Search This Blog & Get A Rife

Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts

Friday, February 22, 2019

Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team

Here's an interesting bit of history about Canadian baseball on the west coast, as well as a bit of Canada's inglorious past.


Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, February 21, 2019

World's Shortest Escalator


Above, is the world's shortest escalator... five steps. 33-inches. 83.82 centimeters.

Located in the basement of the More’s Department Store in the city of Kawasaki, it takes just under five seconds to ride down it - close to what it might take you to walk down the stairs located immediately to the side.

Granted, you can't ride up, if the escalator is set to go down, so the stairs are still a necessary evil.

And it's not like the steps of the escalator are deep enough for a wheelchair or a baby stroller... it's just five seconds of wonderment.

Why? Why put such a contraption in for such a short travel? It seems like a waste of money... but perhaps that is what More's Department Store was after - a talking point. If so, it worked.

The escalator is listed in the Guinness World Records.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Woman Riding A Fish

Above is a drawing by ukiyo-e artist Kitagawa Utamaro I (1753-1806).

I've seen some weird art, but considering I don't think this is sexual, I can only assume it is what it looks like... a woman riding a fish... a carp, I think, to journey somewhere.

If anyone has any information on this, I'd love to hear about it. I'm snookered.

Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, February 18, 2019

Plants Don't Just Smell - They Can Smell

While some people still don't believe that plants nurtured with soft music grow better, the University of Tokyo has taken things a step further with their contention that plants smell.

Sure, we all know that plants have an aroma, some more subtle than others and some with a heady stench, but sure... plants smell... but that's not what the University of Tokyo means.

They mean that plants smelllllllllll-uh. While most critters on the planet use a variation of a nose to smell scents, a University of Tokyo research team has discovered that the ability for plants to smell resides in their genes.

Within a plant, are odor detection systems, with the scientists say may be manipulated and thus influence a plant's behavior.

The discovery was 18-years in the making.

"We started this project in 2000. Part of the difficulty was designing the new tools to do odor-related research in plants," explains University of Tokyo professor Touhara Kazushige (surname first).

According to the research paper entitled Transcription regulators involved in responses to volatile organic compounds in plants within the February 15, 2019 edition of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, plants detect a class of odor molecules known as volatile organic compounds.

These compounds are necessary for some plant survival strategies, such as the ability to attract birds and bees, deterring pests, and reacting to disease in nearby plants.

As well, the compounds provide the scents to essential oils.

If you were there when the photo was taken for the Beatles cover for it's 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, you would only smell the flowers, and not marijuana. There was no marijuana on the cover as alleged (just above the floral Beatles). They are peperomia plants. The scene was created by Jane Haworth and her husband Peter Blake and photographed by Michael Cooper.
Using exposed tobacco cells and four-week-old tobacco plants to different volatile organic compounds, the research team found that odor molecules change its gene expression by binding to other molecules known as transcriptional co-repressors that can turn genes on or off as required.

In plants, the odor molecules must move into the cell and accumulate before they affect plant behavior.

In animals, odor molecules are recognized by receptors on the outside of cells in the nose and immediately trigger a signaling pathway to recognize the odor and change behavior.

I don't know what minerals do. Nothing... LOL.

"Plants can't run away, so of course they react to odors more slowly than animals. If plants can prepare for environmental change within the same day, that is probably fast enough for them," states  Touhara.

Touhara and his team postulate that plants may have a much larger recognition of odor molecules than animals.

"Humans have about 400 odor receptors. Elephants have about 2,000 - the largest number in animals. But based on how many transcription factor genes are in plants, plants may be able to detect many more odors than animals," says Touhara.

The benefits of this discovery of being able to manipulate plants could one day lead to changes in crop quality, or to GMO a plant without actually editing the gene (which could also be done via pesticide spraying, if even slightly because it's then no longer organic).

Touhara says that with his team's discovery, a farmer could use an odor that makes the plant change the taste of its leaves to prevent insects.

Yes... with a simple manipulation, farmers could change a plant's genes to make itself safe against attack. Maybe even against too much heat or too much water. 

"All creatures communicate with odor. So far, our lab has studied within-species communication: insect to insect, mouse to mouse, human to human," relates Touhara. "This understanding of how plants communicate using odor will open up opportunities to study ‘olfactory' communication between all creatures."

Next... other research times will have to validate or invalidate Touhara's University of Tokyo team's findings. But he remains steadfast in his confidence.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Prince And The Unknown Korean

Japan's Kongō Gumi Co. was the world's oldest continuously operating company in the world, founded in 578AD... no, I'm not missing a "1" in front of that date... making it a 1,441-year-old business.

Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd (株式会社金剛組, Kabushiki Gaisha Kongō Gumi) was a construction company that was the oldest independent company in the world until it became a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction Group Co. in 2006.

I wrote about this back in 2016, which can can read HERE.

As a subsidiary, Takamatsu renamed the company Kongogumi Engineering Co. Ltd. in January of 2006... so technically, it's still a company, only because it is also now a subsidiary, it lost its 1,441-year-old status.

Now... is this actually a hafu (half) Japanese company? After all, it was founded by a Korean immigrant, 
Shigemitsu Kongo, whom Japan's Prince Shōtoku invited from Baekje (one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea) to come and build the Buddhist temple Shitennō-ji.

Shitennō-ji (四天王寺; also Arahaka-ji, Nanba-ji, or Mitsu-ji) is located in Ōsaka, and is regarded as the first Buddhist and oldest officially administered temple in Japan. It's still around, though much of it has been built and rebuilt over the ensuing centuries.

The Shitennō are believed to be four heavenly kings, and the temple was built to honor them, with four institutions, each to help the Japanese attain a higher level of civilization.

Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子, Shōtoku Taishi, February 7, 574AD – April 8, 622AD) was the son of Emperor Yōmei (the 31st Emperor of Japan).

According to tradition, Prince Shōtoku was appointed regent (Sesshō) in 593 by his aunt, the Empress Suiko (554–628). Prince Shōtoku, inspired by the Buddha's teachings, succeeded in establishing a centralized government during his reign. In 603, he established the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System at the court, and is credited with promulgating a Seventeen-article constitution.

The Prince was very much a Buddhist--though he also respected Shintoism--and is believed to have authored the Sangyō Gisho or "Annotated Commentaries on the Three Sutras" (the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, and the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra). The first of these commentaries, Hokke Gisho, is traditionally dated to 615, which makes it the first "official Japanese text", which therefore makes Prince Shōtoku the first Japanese writer.

Prince Shōtoku was called upon to defeat the powerful Mononobe clan, and did so by summoning the Shitennō (heavenly kings) - which is why he built the temple to honor them. There is much about
Prince Shōtoku's life which appears "legendary" or even mythical, but he does appear to have been a real person. 
 
As for Kongō Gumi founder
Shigemitsu Kongo, he was just a man who decided to stay in Japan and start his own construction company after being one of the skilled paid workers that the Prince asked to come over and build the temple.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, February 16, 2019

It's Saturday

Sure - it's Saturday... Saturday afternoon to be exact, and I'm well over 18 hours late in posting this blog.

Anyhow, today I had to go out and buy a pair of jeans, as I had developed a small tear in my left knee of the fabric, which quickly became full-on skin as I knelt down to do a couple of pair of skate laces for one of the hockey teams I coach.

When I was in Japan... and this is the truth as always, any imperfection in my clothing seen by the Japanese - well... it would spread through the local grapevine of my rural city of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken, and I would then find a gift in a bag either in my mail box or outside my door.

It was very nice of the people, if not a tad creepy. But I didn't really see it as creepy. The people in the city - not all mind you - looked out for me. They often bought new tee shirts for me (never pants), when I had a slight tear in them.

I think they just assumed I was a single guy who didn't know how to take care of himself - and to some extent, they were correct.

But, what I never learned, was where the hell they actually found shirts in my size?! I tried to go shopping for clothing in Japan and found it a largely fruitless exercise as stores in town never had my size.

Did they travel down to the capital city of Utsunomiya? Did they take the car, or the train. It was a 40 minute train ride. Did they do it JUST for me, or were they going down there anyway?

So many questions...

Pity that I never knew just who was doing this for me. I would have liked to have thanked them.

But that's Japan for you... especially in the closed-knit rural parts... always looking out for their neighbor... or their friendly neighborhood gaijin man.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, February 15, 2019

Missing-Link in Planet Evolution Found

The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (of Mitaka, Tokyo) has detected a 1.3 kilometer radius body at the edge of the solar system... it's the first time ever such as small body has been detected in space.

Bodies of about one kilometer in radius have been predicted by astronomers for the past 70 years, but this is the first time anyone has actually found proof of its existence.

It's important because these objects are seen as part of the formation of planets - the step in between small initial amalgamations of dust and ice and the planets we can see today.

This particular tiny body is within the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt, a collection of small celestial bodies out past Neptune's orbit. Neptune is our outermost planet now that Pluto has been kicked out of our solar system library. Pluto is, however, one of those celestial bodies within the Belt.

Because these bodies did not coalesce into a planet during the formation of our solar system, the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt's objects are seen as leftovers from the solar system's formation.

But surely there are asteroids within the solar system that scientists could study regarding the solar system's formation...

Actually... no. Such asteroids within the solar system have been affected by solar radiation, collisions, and the gravity of the planets over time - which makes them less than ideal subjects to study re: solar system and planet formation.

But, the celestial objects within the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt are considered to be pristine examples... untouched by our sun's solar radiation (though that is still just a hope and a guess), collisions (again, a hope and a guess), and planetary gravity (again... these Belt objects may not have affected the gravity of planets, but it is still possible the planets have affected their gravity... and orbit...). It's just less likely that these objects within the belt have been effected by inside forces of the solar system.

It means scientists now have a better sample of objects to study - cleaner ones, if you will - for planet formation.

So... how the heck did the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan actually detect a 1.3 kilometer radius object that far away?

Even the best telescopes we have would not be able to spot such small objects. Even the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan's Subaru Telescope couldn't see such distant tiny objects.

To combat that problem, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan - led by Arimatsu Ko (surname first) - used occulation... a technique that looks at a large number of stars, and then waits for a shadow of an object to pass in front of one of the stars.

It's not that romantic notion of star gazing that I imagined when I was considering going into astronomy full-time in school. My beef? I didn't want to work nights. Oh... and that math crap I would always have to do. I can do it, but it's work to me... unlike writing.

The OASES (Organized Autotelescopes for Serendipitous Event Survey) team placed two small 28 centimeter (11.02 inch) telescopes on the roof of the Miyako school on Miyako-jima (Miyako Island), Miyakojima-shi (Miyakojima City), Okinawa-ken (Okinawa Prefecture). The team watched some 2,000 stars over 60 hours.

I assume that doesn't mean anyone is staring through a telescope looking for shadows to occur, rather a computer analyzes the data looking for such light irregularities.

That's how the 1.3 kilometer radius object was found - a star dimmed as a shadow passed in front of it; plus the data suggests that there are plenty of other similar-sized objects - even more than previously expected - within the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt.

It must have been a tiny dimming of the star, what with the 1.3 kilometer radius object being so tiny... but that's what computers and grad students are for. 

For the team, finding such small celestial objects better supports the generally-accepted model that planetesimals (tiny, tiny almost-planets) first grow slowly into kilometer-sized objects via gravity before runaway growth (from gravity growing stronger from larger objects) causes them to merge into planets.

