete kanji for the boku character. Amazon lists the book as “墨東綺譚” but the first character is a much simplified version of the original that appears on the cover and title page of Kafū’s novel. Now it looks like I might be able to find the correct boku character.

Late last night, needing a break from Bush’s aviation exploits, I convinced myself that I should download the 34 files (totalling 52MB) needed for the installation. We’ll call that the thin edge of the wedge. This morning I decided it wouldn’t hurt to install the Mojikyo Character Map and quickly see if I could find Kafū’s boku character.

Although extracting the 34 files was a little tedious, Jack Wiedrick’s instructions made the actual installation a snap. I use Extensis Suitcase to manage my Japanese fonts so I simply activated the Mojikyo fonts with Suitcase and double-clicked on the Mojikyo Character Map application. I was in business:

Mojikyo Character Map application

These days, on the rare occasion that someone asks me why I continue to study Japanese, I answer: “So I can read Nagai Kafū’s A Strange Tale from East of the River in the original Japanese, rather than a translation.”

Cover of Nagai Kafū's Bokuto Kidan (A Strange Tale from East of the River)Kafū’s Strange Tale is, in the words of his English translator Edward Seidensticker, “in many ways scarcely a novel at all”. Its nominal subject is an aging writer (Oe Tadasu) who, while researching a novel he is writing, wanders “east of the (Sumida) river” from Asakusa to the lower-class Tamanoi district.

Trapped by a sudden storm, he meets a prostitute, Oyuki, who invites herself under his umbrella and then him into her house. Oe embarks on an affair with Oyuki, spending the hot summer evenings with her in Tamanoi; when the cold weather returns he ends the affair.

The Strange Tale contains another story—the one Oe is struggling to write—about a retired teacher (Taneda Jumpei) who elopes with Osumi, a bar-girl who was once his maidservant. Part of the novella’s appeal lies in the skill with which Kafū plays one story off against the other—in Keiko I. McDonald’s words, “expand[ing] his ‘discourse time’ by telling two stories that interact and complement each other”.

I also admire Strange Tale because, as Seidensticker explains, “it belongs to the uniquely Japanese genre to which [Kafū’s] Quiet Rain also belongs, the leisurely, discursive ‘essay-novel’, its forebears the discursive essay and ‘poem story’ (utamonogatari) of the Heian Period, and the linked verse of the Muromachi Period and after”.

Japanese characters for Bokuto kidan (correct kanji  for boku)Put it down to my anal-retentive temperament, but it’s always irritated me that I couldn’t write Bokutō kidan correctly in Japanese because the Microsoft Japanese IME doesn’t support the first (boku) character. Worse still, I have three kanji dictionaries— Halpern’s New Japanese-English Character Dictionary, Spahn & Hadamitzky’s The Kanji Dictionary, and Haig & Nelson’s New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary—and Kafū’s boku isn’t in any of them.

Why did Kafū use such an “obscure” character? Well, for one thing, such kanji were more commonly used in the first half of the 20th century, when Kafū was writing. Also because of his upbringing: his father and maternal-grandfather were trained in the Chinese classics and Kafū himself entered the Chinese department of the School of Foreign Studies in 1897 though, as Seidensticker explains, “he scarcely went near the place and failed to graduate”. That particular character may have evoked a specific feeling or impression in his readers or he may even have used it because in Kafū’s time the use of uncommon Chinese characters in one’s writing was a sign of erudition (an attitude that persists amongst some contemporary Japanese).

Japanese characters for Bokuto kidan (simplified kanji  for boku)Not being able to represent the character correctly is not just a problem for me—as I explained before, Amazon in Japan uses a simplified version in its listing for the book.

[The primary meanings of the four characters in the Amazon title are, in order, “india ink”, “east”, “figured cloth; beautiful”, and “talk”. In his entry for the boku character that Amazon uses, Halpern includes a Chinese variant (mò), which looks like Kafū’s character minus the three-stroke radical on the left.]

But I found the correct character with the Mojikyo Character Map on my second attempt. Although Halpern’s dictionary uses a different method (SKIP, based on geometrical patterns), most kanji dictionaries require you to identify the radical (the primitive by which it is indexed), count the total number of strokes in the character (or the number of strokes less those in the radical), and finally locate the particular character within a list of characters with that radical and stroke count. It sounds more difficult than it actually is. Unless the dictionary doesn’t contain the character you’re looking for.

Kafū’s boku character has the three-stroke radical sanzui (#85) on the left—and a total of 18 strokes. My first match (Mojikyo 050021; below, left) was close but, as I realized almost immediately, not quite correct. And it only contains 17 strokes. Interestingly, this one is kind of “half-way” between the correct character and the simplified version that Amazon uses and that (not surprisingly) the Microsoft IME supports. I scanned through the grid of characters until I reached the 18-stroke section and there it was (Mojikyo 079131; below, right). Success!

Mojikyo characters 050021 (left) and 079131 (right)

But my elation rapidly turned to disappointment when I realized that I couldn’t represent the correct character (Mojikyo 079131) via Unicode.

Mojikyo contextual Copy menuThe Mojikyo Character Map provides a contextual menu that allows you to copy a character in a number of formats for pasting into other applications. Copying the Unicode tag for Mojikyo 079131 produces the Unicode (Decimal) tag &#28665;, which is also the Unicode tag for my first (incorrect) match, Mojikyo 050021. And &#28665; yields .

At first I thought that this might be because Kafū’s boku character (Mojikyo 079131) is included in Morohashi’s Daikanwajiten but is not part of the current Unicode standard. But Jack Wiedrick’s documentation indicates that:

  • Gold characters are included in the JIS standard;
  • Cyan characters are included in the ISO10646 (=Unicode) specification; and
  • White characters are not included in either standard.

And Kafū’s boku character—perhaps xiaolongnu can suggest an alternative name—is rendered in cyan, which means it is part of the Unicode standard. So perhaps, on my first use of the Mojikyo Character Map, I’ve discovered a bug. I’ve emailed the Mojikyo Institute and am waiting on their reply. But at least, in finding the character Kafū used, I’ve fixed what was bugging me.

Permalink | Comments (16)

Sunday 05 October 2003

Not a bug in Mojikyo, but rather a feature of Unicode

It wasn’t a bug in Mojikyo, nor the fact that Windows is a sorry excuse for an operating system—rather it turned out to be the inherent design of Unicode that limits my ability to display (on a Web page) both variants of the Chinese character mentioned in my previous post.

Variants of the boku character used in the title of Kafu's Bokuto kidanA comprehensive explanation came via email from Mr Tanimoto of the Mojikyo Institute, confirming what Brian Hunziker and gaemon had suggested in their comments: that the two variants of the character “boku” (shown at the left) have the same Unicode number (or, in Unicode-speak, “share a single codepoint”). In his comment, Brian linked to a screenshot of the Macintosh Character Palette showing how Mac OS X allows one to choose between the two variants; in response to an email request, he graciously made new screenshots and gave me permission to reproduce them. In the illustration below, the green triangles to the right of certain characters indicate that alternatives exist to the character being currently displayed. At the bottom of the Character Palette, a button provides access to the character variants which share the same codepoint.

Macintosh Japanese character palette
(Scaled down screenshot— click to see full size image)

In a BYTE article titled Unicode Evolves, Ken Fowles explains how codepoints work:

The Unicode/ISO10646 standard provides one uniform 16-bit encoding that can store information from all the world’s commonly used scripts. The key word here is “standard.” Unicode itself is a standard, not a technology. Where technology gets involved is how the software makes use of the standard.