Says Arimatsu: “This is a real victory for little projects. Our team had less than 0.3 per cent of the budget of large international projects...we didn’t even have enough money to build a second dome to protect our second telescope. Yet we still managed to make a discovery that is impossible for the big projects.

"Now that we know our system works, we will investigate the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt in more detail. We also have our sights set on the still undiscovered Oort Cloud out beyond that,” continues Arimatsu.


This research appeared in Nature Astronomy on January 28, 2019 (K. Arimatsu et al. 'A kilometre-sized Kuiper belt object discovered by stellar occultation using amateur telescopes'). I've been saving this since then. No.. no reason.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: The image at the top is merely an artist's rendition of what the 1.3 kilometer radius object might look like within the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The True Face Of The Moon - 1886


My friend Vinnie had previously sent me a link to a book seller's listing of cool Asian materials for sale. Granted most are beyond my comfort zone even when employed, but maybe for some of you.

Regardless, here's a piece of artwork that captured my eye... perhaps because of the subject matter.

Above is a woodblock print of what artist Yoshitoshi Tsukioka imagined a moon civilization would look like when drawn around 1886.

Along with a huge interest in both astronomy and science fiction, I am a fan of ukiyo-e art. Ukiyo-e is meant to be a depiction of "the dreaming world", and in this case, this version of the Moon certainly is.

The work is entitled "Gessekai Shinzo" (The True Face Of The Moon), and is meant to show various civilization types contained on the Moon. I know it's tough to see - but the artwork is pretty avant-garde when compared to Japanese ukiyo-e scenes depicting women, or Mt. Fuji or Japanese landscapes. To me, this is a welcome breath of fresh air, with the artist showing a non-Japanese technique of imagination.

That sounds odd. Imagination is present when composing music or writing a story, but even by 1886, few Japanese artists were interested in drawing what was in their imagination. At least that has been my experience.

I've used this as an example of a lack of imagination, but back in 1990 or so when I was assistant  teaching a junior high school English class, students were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Girls all said "teacher" or "nurse" - no one said doctor. Women can be doctors, I said, but I was unable to sway them to reach higher. There's nothing wrong with being a nurse, of course. But why didn't anyone want to be a doctor or a scientist? At least no one said wife. I had enough of the women in university (in Toronto) trying to get their Mrs degree.

But the piece of resistance (sp) was the first boy who said he wanted to be a "salary man".

"Doing what?" I asked. "For whom?" I continued... but he had no answer except a shrug. He just wanted to get a salary at some nameless company. Not shockingly, all the rest of the boys said the same thing, except one dreamer who said he wanted to be a professional baseball player. 

And Yoshitoshi is considered to be the last great master of the ukiyo-e medium. Generally speaking, Yoshitosi's work covers the breadth of the rapid modernization of Japan after it opened its borders to the world circa 1868.

This example of Yoshitoshi's artwork could be considered one of Japan's earliest example of Science Fiction creativity.

Available for purchase from Rulon-Miller Books of St. Paul, Minnesota (https://www.rulon.com/images/upload/asia.pdf), for US$6,000.

Rulon-Miller's write-up of the work says:

His (Yoshitoshi's) body of work spans the era of rapid modernization in Japan, as traditional production methods were being superseded by new technologies, and his work reflects the Japanese desire to absorb and exploit their new connection with the West while maintaining a strong Japanese identity. While the traditions of ukiyo-e style and subject matter are clearly recognizable in most of his work, Gessekai Shinzo represents a more radical departure of the art form. Its composition and line work reflects a clear influence from Western engraving practices and composition theory as understood through the lens of the Japanese tradition. The subject matter also is an innovation. It is in some sense a wordless story, with no clear narrative, but with each image depicting the artist’s idea of what a civilization on the moon might look like. The architecture, landscapes, and people all seem to exist as a pastiche of Ainu, Russian, Japanese and Western (particularly biblical) culture.

Holy crap... I just saw a cool, imaginative drawing of the Moon, and I thought you might too.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

1936 Berlin Olympics - Long Jump

This is one of those famous/infamous photos from the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

That's American Jesse Owens in the middle during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after winning the Long Jump competition, thereby further embarrassing Adolph Hitler's White supremacy plans for his so called Aryan super race of Teutonic Germany.

In second-place performing the Nazi salute is German jumper Carl Ludwig "Luz" Long. Long was actually a good sport, and a good German, rather than a supreme Nazi.

Long had qualified for another round with a +-25-foot jump, and Owens needed a jump of more than 23 feet to qualify.

Long went over to Owens and introduced himself and advised him to draw a lie a few inches from the backboard and aim for it.

Owens jumped 25 feet-10 inches (7.87 meters) to qualify for the next round. Long went over and patted Owens on the back as Owens thanked him for the advice and well wishes.

Later during the elimination round, Long jumped 25-10-inches (7.87 meters) to tie Owens record. But on Owens next jump, he leaped 26-feet.

When Long fouled out on his next jump, Owens took his final leap (he had already won), and jumped 26 feet 5-1/2 inches (8.06 meters).

Like I said, Long was a good sport, and went over to Owens, grabbed his hand, and raised it in the air to celebrate Owens' victory.

Hitler did not invite Owens to his box for congratulations, but did state that Long was a great jumper and did Germany proud.

Owens had already won the Gold in the 100-meter race, and four days after the Long Jump win, won gold in the 200-meter race, taking home three Gold medals in three events. And then he won his fourth in the 4x100-meter relay.

Owens had shattered Hitler's point that Blacks were an inferior race with an epic performance in Hitler's backyard.