The Unicode concept of parking characters into a 64-KB space sounds simple enough — until you realize there are three or four times that many characters in the world’s written languages. So a key part of Unicode’s design is to handle that 64-KB space as valuable real estate since it has to support a large number of scripts in one consistent encoding.

Several parts of Unicode’s design help it maximize this use of what’s called a codepoint , the permanent Unicode address of each character. For example, diacritic marks in most other character sets are not stored as unique characters, but in Unicode each diacritic can be separately tracked and shared among several characters. Codepoints are conserved through Han Unification, sort of like a highway carpool lane where two or three characters with similar appearance share the same space. To Unicode, small differences in appearance should be handled as a font issue, not by inventing another character encoding. Also, Unicode does not guarantee a particular sort order, since software should handle that separately.

Thus, the two variants of “Kafū’s boku character” share a single codepoint (&#28665;). The crucial concept—the one that led me to to wonder if a bug in Mojikyo caused it to produce the same Unicode character entity for each variant—is that, as Mr Tanimoto explained in his email, Unicode does not differentiate between design differences within the same character—each character is assigned a codepoint and “the judgement of which design is adopted is left to the font maker”.

The Mojikyo system, on the other hand, takes an entirely different approach by separately registering all the different designs of a particular character and assigning to each variant a separate Mojikyo number. Mr Tanimoto illustrated the relationship between Unicode and Mojikyo—as it applies to the boku character—with an ASCII diagram in his email, which I’ve recreated here:

Relationship between Mojikyo and Unicode numbers for boku character

As Brian Hunziker’s screenshot shows, the Hiragino Mincho Pro font includes both variants:

Detail of Macintosh Character Palette showing font variant selection

Unfortunately, as one might expect, the IME Pad (the Windows XP “equivalent” of the Macintosh Character Palette) and MS Mincho font combo leave a lot to be desired:

Windows XP IME pad

I wrapped the word “equivalent” in quotation marks because there is really no way that the butt-ugly Windows IME Pad can compete with the design, functionality, and appearance of the Macintosh Character Palette. Nor do any of the Windows Japanese fonts (MS Mincho, MS Gothic, and Arial Unicode MS) include the range of character variants included in Apple’s beautiful Hiragino Mincho Pro font.

“I hope I’ll not derail this into a Mac vs. PC discussion as that certainly is not my intention”, wrote Brian Hunziker in his comment. That’s OK, I’m sufficiently irritated to derail it myself:

<rant>The relentless mediocrity of Japanese support under Windows absolutely typifies Microsoft’s “near enough is good enough” approach to functionality and interface design. In fact, Windows Japanese support seems about as good as that offered by the Japanese Language Kit I was using on the Macintosh in the late eighties.

I get so tired of hearing about all the super-smart people who work for Microsoft when it’s abundantly clear that either they don’t have a clue about how to do things properly or else they don’t give a rat’s arse about anything but gouging money out of users and causing us grief.

Using the Windows operating system—as distinct from using Windows applications, many of which are superb—is like having to take photographs with a Soviet Zorki or Kiev camera when you could be using a Leica or a Hasselblad. Sure, you can take great pictures with a shitty camera but, since you’re constantly fighting the deficiencies in the equipment, there’s hardly any joy in the process. Elegance is one word that’s conspicuously absent from the Microsoft vocabulary.</rant>

Why don’t I switch? Primarily because I have thousands of dollars invested in Windows applications. Though, as I said to Brian Hunziker in an email, his screenshots “may have gently nudged me onto the slippery slope towards buying a Macintosh.”

Until then, I’ll rely on the Mojikyo Character Map to make up for the deficiencies in Windows, using Mojikyo’s RTF output to copy the character variant I need to Photoshop via Word (for some reason, the RTF output won’t paste directly into Photoshop for Windows). I only have access to all the character variants, of course, because I’ve installed the Mojikyo fonts. And, regardless of which operating system one uses, the chances are you’ll see Mojikyo font 050021 instead of Mojikyo font 079131 when I include the &#28665; Unicode entity—like this: .

That’s the reason that I’m using images to illustrate the characters—and to do that I’m taking advantage of another service offered by the Mojikyo Institute: links to 24x24 and 96x96 pixel GIF images of all the characters included in the Mojikyo character set. I’ve linked to the 24x24 pixel GIFs (in the previous paragraph), using these IMG tags:

<img src="" alt="Mojikyo font 050021" name="mojikyo_font_050021" width="24" height="24" />

<img src="" alt="Mojikyo font 079131" name="mojikyo_font_079131" width="24" height="24" />

The 96x96 pixel versions look like this:

Mojikyo font 050021    Mojikyo font 079131

and require the following links:

<img src="" alt="Mojikyo font 050021" name="mojikyo_font_050021" width="96" height="96" />

<img src="" alt="Mojikyo font 079131" name="mojikyo_font_079131" width="96" height="96" />

This means you can embed any of the Mojikyo characters in a Web page, without requiring that visitors have the Mojikyo fonts installed. (Note that the user license does not allow the GIF images to be downloaded, redistributed, or loaded onto another server.)

And, if you discover a Chinese character that is not currently contained in the Mojikyo character set, you can ask the Institute to create a new character (providing you tell them where you discovered the character).

So, to sum up, I couldn’t access the boku character that Kafū used because none of the default Windows Japanese fonts includes that particular variant. And I couldn’t display Kafū’s boku in a weblog entry because Unicode needs to preserve codepoints so that they don’t run out of permanent addresses. And I was able to find Kafū’s boku on my Windows PC with the aid of the Mojikyo Character Map because the Mojikyo Institute regards Chinese characters as “a very important cultural asset of the human race” and—like Apple—is committed to making that wonderful variety of characters widely available. The fly in the ointment is, as one might expect, Microsoft. (I’m sure Dave Rogers would agree—I was amused (though hardly suprised) when I followed his pointer to these Dan Bricklin photographs of the BloggerCon audience.)

Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday 07 October 2003

Super Best

Mark Pilgrim posed an “addiction koan”:

Your spouse, who hasn’t had a cigarette or a drink in 12 years, comes home late one night with smoke in their hair and alcohol on their breath. What do you do?

I picked up Ayako at her apartment one Sunday morning, many years ago. We were meeting some friends for a picnic in the Royal National Park, an hour south of Sydney. Waiting for the lights to change at the intersection near her apartment, I leaned across and kissed her. Mingling with the Listerine was the unmistakable taste of whisky.

“You taste of whisky,” I told her.

“I do not,” she replied.

Enka singer Ishikawa SayuriI knew better than to argue, remembering her habit of flatly denying inconvenient facts. So we chatted about the weather, the onigiri she’d made as part of our lunch, and our plans to spend a couple of weeks in Shikoku the following spring. I popped a cassette into the player, one I’d made the night before from my favorite enka CD, Ishikawa Sayuri’s Super Best. (It’s oddly gratifying to find, on the Ishikawa Sayuri page at Barbara’s Enka Site, that Super Best is Barbara’s desert island enka CD: “If someone really forced me to choose one performer and one album, here it is.”)

Ayako pretended not to like enka, dismissing it as obasan no ongaku (“music for aunties”), but I could tell she secretly admired Ishikawa Sayuri. As Barbara says, “She pours feeling into every song until it bursts, but somehow she does so with a beautifully elegant restraint.”