To be fair, U.S. presidents FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and Harry Truman also failed to honor Owens. It wasn't President Dwight Eisenhower that Owens was officially honored, and again until 1976 that President Gerald Ford presented Owens with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

This is the non-cropped photo of the Long Jump podium - a photo taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, who was part of Hitler's inner circle and was sentenced to four years in prison following WWII, for war profiteering. Look him up... it's an interesting biography.
And nobody noticed who came third in the Long Jump at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. That would be Japanese jumper Tajima Naoto (surname first), who leaped 7.74 meters (25.4 feet).

Tajima (田島 直人) - August 15, 1912 – December 4, 1990 - was born in Iwakuni, Osaka-ken - and competed in the 1932 (Los Angeles, USA) Olympics and 1936 Berlin Olympics. He came in 6th in the Long-Jump in 1932, and as stated in 3rd in 1936.

But Tajima was also in the Triple Jump event, and won the 1936 Gold while setting a world record with a jump of 16.0 meters (52.5 feet).

And believe it or not, that gold medal earned by Tajima in 1936 was the last gold medal won by Japan in the Summer Olympic Games until 2000AD when Takahashi Naoko (surname first) won the women's marathon race.

I should mention, however, that proceeding Tajima at the Olympic Games in 1932 and in 1928, Japan also won the Gold Medal in the Triple Jump event, by Nambu Chūhei (surname first) in 1932, Oda Mikio in 1928. Oda, by the way, was Japan's first ever Olympic Gold medalist!

Man... the things you can learn. When I saw the photo, I thought it was the podium for the 100 meters... but then I thought, no... Owens got gold, fellow American Ralph Metcalfe earned silver, and Tinus Osendarp took the bronze. I knew that German runner Erich Borchmeyer came in fifth, so there was no way that was him on the podium doing the Nazi salute.

Then I had to figure out what event's winners were being depicted in the photo. I didn't even know that Owens was a long jumper.

Anyhow... February is Black History Month... but hopefully you also learned about some cool Japanese athletes, and that not all Germans were Nazis.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, February 11, 2019

1922 US Baseball Tour Of Japan

Not considered one of the more memorable goodwill baseball tours by American MLB (Major League Baseball) stars to the land of the rising sun (try finding information on it!!!), the 1922 tour nonetheless still featured such stars as Casey Stengel - still a player until 1925 - right-handed pitcher Waite Hoyte, 1B George Kelly, and lefty pitcher Herb Pennock - all members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The cap above is a replica, but shows what the MLB players wore during their tour.

The 1922 tour was led by former Boston Red Sox utility 3B player Herb Hunter - his second, as he also organized a team consisting of major league and minor league American ball players in 1921... and again in 1931, this one featuring more well-known stars such as Lou Gehrig, Lefty Grove, and Mickey Cochrane - all great players and all future hall of famers.

While the American professionals were extremely dominant during the 1922 tour, the Japanese thought they were poor sports for apparently "throwing" a game against a local amateur team from Mita - a district in Tokyo.

In other words, the American's thought they were doing the nice "western" thing of letting the hosts win, but in reality the Japanese respected people when a true effort is given - regardless of the result.

Below, is a photo being offered for sale by the estate of George Kelly (one of the players) from the 1922 tour. You can bid on it HERE.

I believe there is a "G Kelly" autograph on the reverse - so baseball autograph collectors take note.
Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Keep Calm And Carry On

How strange is it that the day after I write a blog about "What Do You Do In Your Free Time Outside Of After Work?", I get fired from my job?

Yup. Jobless. Don't know where the next paycheck is coming from - that sort of stuff.

Oh well.

Needless to say that I don't feel much like writing today... so I'm going to go play Red Dead Redemption 2 on my PS4 and mind-veg.

I've been unemployed a few times in my life... when I left Japan full of piss and vinegar from Toronto - top of the world, ma... in reality I had left my home for three years in Japan, my friends, my almost-wife... for friends I hadn't seen in three years and to a society I wasn't sure I would fit in again... into a society I had been willing to shuck... from having a job to not knowing what the fug I was going to do with my life.

As such... despite the news of my dismissal coming out of the blue, it wasn't... in seven months I never saw my name on the magazine's masthead online... a coincidence? Naw. Just people being a$$holes. So it wasn't that big a surprise.

Despite all that, I'm farther along in years, but at least I know what I am going to do with my life. Same as I ever do. Keep calm and carry on. 

Be cool, people.
Andrew Joseph
PS: In case you were not aware... that signage above is a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II, and was intended to raise the morale of the British public threatened with attacks on its cities.

Friday, February 8, 2019

What Do You Do In Your Free Time Outside Of After Work?

Recently on www.reddit.com, a bunch of JETs were sitting around (oh god, not together - separated by wireless internet, of course), what people do to kill time… IE, what do you do when work is over?

You can read what some people are talking about HERE.

Me? I coach a couple of hockey teams and a baseball team (all three are going on now, of course). I also write, watch a lot of TV, read a lot of books, do a lot of laundry, and spend an inordinate amount of time driving to said practices (and games) for hockey and baseball.

But I don’t live in Japan any more. But when I did, I had various phases in my life there where I alternated between alcoholism to pornstar to suicidal recluse to social butterfly.

You know… normal stuff for a single guy in his late 20s in Japan.

I had a girlfriend pretty much from Day 1, so unlike the responders on www.reddit.com, I wasn’t lonely or bored as often as many of them appear to be.

Let me provide you with some advice that my father gave me before I left Toronto for Japan.

Since you may never return to Japan ever again when your contract is up, make sure you take full advantage of the fact that you are visiting and working and living in a country few people on this planet can even contemplate.

To the one young man on reddit, who plays a lot of Fortnite and crashes asleep - dude… duuuuuuude.

I like video games. I’m playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on the Sony PS4… and have played video games since they first hit the arcades… I’m old AND new school. While I can appreciate the allure of Fortnite… I see my 13-year-old son play it and have some sort of impersonal relationship with friends from baseball and hockey while playing on-line (I assume the only way one can play)… I get that it’s fun… but you are in Japan, buddy. Everything in Japan should be wonderful, new, strange and exciting.

There’s so much to see… so much to do… so much to learn. And you are playing Fortnite. Dude. Give your head a shake.

I was in do-inaka (the sticks, in the common vernacular). I had to ride a bicycle 30 minutes to a train station to catch a local train south for a 90-minute ride to Tokyo, or I could go north a couple of stops and catch a shinkansen bullet train and get there in 40 minutes.

The point is… I could… and did go to Tokyo. It’s not impossible. It’s expensive, though… am I right? But why go to Tokyo? You could go to any capital city. You could go and crash at a fellow JET’s residence for a night.

Let me tell you what my JET-experience after work schedule was like, knowing that while I probably have the days of the week incorrect, the activity was still performed.

Depending on whether or not I was asked, after school at say 3PM-5PM, I might either sit in the teacher’s office and write letters or stories or do crosswords or learn Japanese, or I might go and sit in on whatever club activity I was asked: It could be an English club, judo, baseball, softball, tennis, kendo, basketball… boys, girls… it didn’t matter. I was just there for support… or in the case of one school to be an assistant soccer coach.    

Monday night… School finishes at 5PM, I ride my bicycle to the grocery store and purchase a ready-made dinner. Home by 5:30PM, I eat, relax for an hour by watching Japanese TV featuring American TV shows or watch a video of some North American TV sent to me by my mom, or play video games while I eat on my SNES (in Japan it was called the Nintendo Supa Famicon).

Leave the apartment at 6:40, and ride to the facility where I  taught English to the Ohtawara-shi International Friendship Association - beginners class: 7-9PM. If I was earlier, I might stop at a sporting goods shop and purchase a box or two of J-League soccer collectable cards or the BBM Japanese baseball cards - which is why I have a true Ichiro Suzuki rookie card. I did get paid for this.

In Year three, I also did conversational English privately, and made something like US$10,000 in three months. All I did was talk about stuff... such as, let's talk about baseball today. And then we did. Sometimes they would pick a topic. It could have been sports, food, even dinosaurs! Who cares... we were talking English!!!  I do that all day long now, and no one wants to pay me. They might want to pay me to shut up... but in Japan... what a country!

On the way home, I might stop off at a book store and rent a couple of movies to watch until 1AM.

Tuesday… My girlfriend… either Ashley or Junko or Noboko would either be there or would arrive shortly after. I might cook dinner, or they may have brought food over, or I’m re-heating the huge pot of chilli I would make on the weekends. Apparently I made a mean chilli. Not bad for someone who didn’t know how to cook when he arrived in Japan. Then boyfriend/girlfriend stuff… or we’d talk or watch TV or play Scrabble or discuss future plans…

Wednesday… From 6-8PM, there was a kyudo (Japanese archery) lesson at the local club. I had never had any interest in archery, but I was asked, as was Ashley - so how do I say no? I sucked at it. Astigmatism in both eyes, along with floaters… it’s a wonder I didn’t kill anyone.  After that, Ashley and I would ride from my house (where we were dropped off after the lesson) over to Mosburger for our weekly ritual. Sometimes Ashley would come back to my place for a bit, and sometimes she would want to go home (she loved to sleep). Either way, it meant a 30-minute bicycle ride to her town next door, and then a 30-minute ride back to my place. I’d do laundry or dishes - probably both. And watch the remaining movie rental, as I always rented three at a time for Y500 ($5).

Thursday…. I’d go shopping… maybe make that pot of chilli again… watch TV, read a book, make some calls back to Toronto… cal up other AETs in other provinces, such as Kristine and flirt for a while. Sometimes Matthew would come over with a couple of beers and we’d watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. Either my tapes from home, or his… or if Ashley was coming over, all three of us would watch. We were all fans.

Friday… the bar scene. Ashley and I would meet Matthew at the 4C after dinner… or we’d have dinner below in the Matsuri restaurant (owned by the same bar owner)… one of all of us would be toasted drunk… I’d get lucky, Ash would sleep over…

Saturday… get up late, make us breakfast of bacon and eggs… never, by the way, cook back while naked. Maybe we’d ride our bikes to the train station near Ashley’s apartment… and go to Nikko… sometimes to sight see, usually to go antique shopping, where she’d buy old masks, and I’d buy ukiyo-e (woodblock pints) from the 1860s and earlier. We might go once a month for our year together.

If we didn’t go to Nikko, we’d take the train to Utsunomiya for shopping or a movie and food. Maybe she’d come back to my place, maybe she wanted to sleep. Either way, I went back to the 4C, hung out with Matthew sometimes, other times I gave free English lessons.

Later when Ashley and I weren’t a couple, women would approach me at the bar, and the rest was a fun night.

Sunday… sometimes Matthew and I would go bike riding around Ohtawara-shi, our hometown, sometimes it was also with Ashley. If the weather sucked, we stayed in and amused ourselves.

I can say that I did laundry every other day, vacuumed ever other day, went shopping for food stuffs every other day.

Some weekends, Ashley and I or Noboko and I would go on trips to other prefectures to see the sights and sites.

However… I probably saw the most of Ohtawara when I was riding with Matthew, as he always seem to have the knack of finding little out of the way temples and shrines. Later in my three years there, I would go out riding by myself - nice and early… and take photographs of people and places. I did a lot of that.

Most of my travels in Japan involved me with a camera. My Nikkon or sometimes just a Fuji disposable camera. I did learn to always buy postcards or telephone cards of every place I visited in case my photographs sucked - which they often did. The cameras weren’t idiot proof as the camera-phones are today.