Arriving at the park, we drove slowly along until I saw our friends in the distance, carefully laying out the contents of their picnic basket on a bright tartan blanket.

I parked the car and turned off the ignition.

“I have a confession,” said Ayako. I waited for her to continue, and the words tumbled out in a torrent.

“This morning, when I met Shinobu for coffee, she offered me a cigarette and I couldn’t resist. I know you don’t like the smell of cigarettes but Shinobu told me that if I washed my hair and had a couple of sips of whisky it would get rid of the smell of tobacco and the taste. And then, if I drank a glass of milk, that would take care of the whisky too. But the milk didn’t really work because ten minutes before you were due to pick me up I could still taste the whisky in my mouth. So I gargled twice with Listerine and hoped you wouldn’t notice. But you did. And now I feel a little bit drunk.”

Though I’d once told Ayako that it was much nicer kissing a woman who doesn’t smoke, I hadn’t expected my casual remark to have such an impact.

“They must have been big sips of whisky,” I replied. “Next time you have a cigarette it might be best to go with just the milk and Listerine.”

I leaned across and kissed her again. The barest trace of whisky on her tongue tasted indescribably sexy.

“We’d better get going,” I told her. “Emiko and Ken are waiting.”

Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday 11 October 2003

There ain’t no such thing as plain text

I wish Joel Spolsky had published his excellent introduction to Unicode and character encoding a week earlier, because then I wouldn’t have wasted a couple of hours trying to write a snippet of PHP code to convert Japanese characters to Unicode character entities. In the fourth paragraph of The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!) Joel Spolsky reveals what what finally provoked him into writing his essay:

When I discovered that the popular web development tool PHP has almost complete ignorance of character encoding issues, blithely using 8 bits for characters, making it darn near impossible to develop good international web applications, I thought, enough is enough.

That statement knocked me for a six. Historically—as Joel Spolsky infers—American programmers have been indifferent to dealing with languages other than English. But PHP started out in 1995 as a series of Perl scripts written by Rasmus Lerdorf who was born in Greenland, lived in Denmark for much of his childhood, then spent a number of years in Canada before moving to the United States. In 1997, Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans—both Israelis, who between them speak Hebrew, English, and German—completely rewrote the core PHP code, turning it into what became known as the Zend engine. If anyone would be sensitive to language and character set issues, you’d surely expect it to be these guys and their colleagues.

Yet a Google search on “unicode support in php” turned up an interesting, and ultimately dispiriting, series of threads. Firstly, this reply by Andi Gutmans to an October 2001 question on the PHP Internationalization Mailing List about “the current status of multi-byte character handling in PHP, and also some kind of forecast of when it is expected to work in a stable manner”:

No one seems to be working seriously on full Unicode support except for the mainly Japanese work Rui [Hirokawa] has done. I thought that the Email from Carl Brown was quite promising but adding good i18n support to PHP will require much more interest and volunteers. It seemed that not many people were very interested.

More recently, l0t3k replied to an August 2003 question about Unicode support:

i certainly am not an official voice of PHP, but some movement is happening (albeit slow and scattered) to provide some form of Unicode support. the Japanese i18N group have recently created a path to allow the engine to process scripts in various encodings, Unicode included [1].

[1] refers to another thread in which Masaki Fujimoto reported on progress with the i18n (internationalization) features of the Zend Engine 2, adding:

yes, I know most of you (== non-multibyte encoding users) do not care about this kind of i18n features (and somehow feel ‘more than enough’) as the comments in shows, so I paid close attention not to do any harm with original codes: everything is done in #ifdef ZEND_MULTIBYTE.

What’s really dispiriting is the conversation at PHP Bugs to which Masaki Fujimoto refers, where the issues of Unicode and internationalization are met with either indifference, hostility, or—as in this question—both:

And why on earth would you save PHP files in any other format than ascii?

Color me flabbergasted. If you tried to imagine the target audience for Joel Spolsky’s essay, this guy is standing right on the bullseye. As Joel explains:

If you completely forget everything I just explained, please remember one extremely important fact. It does not make sense to have a string without knowing what encoding it uses. You can no longer stick your head in the sand and pretend that “plain” text is ASCII.

There Ain’t No Such Thing As Plain Text.

If you have a string, in memory, in a file, or in an email message, you have to know what encoding it is in or you cannot interpret it or display it to users correctly.

But why did I want to use PHP to convert Japanese characters to Unicode entities anyway? Procrastination mainly (anything to avoid my essay about the George W Bush aircraft carrier stunt). Curiosity too. While working on another essay, about Ozu Yasujiro, I wanted to make a table listing his films: their Japanese titles, translations of those titles, the actual English titles, and the year of release.

Since I have a PC exclusively devoted to Japanese (so that I can use some native Japanese applications), I wound up creating the table in Word 2000 and save the document as HTML. When I examined the HTML in Dreamweaver on my main (English) PC, I noticed that Word had transformed the Japanese characters into the equivalent Unicode entities. When I type Japanese into Dreamweaver, on the other hand, the Japanese characters simply appear within the HTML.

As an example, the next two lines of text both read Ochazuke no aji (The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice, the title of one of Ozu’s films) and, if you have Japanese support enabled, should look the same:



But, if you check the source code in your browser, you’ll see Japanese characters in the first line and Unicode entities in the second, like this:

Japanese and Unicode characters for ochazuke no aji

I might be utterly mistaken, but I can’t help thinking that using the Unicode entities might be preferable (ie more reliable) than using the actual Japanese characters. Though, as long as the character encoding is set to utf-8, it may not make any difference. I’d be interested in what anyone else thinks about this. Since I thought it would be useful to get some advice from the experts, I’ve emailed Joel Spolsky and Masaki Fujimoto. (I didn’t think there was any point in bothering Mr ASCII.)


Masaki Fujimoto and Joel Spolsky graciously replied to my email, basically confirming the points that Michael Glaesemann made in his comment. Joel Spolsky wrote that he has been using UTF-8 for all the translations of Joel on Software (currently translated into 28 languages) and “has not had a single person complain about not being able to read it”.

Whilst favoring the use of characters rather than Unicode entities, Masaki Fujimoto pointed out that entities offer two additional advantages:

  • avoiding implicit encoding translation (some software—including PHP can implicitly convert one encoding to another and using entites allows you to skip this);
  • avoiding any null-bytes problems (UTF-16 and UTF-32 can contain null-bytes, which can cause various kind of problems with unicode-unaware software.

Fujimoto-san also explained that the Japanese think of Uncode entities as a “kind of work around for the japanese-unavailable-environment” and so would never normally use entity references. He also noted out that it is not really all that difficult to make PHP completely Unicode-aware, with the main roadblocks being that:

  • because PHP does not distinguish binary data from strings it is not possible to change “string type” to “unicode-aware string type” without breaking any binary contents;
  • most of the core PHP developers live in Europe, so they are not so interested in the Unicode issue.

I have a feeling that the second roadblock will be easier to dismantle than the first, that the interest of European PHP developers in Unicode will increase proportionately with the economic influence of China.

Permalink | Comments (8)

Sunday 12 October 2003

I’m not giving up my day job (to become a PHP programmer)

Having colored myself “flabbergasted”, I now need to color myself “embarrassed” since Scott Reynen has comprehensively demonstrated that PHP does have limited Unicode support, which he uses to create his Daily Japanese Lessons. Even more impressively, Scott followed up by doing what I couldn’t manage—writing a snippet of PHP code to convert japanese characters to unicode character entities. As I admitted in Scott’s comments, “I should leave PHP coding to those who actually know what they’re doing”.