Sometimes, when I was bored, I’d go out to the local aquarium shop and look around or buy a goldfish. Sometimes I’d go to a hobby shop and buy a video game while having to deal with surprised students who couldn’t believe that an adult also like video games, or maybe I’d buy a 5,000 piece puzzle and spend a week or two putting it together in the frame I bought alongside it.

I even bought a model of Thunderbird 2 from the Thunderbirds TV show from the 1960s, as THAT show was then being shown to a new generation of Japanese kids on TV.

So… hanging with friends; shopping for nothing, sight seeing, doing hobbies, drinking, dinners, sports, teaching, playing video games, reading books - oh lots of books… Matthew got me into Sherlock Holmes, and Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series, and even Clive Barker and Stephen King… oh… and I also wrote stuff to contribute to the local JET AET (assistant English teacher) monthly newsletter (and even for other prefectures) via my Wonderful Rife column… which is how this blog eventually came about.

Every Friday when I would spend the day at the Ohtawara-shi Board of Education Office, my bosses would take me out someplace to show me the sights of Ohtawara… such as samurai burial mounds, or the haiku poet Basho’s place, or how people catch ayu fish.

There would be festivals to attend in my town and elsewhere.

Sometimes I’d get a call from a female AET asking me to go dancing with them down in Tokyo. Yes.. me. It wasn’t for anything romantic, seductive or sexual, rather it was for fun, with me acting as body guard. Why not? It was sweaty and fun, and not always about sweaty and fun sex for me… even if sometimes I have given that impression. Sorry, I don’t do impressions.

You can do something different everyday if you want. Sometimes it is just making do with what you have in front of you. But being in a rut and doing the same thing every day… no… that is on you. You are in Japan… plenty to see here, folks. Plenty to see.

Heck… even if you don’t want to go out drinking, you can easily get invited to try out different things. I did flower arranging, taught a cooking class with Matthew - he did ice cream cake, I did chilli (no surprise). go shopping… not buying. Go find a temple or shrine… pray… meditate. Get yourself seen in the town.

I took up drinking. I don’t recommend that. Not too many people can drink like I can and not get a hangover the next morning. Still haven’t. Spins. Puking. Crapped my pants once… but never a hangover. I once had drinks with the local Yakuza boss. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Japanese… it could have been a recipe for disaster, but at least his kid and I got along well in school - probably because I told him I thought his dyed hair was cool looking. That showed A) I wasn’t afraid to talk to the yakuza boss’ kid, and b) I wasn’t stuck up like Japanese society was back then (and still is) on hair color.

And yeah… sometimes you get lonely… like when you find out someone you knew back home died… like your cat and grandfather. So you drink. And when you don’t have a female partner to do stuff with, and you wonder if you ever will… you drink. You wonder what you are going to do with your life when Japan is over… so you drink. You wonder, and wonder and wonder… and dammit all, sometimes you have to stop thinking and just do stuff.

Nowadays, I could just be a dad and watch my kid do sports… but know… I coach… nowadays it’s because I have been asked… but honestly, I’d like to just watch and take it all in.

But Japan…. I left nearly 26 years ago. I haven’t been back. And I miss it. But not to the point of obsession. Unless you count writing about it every days since February 15 of 2011.

Yes, it’s the same old thing every day - writing… but it’s hardly ever the same old memory lane revisit.  

Anyhow… that’s enough for now. I have stuff to do.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, February 7, 2019

1617 Map of Japan


 

Although not done with any color save black, white and gray, this 1617 map of Japan is one of the finest of the era - certainly far superior in detail than others before it.

For whatever reason, however, this map was never published.

Discovered in 1985, this map of Japan was engraved in 1617 by Christopher Blancus in Rome, Italy, but drawn in the 1590s by Ignacio Moreira, and is the only known copy. 

Which is too bad, because this map - this sucker is accurate.

Unlike other cartographers who drew their maps based on accounts of others, the Portuguese Moreira actually visited Japan—at least twice, living there between 1590-1592, according to writer and historical researcher Jason C. Hubbard.

Again... I love the fanciful creatures and full-masted ships placed in the waters... I assume some version of those creatures exist in real life... but that one in the top-middle... no clue as to what it might really be.

Moreira got the shape of Japan correct, and even managed to add at the very top-right the land of Yezo, which is what we know Hokkaido as today.

Again, I have no idea what those three islands are to the lower right of Japan are... if they were a bit under and to the left, I would suggest they are the three islands of: O-shima, Izu-shoto and To-shima.

But the cartographer does appear to have made allowances for those three islands just south of Tokyo Bay, above the "thing" (some sort of creature - a whale spouting water?) that is to the right of the square legend.

"Arr, there be whales."

What is obvious about this map by Moreira - and painfully researched by Hubbard (see HERE) - is that it is loaded with place descriptions and labeling.

A fantastic piece of art and history.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

1595 Map of Japan



Again with the maps? Sure... plus one more tomorrow.

Maps that add a bit of flair to them as the one picture above does - are fantastic to my eye.

It's just that simple adding of ships to them that brings the islands to life - that they have indeed been visited. And then there's the reference scale in the bottom right, encapsulated within the fancy framework... or maybe it's the blue of the sea... with dark ridges showing the more shallow waters around the islands.

The Map of the Islands of Japan from 1595 and drawn by Abraham Ortelius (April 14, 1527 – June 28, 1598) of Belgium was a cartographer and geographer, and is recognized as the creator of the first modern atlas known as the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World).

Along with that, Ortelius is believed to be the first person to imagine that the continents were joined together before drifting to their present positions.

This map by Ortelius shows only the three main islands of Japan: Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, omitting Hokkaido because at the time of the map's creation, the northern island of Hokkaido was not yet settled.