Regarding the issue of which is better—CJK characters or Unicode entities—Michael Glaesemann’s comment has convinced me beyond any doubt that it’s best to stick with the characters.

Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday 13 October 2003

A double Ozu retrospective

Through some mysterious serendipity, whilst I was in the midst of writing an entry about Ozu Yasujiro’s films a trackback from Kerim alerted me to the Ozu festival, a special event of the 2003 New York Film Festival, being held at the Lincoln Center. Oh to be in New York, because this is the real deal:

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu, the New York Film Festival will present a complete retrospective of Ozu’s extant works. Universally regarded as one the greatest film directors, Ozu’s work was discovered outside of Japan much later than that of Kenji Mizoguchi or Akira Kurosawa. Although the winner of more Kinema Junpo “Best Film” awards (the Japanese Oscar) than any other director, his work was never deemed suitable for export as it was assumed that audiences would consider it “too Japanese.”

Ozu directing Dragnet GirlThe thirty-six films in the festival represent about two-thirds of the fifty-three feature films Ozu directed (he also made a documentary about the Kabuki theater in 1935). His first feature was Zange no yaiba (Sword of Penitence) in 1927; his last was Samma no aji (An Autumn Afternoon), completed in 1962. Ozu died the following year on his birthday, December 12.

[The photograph shows Ozu directing Oka Jōji and Tanaka Kinuyo in the 1935 melodrama Hijōsen no onna (Dragnet Girl).]

I’ve seen all the films Ozu made from 1941 on, plus a couple of earlier ones—about half of those being screened at the Lincoln Center. Had I learned about the festival a week or two ago, rather than in the last couple of days, I would have felt heartsick at being so far away since Ozu is, unequivocally, my favorite filmmaker. On each of my recent trips to Japan, I’ve inquired about whether any of Ozu’s films have been released on DVD and have invariably been disappointed.

But on Friday my prayers were answered: I was taking another look at Kurt Easterwood’s account of the Ozu 100-year Centennial Exhibition at the Kamakura Bungakukan earlier this year and noticed that Kurt points to a page of information about a series of Ozu DVDs scheduled for release by Shochiku, the studio for which Ozu made most of his films. (I have no idea how I missed this the first time I looked!)

Ozu Yasujiro, DVD Box Set OneA quick check at Amazon Japan revealed that the first box set was released on September 25, with another three to follow at the end of October, November, and December. I ordered the first box set immediately.

The 24 DVDs include all the surviving films Ozu directed for Shochiku, the production company for whom he made almost all of his films. According to the most comprehensive book in English on Ozu, David Bordwell’s Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, “no script, negative, or prints [are] known to exist” for two films made in 1929: Wasei kenka tomodachi (Fighting Friends—Japanese Style) and Tokkan kozō (A Straightforward Boy). Yet these are both on the fourth box set (although only A Straightforward Boy is being shown in New York). Evidently prints must have been discovered after Bordwell’s book was published in 1988.

None of the films on the DVDs appear to be subtitled in English (and they are not listed on Amazon’s US, British, or German sites); yet subtitled versions exist for all of those I’ve seen—whether silent or talkies. Perhaps Shochiku still regard Ozu as “too Japanese” for Western audiences to appreciate, though I think it’s more likely that the cost of subtitling the remaining films together with the added cost of producing multilingual DVDs were probably the main considerations. The alternative, to offer a mix of films with or without subtitles, would probably only give rise to complaints that all the films should have been subtitled.

Ozu YasujiroThe fact that the Criterion Collection offers only two Ozu films on DVD (Tokyo Story and Good Morning) and none by Mizoguchi or Naruse—compared to eight by Kurosawa—is the best evidence that it’s not just the Japanese who regard Kurosawa as far more accessible for Western audiences than Ozu and his contemporaries.

The Film Festival introduction to Ozu’s films correctly points out that “the director considered too Japanese for foreign audiences was in fact steeped in foreign, especially American, pop culture”, adding that Ozu’s work “has been cited as having a major influence on the films of artists as diverse as Jim Jarmusch (USA), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Aki Kaurismaki (Finland), and Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan). The latter assertion, although commonly made, needs to be taken with a grain of salt (Jim Jarmusch’s films, for instance, resemble Ozu’s to about the same degree as Woody Allen’s films are like Kurosawa’s).

Contemporary directors who claim to be influenced by Ozu always remind me of the period Ozu spent in Singapore during the war: coopted by the Imperial Army to make propaganda films, instead Ozu spent most of his time watching American films that the Japanese military officials had confiscated. According to Donald Richie’s study of the director, simply titled Ozu:

The film that most impressed Ozu was Welles’s Citizen Kane. “If you give Chaplin 62 points, this film gets about 85.” He looked at it again and again. It was apparently the technique of the film that most interested him, and according to Yoshimura [another director] he kept shaking his head in wonder over this effect or that. Thereafter, whenever asked about his favorite foreign film, he always said Citizen Kane, though it is impossible to imagine a picture more antithetical to his own.

For diehard Ozu fans, I’ve listed the contents of each of the box sets in the table below—some of the Japanese titles have links to reviews at Strictly Film School (to which Kurt Easterwood pointed).

DVD Box Set One
東京物語 Tokyo monogatari Tokyo Story 1953
彼岸花 Higanbana Equinox Flower 1958
お早う Ohayō Good Morning 1959
秋日和 Akibiyori Late Autumn 1960
秋刀魚の味 Samma no aji An Autumn Afternoon 1962
DVD Box Set Two
晩春 Banshun Late Spring 1949
麦秋 Bakushū Early Summer 1951
お茶漬けの味 Ochazuke no aji The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice 1952
早春 Sōshun Early Spring 1956
東京暮色 Tokyo boshoku Tokyo Twilight 1957
DVD Box Set Three
出来ごごろ Dekigokoro Passing Fancy 1933
母を恋はずや Haha o kawazuya A Mother Should Be Loved 1934
浮草物語 Ukigusa monogatari A Story of Floating Weeds 1934
東京の宿 Tokyo no yado An Inn in Tokyo 1935
一人息子 Hitori musuko The Only Son 1936
淑女は何を忘れたか Shukujo wa nani o wasureta ka What Did the Lady Forget? 1937
戸田家の兄弟 Toda-ke no kyōdai The Brothers & Sisters of the Toda Family 1941
父ありき Chichi ariki There Was a Father 1942
長屋紳士録 Nagaya shinshi roku Record of a Tenement Gentleman 1947
風の中の雌鳥 Kaze no naka no mendori A Hen in the Wind 1948
DVD Box Set Four
若き日 Wakaki hi Days of Youth 1929
和製喧嘩友達 Wasei kenka tomodachi Fighting Friends — Japanese Style 1929
大学は出たけれど Daigaku wa deta keredo I Graduated, But… 1929
突貫小僧 Tokkan kozō A Straightforward Boy 1929
朗らかに歩め Hogaraka ni ayume Walk Cheerfully 1930
落第はしたけれど Rakudai wa shita keredo I Flunked, But… 1930
その夜の妻 Sono yoru no tsuma That Night’s Wife 1930
淑女と髯 Shukujo to hige The Lady and the Beard 1931
東京の合唱 Tokyo no gasshō Tokyo Chorus 1931
生まれてはみたけれど Umarete wa mita keredo I Was Born But… 1932
青春の夢いまいづか Seishun no yume ima izuka Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth? 1932
東京の女 Tokyo no onna Woman of Tokyo 1933
非常線の女 Hijōsen no onna Dragnet Girl 1933
鏡獅子 Kagamishishi Kagamishishi (Kabuki Documentary) 1935

Three films for which prints are available are not included in the box set edition because Ozu made them while on loan from Shochiku to other studios.

Films Made for Other Studios
宗方姉妹 Munekata shimai The Munekata Sisters Toho/
浮草 Ukigusa Floating Weeds Daiei 1959
小早川家の秋 Kohayakawa-ke no aki The End of Summer Takarazuka/

It’s frequently been a source of amusement amongst Ozu’s Western fans that so many of his later films have similar English titles: Late Spring, Early Summer, Early Spring, Late Autumn, The End of Summer, An Autumn Afternoon. Yet, of the six films I’ve listed, only two have English titles that match the original Japanese: Late Spring (Banshun) and Early Spring (Sōshun).

Of the other four (which I’ve highlighted in red), Akibiyori (Late Autumn) actually means “fine autumn weather”; Samma no aji (An Autumn Afternoon) means “the taste of Pacific saury” (a fish that is commonly served broiled in Japanese drinking places); Bakushū (Early Summer) means “wheat harvest”; and Kohayakawa-ke no aki (The End of Summer) means “the autumn of the Kohayakawa family”.

I imagine that whoever gave the films their English titles realized that “the taste of Pacific saury”—though immensely evocative to the Japanese—would be meaningless to a Western audience. However, it’s just as doubtful that “the flavor of green tea of rice” would conjure up for a non-Japanese Ozu’s intended sense of taking pleasure in simple, everyday things. Perhaps the goal was that the English titles convey the elegiac mood of Ozu’s later films.

Ozu’s career spanned the period in Japanese history that most interests me, the Thirties through the Fifties: the rise of Japanese militarism, the catastrophe of the Pacific War, and the post-war reconstruction. The first DVD box set should arrive within the next few days. Though seeing the sound films without subtitles will present a formidable challenge to my Japanese listening skills, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in Ozu’s world over the next few months.

(In his post on There Was a Father, which alerted me to the Ozu retrospective, Kerim admits to loving the film yet being “troubled by its moral ambiguity”:

In a very real sense the film’s power comes from its moral ambiguity. After the fact, such ambiguity itself in face of the horrors of Japanese wartime aggression (something which Japanese have yet to come to terms with) seems inappropriate, but it certainly makes for a powerful movie. Nor do I think anyone would compare Ozu to Leni Riefenstahl.

Though it’s been a few years since I saw There Was a Father, I don’t recall being struck by any sense of moral ambiguity. I do remember that not long after I saw the film I read—and could not disagree with—Donald Richie’s assessment that “this is one of Ozu’s most perfect films”. Needless to say, there’s lots I could write on the subject of Ozu and fascism, but I’d prefer to save those thoughts for another essay.)

Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday 14 October 2003

Made in Usa

I don’t regard myself as particularly gullible, yet I’ve long believed the story that in the post-war period—when “Made in Japan” was a synonym for “shoddy quality”—Japanese manufacturing companies set up branch offices in the Kyushu town of Usa, so that they could label their export products “Made in USA”.

Five years ago, I spent a couple of weeks traveling around Kyushu, winding up in the hot spring town of Beppu. On the morning I was due to take the two-and-a-half hour train ride back to Fukuoka and my flight home, I checked the map and was thrilled to see that the Nippō line passed through Usa.

Map of northwest Kyushu, including Usa

We pulled into Usa just long enough for me to take a quick snap of the station sign, which displayed the name in hiragana (うさ) and Chinese characters (宇佐), as well as the names of the previous stop, Nishiyashiki (にしやしき) and next stop, Buzen-nagasu (ぶぜんながす). The names on railway signs in Japan are shown prominently in hiragana for the benefit of school children who may not yet have learned the appropriate Chinese characters (西屋敷 and 豊前長洲 respectively).

Station sign, UsaIn those days I was shooting my still photographs with a Sony DCR-PC10 digital video camera because it had a Carl Zeiss 10x zoom lens and I could store over 500 stills on a single 60 minute tape. Transferring the images to the computer via a video capture card was tedious, but the video camera—with its tiny flip-out screen—was as quiet and unobtrusive as a Leica. This is not a great example of what it can do—especially compared to the clarity of these Japan Railways photos of the station signs at Usa—but I loved shooting stills with the video camera and took a lot of lovely pictures on that trip.

Although I can’t recall where I first heard of the “Made in USA” scam, Google soon disabused me of its accuracy by pointing to an entry at, the Urban Legends Reference Pages:

This rumor was almost certainly a tongue-in-cheek joke inspired by someone’s noticing the coincidence of a town in Japan named Usa (and perhaps fueled by American xenophobia or lingering resentment of the Japanese). In fact, the Japanese city of Usa (on the island of Kyushu) was not creating by renaming an existing town; it was called Usa long before World War II. As well, nearly every country that imports goods requires them to be marked with the name of their country of origin, not a town or city, and it would have taken some circuitous (and probably expensive) routing to get goods marked “Made in USA” into other countries without anyone’s noticing that they had originated in Japan. America, especially, Japan’s largest market by far, would certainly have noticed the incongruity of goods marked “Made in USA” being imported into the USA.

The truth, as so often happens, isn’t nearly as fascinating as the (urban) legend. But nowadays, when people ask me if I’ve ever been to the USA, at least I’m able to reply: “Yes I have—both of them.”

Permalink | Comments (8)

Sunday 26 October 2003

Immersion Japanese (DVD style)

Ozu Yasujiro, DVD Box SetThe first Ozu DVD box set, which arrived last week, turned out to be everything I’d hoped for and more. Six DVDs—Tokyo monogatari, Higanbana, Ohayō, Akibiyori, and Samma no aji, plus a bonus disk (Tokuten disuku)—as well as a lavishly illustrated booklet.

The box itself is covered with coarse-woven fabric, reminiscent of the background that forms the background to the opening titles of so many of Ozu’s films.

Main title for Ozu's Tokyo monogatariAs soon as I unwrapped the package I popped Tokyo monogatari into the DVD player: the distinctive opening titles combined with Saito Ichiro’s theme music prompting an intense nostalgia.

As for many other Western viewers, this was the first Ozu film I ever saw. I never tire of watching Tokyo Story—usually regarded as Ozu’s masterpiece—even though Banshun (Late Spring) remains my favorite. Tokyo Story is lovely to look at despite the fact that, as David Bordwell explains, “it does not survive in good condition: the original negative was destroyed by a laboratory fire, and the internegative struck from positive prints does not render the chiaroscuro that Ozu and [cinematographer] Atsuta sought”.

Natsuko, who doesn’t admire Ozu’s films, asked me recently what is it about them that I love so much? And how is it that I can watch the same films over and over again? I said something along the lines of “one can never grow tired of seeing the beauty and sadness of everyday life depicted with unflinching honesty”. What I struggled to convey to Natsuko, Donald Richie expresses with great economy in the preface to his book on the director:

What remains after an Ozu film is the feeling that, if only for an hour or two, you have seen the goodness and beauty of everyday things and everyday people; you have had experiences you cannot describe because only film, not words, can describe them; you have seen a few small, unforgettable actions, beautiful because real. You are left with a feeling of sadness too, because you will see them no more. They are already gone. In the feeling of transience, of the mutability and beauty of all life, Ozu joins the greatest Japanese artists. It is here that we taste, undiluted and authentic, the Japanese flavor.