Also cool is the fact that Kyushu (in yellow) and Shikoku (smaller green island) are both shown as separate isles, and both are shown quite close to how they appear in modern maps of today. The cartography of 1595 though nearly 425 years ago, was pretty damn close to its modern counterpart. 

I am unsure if the three small isles of yellow, pink and yellow to the bottom right corner are supposed to represent the islands of O-shima, Izu-shoto and To-shima... but despite their irregular size and misplacement off the main island of Honshu, I suspect they are.

I would imagine that since the emperor lived in Kyoto, and foreigners were still supposed to only visit near the then-port of Nagasaki, water traffic to the east may not have been allowed, and thus the map had to rely on verbal accounts of isles off the southern coast of Edo (modern day Tokyo)... but that is just a guess on my part.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

1528 Japan Of Japan - The First


Okay... so I'm on a bit of a map kick. Sue me. I like maps. I don't own any except for whatever atlases I have from junior high school or whatever is in my car's glove box... but I admire them... especially the old ones.

The older the map, the more impressed I am... except when it looks amateurish.

That's what we have above. That is the first ever western-drawn map of Japan created by Benedetto Bordone (1460–1531) a manuscript editor, miniaturist and cartographer who was born in Padua (at that time it was part of the Republic of Venice, which is now, obviously, Italy).

Bordone had never visited Japan himself, except via the readings of Marco Polo... and Polo was basing his description on that of the Chinese, I believe. No European had, at that time, visited Japan, though the Chinese certainly had a bit of contact with the Japanese.

While the outline of Japan above doesn't really paint an accurate description of Japan, when you look at it longer, it actually sorta looks like the main island of Honshu.

What I like about it, is that the map shows some mountains... with I guess Polo heard about from the Chinese who had visited or ta least from the Chinese who had some contact with the Japanese who had visited them.

The mountains are there... to the east, but right through the island... and there's at least two settlements there... one at least accurately shows Kyoto... about where the capital would be...

What's that Italian under the map? It begins to talk about: At a distance of one thousand miles a hundred miles from the above, for the fourth of a host of garbino and post the named ifola, major, which is of circumcision...

So... no idea, except that maybe it says Japan is 1,000 miles away (off the Asian coast) - per Marco Polo, I assume. I've read Marco Polo a few years ago, but I don't have that type of a memory to recall specifics like where Japan might be.

Oh well... no one was going to do anything except TRY and find Japan... and then the real cartography (map making) could begin.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, February 4, 2019

1680 Map of Japan

The above map is  a 1680 map of Japan available for purchase from Rulon-Miller Books of St. Paul, Minnesota (https://www.rulon.com/images/upload/asia.pdf). For such an old map, I am impressed that the islands of Japan at least look pretty close to how they should look.

Map making - at least the person making maps from scratch, impress the heck outta me. I suppose the ship is moving along the coast, while the mapmaker tries to sketch the shape of the land in front. And putting mountains and such on the map... they either rely on locals, or traverse the interior themselves.

Since Japan in 1680 had already been officially closed off to foreigners for 77 years (since 1603), the details in the map are amazing.

This collection features treaties and maps of John Baptista Tavernier, Baron of Aubonne, Switzerland, including write-ups on how Holland manages affairs in Asia; relationship with Japan and the cause of the persecution of Christians in that country, and more relating to business relationships with Persia, India, and more.

Tavernier was a gem merchant who traveled to only to China, but included a description of Japan in his accounts.

Included in this US$4,500 purchase is the engraved, folding map, with an inset of Tunquin (a historical region of southeast Asia on the Gulf of Tonkin, an arm of the South Chin Sea, now forming most of northern Vietnam).

I know... not a very clear image of the map... but I suppose that was done by Rulon-Miller on purpose. Below, is a clear image of another map I found on-line - this one isn't folded... then again, the map below has seen some repairs.


Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, February 3, 2019

FDR Speech Declaring War On Japan

Part of the problem with history, is that the older it is, the less chance we have of getting the information right.

Nowadays, we take it for granted that pretty much everything we say can be recorded if we want it to be. Even if we don’t want it to be.

Like the Brits know via CCTV, Big Brother is watching.

But within the past 100+ years, we went from the dawn of heavier-than-air flight to landing men on the lunar surface… from having a radio to having telephones more powerful than the computers of just 20 years previous.

In the 1930s, the radio entertainment shows were broadcast and recorded for posterity.

It’s why you can today still hear The Shadow from the 1930s, or listen to Orson Welles scare the U.S. with his broadcast readings of The War Of The Worlds (1897 story by H.G. Wells).

The photo above is a record recording of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking to the U.S. Congress declaring war on Japan December 8, 1941.

Available for purchase from Rulon-Miller Books of St. Paul, Minnesota (https://www.rulon.com/images/upload/asia.pdf), for just $300 you can own a piece of history via four 78-rpm, six-and-half inch red vinyl disc records in their original sleeves. The condition is “fine”, with the seller saying it has the usual scratches, but is entirely audible.

Check out that Rulon-Miller Books link for more cool paper ephemera you can purchase at  reasonable prices.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks Vinnie for the heads-up.  

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Korean Comfort Woman Swears At Japan With Dying Breath

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is an 1851 novel by Herman Melville, in which the sole survivor of a lost whaling ship relates the tale of his captain's self-destructive obsession to hunt the white whale, Moby Dick.

“To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell's heart, I stab at thee; For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

The dying words for Captain Ahab, the self-destructive sea captain who hunted Moby Dick, could easily be applied to Kim Bok-dong’s final words upon this mortal coil.

Bok-dong was a Korean citizen forced to become a sex slave for the Japanese military during WWII - what people have come to know as “comfort women”.

Dying of cancer this past January at the age of 92, Bok-dong was one of the first women to come forward regarding the sex slave allegations against Japan, and was a tireless voice to get a proper apology from Japan for the actions of its government and military during WWII.

According to a New York Times article: “The last audible word she uttered before she died was actually a swear word that expressed her strong anger at the Japanese government,” stated Yoon Mi-hyang, president of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance, an advocacy group for the South Korean women who were forced to work in Japanese brothels.

The only difference between Captain Ahab, Star Trek’s Khan Noonien Singh (who quoted Ahab in the Star Trek II movie) and Bok-dong, was the she fought the good fight—not for herself, but for the benefit of all the other women forced into sex slavery by Japan.

Between 1910 and 1945, Korea was a colony of Japan. This was the environment Bok-dong was born into, on April 19, 1926 in Yangsan, Korea.

By the time she was 14 (1940), Japan—and thus colony Korea—was at war against China.

Bok-dong was conscripted by Japanese officials, who told her that she would work in a garment factory, and coerced her into doing so by threatening harm to her family should she refuse.

But rather than the textiles industry, Bok-dong had the wool pulled over her eyes as she was inserted into the wartime sex slave industry.

She was forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers at military brothels first in China, and was then moved to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore before the war ended in 1945 when Bok-dong was still only 19-years-old.

Bok-dong once explained the routine: “On weekdays, I had to take 15 soldiers a day. On Saturdays and Sundays, it was more than 50. We were treated worse than beasts.”

Holy (expletive). I feel sick to my stomach.

I had never heard the numbers before… and knowing someone like Bok-dong was forced into this disgusting scenario when she was 14? Fugging hell… 

Like many a rape victim, and like the rest of the Japanese sex slaves, Bok-dong returned home after Japan’s defeat in WWII, and hid what happened to her out of shame and self-loathing.


In 1991, sex slave survivor Kim Hak-sun (also of Korea) was the first woman to come out in public and say she was a “comfort woman”, with Bok-dong following suit in 1992.

Naturally, few in Japan believed such claims… why would anyone make such claims nearly 50 years later? Surely it was a money grab…

But it wasn’t.

A total of 239 brave women—of different nationality—came forward to have their voice heard.

Only 23 are still alive…

In 2012, Japan traveled to New York to ask the U.S. to remove an American memorial honoring Korean comfort women. HERE.  That's how Japan feels about the whole thing. At least in 2012.  

Part of the whole issue, is that Japan made reparations for its actions and incursions during and before WWII, in the years after its defeat. Japan paid the Republic of Korea US$300 million in 1965. I suppose North Korea got boned in that deal. 
See HERE for a list of all of Japan’s WWII reparations.

This is why Japan considers all matters regarding WWII, closed.

But… in 2005, the South Korean government said that Japan’s war reparations payments did not include “illegal acts against humanity”, which is what the whole sex slave thing really is.

South Korea’s Supremem Court said the same thing on October 31, 2018 (see same article HERE when it ordered select Japanese companies to pay reparations to Korean individuals who were forced into labor.

While Japan doesn't feel it is obligated under Korean law, it also points to a 2015 agreement it had with South Korea.

In 2015, Japan’s Prime Minster Abe Shinzo (surname first) and South Korea president Park Geun-hye created an agreement meant to lay the “comfort woman” issue to bed, with Japan apologizing to the women, and expressing responsibility for their suffering. Japan also agreed to pay around US$9-million to create a foundation to care for the sex slave survivors in the latter years. 
 
Bok-dong and other survivors, however, said that the agreement fell short of official reparations and a declaration of legal responsibility on Japan’s part.

In 2016, Bok-dong said that fight was not about money. “What we want is a sincere apology, and legal reparations from Japan that would help restore our honor.”

In 2018, Bok-dong staged a one-person protest in front of the foundation, which was soon thereafter shut down.

Japan has long felt that it has apologized enough and paid enough to all countries it harmed during WWII, and doesn’t quite “get” why it is being persecuted by individuals—with legal backing—about resolved issues from 80 years ago.

But here's the thing... and keep in mind I have not examined any legal documents regarding the 2015 agreement between South Korea and Japan... 

Per Bok-dong's request... I am unsure what the sex-slave survivors would consider a “sincere apology”.

I am also unsure what "legal reparations from Japan" means, and how that would "restore honor"… as any honor lost by these people would hardly be regained through mere words from the former enemy.

Back in the 1990s when I used Japan as my base and traveled around a bit of Asia, whenever I visited that country’s WWII memorials and mentioned I was a Canadian living and teaching in Japan, the locals would essentially spit back that they hated Japan.

This was from people not even born when WWII concluded. And yes, I get that they may have been children or grandchildren of people who were devastated by Japan’s incursion into their country and the subsequent treatment by them…

People don’t forget slights… so when it comes to things such as family or personal honor, and the apparent lack of capitulation by the enemy, it will continue to anger the aggrieved.

The whole situation is a no-win scenario. These women forced into sexual slavery during WWII will never get their life back. It won’t change their future. It doesn’t remove the individual shame they may have felt. It doesn’t remove the nightmare.

For Japan, it brings up things from the past it had long thought was either buried or paid for in silence. For the Japanese government, none of its current people were part of Japan’s horrible actions during the war.

But that doesn’t excuse it from the sins of the father.

Articles I have read on the subject do not make it clear to me as to exactly what these survivors want from Japan or want Japan to do.

Obviously whatever it is exactly, is important to them, and to be honest, whatever they want, they should get… in spades.

For Japan’s current government, what’s the big effing deal? Listen to what these survivors want, give it to them whole-heartedly and with respect, and watch the world rise up in anger at what Japan was like before the swell goes down and fades into memory.

It will fade, Japan… these sex-slave survivors are getting older… why