Ozu Yasujiro, Tokyo monogatari, DVDRichie also points out that “Ozu’s method, like all poetic methods, is oblique”. Ozu offers a severely constrained vision of the world in order to transcend those constraints; his films are suffused with human emotion because they are so rigorously constructed; time is stretched in an Ozu film because his movies are longer than average even though they contain hardly any “story”. The cumulative effect of these formal strategies is that “technique restricted comes to make us see more, [while] tempo slowed comes to make us feel more.” The end result is that we are gradually drawn into the film and “invited to infer and deduce” its meaning which, because of the almost non-existent “plot”, resides in the characters and their behaviour. And so

…we are often given that rare spectacle of a character existing for himself alone. This we observe with the delight that precise verisimilitude always brings, and with a heightened awareness of the beauty and fragility of human beings.

This effect is not at all diminished by the lack of English subtitles. Firstly, I understand more of the Japanese than I expected to. And, perhaps more importantly, I’ve adopted the same strategy I use whenever I spend time with friends in Japan. Instead of worrying about the meaning of every word of a conversation, I content myself with absorbing the essence of what’s being said—which is much easier for them, since they don’t have to continually make allowances for my lack of fluency. As long as I behave as though I know what’s going on—which I usually do—they mostly talk to me as they would to another Japanese.

And since I’m no longer concerned with reading the subtitles I can pay closer attention to other aspects of the film and its characters. It’s strange that although I’ve done this with conversational Japanese (and now with watching films without subtitles), it wasn’t until I encountered Alaric Radosh’s advice that I realized I could apply the same strategy to reading:

When you read easy, don’t look up unfamiliar words. I mean, you can look them up occasionally when you just have to know. But, for the most part, skip those words, like you did when you were a kid reading in your native language. When you do look them up eventually, you will only understand them and remember them all the better for having become familiar with them beforehand in this way.

(I can’t begin to explain what a difference Alaric’s approach has made to my Japanese reading. Whereas I used to be fixated on learning kanji and vocabulary, I now spend much of my study time actually reading and am amazed at how many words I recognize in context, words that I would probably not have recognized in a vocabulary list.)

Bokuto kidan DVD coverWhen I was ordering the first Ozu Box Set, I thought I’d check whether Toyoda Shirō’s 1960 film version of Nagai Kafū’s Bokutō kidan (A Strange Tale from East of the River) had been released on either DVD or VHS.

Toyoda, who never achieved the reputation or critical regard accorded his contemporaries Ozu, Naruse, and Mizoguchi, was a member of the jumbungaku movement, a group of directors with an interest in filming serious works of literature. In addition to Bokutō kidan, Toyda adapted Mori Ogai’s Gan (The Wild Geese) and Kawabata’s Yukiguni (Snow Country) for the screen.

Toyoda’s Bokutō kidan was not available but, much to my surprise, Kaneto Shindo’s 1991 version has been released on DVD. I couldn’t resist and added it to the Ozu order. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet since I have a huge backlog of movies to watch: four Ozu movies, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, two versions of The Loyal 47 Ronin, and Takahata Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies (recommended by Language Hat). And it’s the end of the month, which means that the second Ozu Box Set has just been released.

I’ve stopped eating out, I’ve given up drinking, I no longer go to the cinema, and I’ve abandoned any hope of buying a new laptop (Macintosh or PC). All my spare cash is going towards Ozu DVDs. And I’m not sure where this is going to stop because I just discovered that there’s a Kurosawa Masterworks DVD Triple Box Set. Though, since I taped a dozen or so Kurosawa movies when they were shown on SBS, I might forget about Kurosawa and hold off for the Mizoguchi and Naruse Box Sets. That way I could look forward to drinking a couple of beers on New Year’s Eve, while I’m watching a film from the fourth (and final) Ozu Box Set.

Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday 28 October 2003


The sixth (Special Bonus) DVD is in my recently delivered Ozu Box Set is fascinating too, for its title just as much as the contents. As you’d expect, the bonus DVD includes:

  • Ozu Yasujiro Special Bonus DVDa profile of Ozu’s career (Ozu Yasujiro’s World);
  • an interview with German director Wim Wenders;
  • an interview with Ryū Chishū about working with Ozu at Shochiku’s Ōfuna studio (near Kamakura);
  • documentaries about the making of Tokyo Story and An Autumn Afternoon;
  • cinema previews of some of the later films;
  • footage of the press conference at which the Box Sets were announced;
  • a compilation called Ozu no fūkei: sentakumono, entotsu/denchū (Ozu’s Scenery: Items to Be Washed, Chimneys/Telegraph Poles), which contains a selection of the brief exterior shots with which Ozu punctuates his films.

Ozu Yasujiro's Scenery, Items to be washed, chimneys and telegraph poles

Ozu used interior “still life” shots for the same purpose: to separate the various sections of a film and to indicate a change in narrative direction (he stopped using fades and dissolves early in his career). Donald Richie calls these transitional shots “empty scenes”; Paul Schrader refers to them as “codas”; for David Bordwell they are “intermediate spaces”.

But the real surprise is that the bonus DVD is titled まほろば (Mahoroba), a word I’d never heard of. I asked Natsuko what it meant but it was a mystery to her too. Nor could I find mahoroba in any of my Japanese-English dictionaries, print or electronic. Even more surprisingly, it was not listed in Jim Breen’s EDICT Japanese-English Dictionary file, which currently has approximately 106,000 entries.

Yet a Google search in Japanese yields about 55,500 results whilst a search in English for its Romaji equivalent returns about 99,700 entries! The top site for both searches is Internet Mahoroba, an ISP and web hosting provider. Other Japanese results include a ski club, a band, a resort hotel, and a patisserie. Episode 6 of an anime called Iria: Zeiram is titled Mahoroba (Shangrila). And in Pinnacle—a high-level D&D campaign—there’s a character called Yuriko Mahoroba.

According to the Mahoroba Restaurant in Vernon, BC, mahoroba means:

Surrounded by mountains, and nice to live (from oldest Japanese book: Kojiki)

The Kojiki (古事記) or Record of Ancient Matters is a loose account of Japanese history from the mythical age of the gods to the reign of the Empress Suiko (592-628).

I emailed xiaolongnu and Jim Breen, asking them if they’d heard of mahoroba. xiaolongnu wrote back that it sounds like a Buddhist term:

“maho” being the Japanese pronounciation of Chinese “mohe” which translates the common Sanskrit prefix “maha” meaning “great” (as in Mahatma —” Great Soul” — Mohandas Gandhi’s epithet). I can’t make anything out of “roba” in the absence of kanji (it’s that old signal to noise problem again).

The absence of kanji does make interpretation difficult yet mahoroba seems to be spelled almost exclusively in hiragana (a search for まほろ場 yields only 14 results).

In a follow-up email, xiaolongnu picked up the reference to the Kojiki, noting that mahoroba “is associated with the notion of Yamato (i.e. an idealized homeland in the mountains)”. Some further Googling revealed that a Japanese musician named Sojiro has released an album called Mahoroba

with a theme of deep respect and understanding for the Jōmon culture and people that had high technology and strong spirit more than 5000 years ago. Examining his own roots, SOJIRO elevated the album into a worldwide work. MAHOROBA, the old Japanese word, means Utopia.

Jim Breen replied that he’d found one online dictionary (available in three locations) with an entry for まほろば. I followed his suggestion and checked Excite, where the Sanseido Daijirin J-J dictionary provides a definition confirming mahoroba as an old Yamato word meaning “surrounded by mountains”, that it was used in the Kojiki, and that it is the same word as mahorama and mahora.

Jim also found it in the Fifth Edition of the (paper only) Kenkyusha J-E dictionary:

まほろば [すぐれた場所] an excellent [a splendid, an unsurpassed] location

And he mentioned that he is adding mahoroba/mahorama/mahora to EDICT as:

まほろば;まほらま;まほら /(n) excellent location (Yamato word)/splendid place/

Tonight, as I was finishing this entry, I called another friend, Nana, who loves Japanese art and literature. I asked if she’d heard of mahoroba. She hadn’t but, as I was midway through explaining that the word was used as the title for the Ozu bonus DVD, she suddenly said, Atta! (Got it!). As I’d been speaking, Nana had been looking it up in both her Sanseido dictionaries.

As Nana explained it, one of the dictionary definitions associates maho with two kanji: (makoto: truth, reality, genuineness, a Buddhist sect originating in the 13th century) and (shū: excel, excellence, beauty, surpass). Adding the ra to maho—as in mahora—turns it into a place, she added.

“It’s an old Yamato word meaning ‘surrounded by hills or mountains’,” said Nana, “but the sense I get is that it’s beautiful and special, a kind of mythical place that’s perfect and complete.”

I remembered that in one of the Google results someone had mentioned “Arcadia” as well as “Utopia” so I looked up “Arcadia” in my electronic Oxford dictionary/thesaurus/encyclopedia.

“How does this sound?” I asked Nana. “‘A mountainous district in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. In ancient times Arcadia was the home of the god Pan and a noted centre of song and music. In poetic fantasy Arcadia is a rustic paradise, the idyllic pastoral home of song-loving shepherds.’”

Nana agreed that mahoroba had a similar connotation. A Japanese Arcadia.

I’d been wondering whether the Ozu bonus DVD had been titled Mahoroba to convey the sense that the world Ozu created in his films was a kind of beautiful, mythical place, remote from the reality of contemporary Japan. I asked Nana what she thought.

“I think once you’ve watched thirty Ozu films,” she replied, “you’ll have a better idea of what mahoroba means.”

Ozu Yasujiro in center-rear, working as an assistant-director at Shochiku's Kamata studio

Permalink | Comments (10)

Thursday 30 October 2003

Mega Memory™

Do you suffer from these symptoms?

  • Poor Concentration?
  • Short Term Memory Loss?
  • Slow Mental Ability?
  • Mental Exhaustion?
  • Mental Fatigue?
  • Clogged Mind?
  • Forgetfulness?
  • Blankness?
  • Poor Recall?

You may need Mega Memory™!

Mega Memory packageI doubt I would ever have heard of Mega Memory™ had I not mislaid my mobile phone a few months ago. Perhaps I left it in a hotel room—or it might be somewhere in my house. I was packing to go to Melbourne at the beginning of last month and couldn’t find the handset anywhere so I called Telstra to see if anyone had been using it but the customer service representative said that there hadn’t been any calls made from that phone for six weeks. I had her put a bar on the number, just in case. On Monday morning, having finally decided to replace it, I drove to the nearest Telstra shop to choose a new phone and (hopefully) a cheaper monthly plan.

On the way I tuned the car radio to 2UE so I could listen to John Laws, the thinking person’s Rush Limbaugh. I spend so much of my life in a left-liberal ghetto that if I’m in the car on a weekday between 9am and midday—I never turn on the radio at home—I like to catch up via Lawsie with what the majority of Australians think and believe. Which is how I heard the Mega Memory™ advertisement.

Since I started my crash course in reading Japanese a few months ago, I’ve been suffering this low-level anxiety about how I’ll ever remember the twelve hundred kanji and thousands of compound words that I need to know in order to read even tolerably well. On the way home from the Telstra shop—with a new Nokia phone and a ten-dollar-a-month-cheaper plan—I thought briefly about stopping at a pharmacy but decided to wait. I’ve always been skeptical about vitamin supplements—they’re only of any use if your dietary vitamin intake is inadequate and I make sure my diet is healthy and well-balanced.

But on my way back from the pool yesterday afternoon, I dropped by the local pharmacy and walked over to the vitamin section where Karen, the pharmacist, was arranging the stock on the shelves. I asked her if she had any Mega Memory™.

“We sure do,” she replied, plucking a blue packet off the shelf and handing it to me. I was instantly reassured by the picture of the brain, which seems to be pulsing with billions of easily retrievable facts. I turned the package over and read the blurb on the side:

Mega Memory™ is a blend of traditional herbs combined with a special selection of vitamins and amino acids, which help nourish and support healthy brain and memory function. Mega Memory™ may also help to improve alertness, better recall, clear your mind, enhance mental ability, help you think quicker, improve your accuracy and memory retention. Great for students, or anyone who needs to retain a lot of information in a short space of time!

“Do you think it’s actually any good?” I asked her.

“I think it might be. A guy came back after taking it for a few weeks and told me he’d started to remember all these events from his childhood. It contains Gingko biloba and Brahmi which are both supposed to enhance your memory.”

I read the blurb again: Great for students, or anyone who needs to retain a lot of information in a short space of time! That’s definitely me, I thought to myself. I need to retain a lot of kanji and compounds in a short space of time.

I looked at the Consumer Information Panel on the back and saw that Mega Memory™ also contains Schizandra chinensis and Gotu Kola, plus a dozen other ingredients.

“I’ll take it,” I told Karen and followed her back to the cash register.

“That’ll be $29.95,” she said. “Cash or credit?”

“Credit,” I replied, opening the pocket of my sports bag, only to find a $5 note and my gym membership card.

“Oh, I forgot to bring my credit card,” I explained. “I don’t like to take my wallet or a lot of cash to the pool.”

Karen burst out laughing. “You might need this more than you realize.”

Cover, Kevin Trudeau's Mega MemoryI went back and picked up the Mega Memory™ pills later that afternoon. So far, I’ve taken two but I realize it might take a month or so until I start to see the benefit.

There’s also a book, Kevin Trudeau’s Mega Memory: How To Release Your Superpower Memory In 30 Minutes Or Less A Day.

Mega Memory watchI’m trying to read less in English and more in Japanese so the chemical approach is probably best for me. But Karen is a savvy businesswoman so it might be worth suggesting to her that she do a cross-marketing deal with the bookshop two doors up the street: buy a six month supply of Mega Memory™ pills and get the Kevin Trudeau book free.

There’s even a Mega Memory watch, with an integrated 128MB flash drive and a built-in USB cable that tucks neatly into the watch band. Reliable Mass Storage Solution On Your Wrist. I could use it to back up my LexiKAN Flash Card files.

I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the whole Mega Memory concept. I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday 10 March 2005

Curtis LeMay’s Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the first American firebombing attack on Japan. On the evening of March 9, 1945, 325 B-29 bombers took off from their bases in the Marianas, the first planes arriving over Tokyo just after midnight on March 10 where, over a three hour period, they dropped 1,665 tons of incendiary bombs. According to the most authoritative book on the firebombing campaign, Kenneth P. Werrell’s Blankets of Fire:

The bombing and fire destroyed almost 16 square miles, over 10,000 acres of Tokyo, which was approximately 8 percent of the urban area, and included one-quarter of the buildings in the city… One million people were left homeless and left the city. Casualty figures are inexact, as might be expected in such a mammoth event, ranging from about 80,000 to more than 100,000 killed. Surely the Tokyo fire raid is one of the deadliest air raids of all time, surpassing Hamburg, Dresden, and Nagasaki, and on the scale of Hiroshima, and is certainly one of the most destructive.

In the three years I’ve been weblogging, I’ve written many posts that deal with or mention the Tokyo fire raid:

The reasons for my interest in (some might say, obsession with) the night of March 9-10, 1945 are varied and complex. The simplest explanation might be that the firebombing of Japan—which continued for over five months (from March 9 to August 15, 1945)—is, compared to the atomic bomb attacks, little known outside Japan. Yet nearly half the built-up areas of sixty-four cities were totally destroyed while (according to the estimates of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey) 330,000 people were killed, 476,000 injured, 2.5 million buildings destroyed, and 8.5 million people made homeless.

Earlier in the week, knowing that I did not wish to let this anniversary go unacknowledged yet wondering what else I could possibly write about, I did a Google search on tokyo + firebombing. Amongst the results was a page at which reproduced a Japan Times article by Satō Hiroaki which begins with the astonishing revelation that:

On Dec. 7, 1964, the Japanese government conferred the First Order of Merit with the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun upon Gen. Curtis LeMay — yes, the same general who, less than 20 years earlier, had incinerated “well over half a million Japanese civilians, perhaps nearly a million.”

General Curtis LeMayAlthough Satō-san exaggerates the number of civilian fatalities caused by the firebombing, he is correct about the medal. I thought I was well-informed about General LeMay’s career—before, during, and after World War II. When I first read about this award I was, to put it mildly, flabbergasted. But a list of LeMay’s decorations includes “The First Class of the Order of the Rising Sun (Presented Dec. 7 1964).” (I’ve linked to a cached copy of the page since, when I wrote this entry, the Wright-Paterson Air Force Base website appears to be offline.) I note in passing the irony in LeMay’s award being conferred on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This history of the Thunderchief fighter squadrons (F-105D and F-105F) based the Yokota Air Base in Japan includes a reference to LeMay’s award:

When the 36th TFS returned to Yokota in December 1964, it participated in a huge ceremony: on 07 December the Japanese Government presented retiring USAF Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay with Japan’s “First Order of the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun.” In the flyover that followed the ceremony, 8th TFW Thunderchiefs formed the letters “C E L” in the General’s honor.

There is, therefore, little doubt that General LeMay received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class, which—although not the highest Japanese decoration—is an exceptionally prestigious award.

The official Japanese award system was introduced during the Meiji period in 1875. According to the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan:

Besides the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum (Daikun’i Kikkashō) as the highest degree of honor for men, the The Order of the Rising Sun (Kyokujitsushō) also for men, the Order of the Precious Crown (Hōkanshō) for women, and the Order of the Sacred Treasure (Zuihōshō) for both men and women were also established.

Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First ClassThe Order of the Rising Sun is awarded for services to Japan, both military and civilian, by citizens or foreigners. The highest grade is the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, Paulownia Flowers (勲一等旭日桐花大綬章). The second-highest grade—the one LeMay received—is the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class (勲一等旭日大綬章). Then there are seven lower grades of the Order of the Rising Sun (Two through Eight).

How is it, then, that General Curtis LeMay—who conceived, planned, and prosecuted the firebombing campaign against Japan that resulted in the deaths of at least 330,00 Japanese civilians and the wounding of another 470,000—received one of the highest official awards that can be bestowed by the Japanese government? The same General LeMay who, when asked about the morality of the firebombing campaign, replied:

“Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”

Although the analogy is not quite exact, it is almost as though Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku—the Japanese naval commander who conceived and led the attack on Pearl Harbor—had not been killed in the South Pacific in April 1943 when his aircraft was shot down by US fighters acting on the basis of decrypted Japanese radio reports, but instead had survived the war, managed to evade being convicted and executed as a war criminal, and twenty years later, been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon Johnson.

A Google Japan search on the English text string LeMay + “Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun” yielded two results, one of which is a weblog post by “komada” titled ルメイはなぜ開戦記念日に叙勲されたか (Why did LeMay receive a decoration on the anniversary of the outbreak of the War?). Although I could make some sense of the Japanese, it is written in the circuitous style common to Japanese academic discourse. I printed out the weblog entry and took it to my Japanese/English exchange lesson last night. Keiko, my exchange partner, read through it and said: “Mawarikudoi desu ne…

Mawarikudoi (回りくどい) means “roundabout, circumlocutory, indirect,” as in:

「回りくどい言い方はしないで。」 (Mawarikudoi iikata wa shinaide.) “Don’t beat around the bush.”

Keiko explained that in this weblog post Komada-san:

  • notes the dearth of information about LeMay’s medal on Japanese government sites;
  • points out that the medal is not mentioned in profiles of LeMay, even though awards from smaller countries are listed (this, as we’ve seen, is not correct);
  • explains the process by which potential award recipients are selected and vetted (recommended by the Foreign Minister then supported or opposed by government bureaucrats with the final decision made by the Prime Minister);
  • remarks on the lack of any publically-stated reasons for LeMay’s receiving such an award from the Japanese government;
  • notes that athough LeMay’s award was opposed by the Socialist Party, it was strongly supported by Genda Minoru, who had been the naval officer Admiral Yamamoto chose to draft the details of the plan for the attack on Pearl Harbor;
  • mounts a complex argument suggesting that LeMay’s award was given in return for an award given to Genda by the United States government, probably in recognition for Genda’s involvement in the purchase of 180 F-104 fighter aircraft;
  • adds that Genda, who had joined the Air Self Defence Force after the war, was involved in the Lockheed scandal in 1976 (he was convicted of accepting bribes to influence the purchase of Lockheed aircraft for the Self Defence Force).

Keiko then pointed out the word tsuzuku (to be continued) at the end of the post and, sure enough, when I got home I discovered that Komada-san had written another two entries following the one I’ve summarized plus a preceding entry titled Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.

At this point, then, the mystery of why General Curtis LeMay received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class, remains unsolved. Today I received an email from Keiko asking whether I’d found Komada-san’s other entries and suggesting that we continue to examine the Japanese sources. She added:

When I read about the person who you are interested in today, I was amazed about the fact that Japanese government awarded him the highest honor and he received the medal. Besides such surprise, I couldn’t believe he actually came to Japan to receive the medal. He stood on the land that he bombed until thousands had lost their lives. I wonder what he was thinking when he was walking on Japanese soil then? Did he feel proud?

A Google Japan search for 勲一等旭日大綬章 + ルメイ (LeMay + “Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class” — Japanese government sites only) yields but a single result: the transcript of a National Diet (parliament) session in which the former Japanese ambassador to the United States, Saitō Kunihiko, is being questioned about LeMay’s award.

However, a Google Japan search for 勲一等旭日大綬章 + ルメイ (LeMay + “Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class”) yields 3,360 results—many of which are Japanese weblog entries. The Japanese weblogging community is on the case. It’ll be fascinating to see where this leads.

In the meantime, I’ve made a note to ask Keiko next week how one says “fact check your ass” in Japanese.

Permalink | Comments (6)

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour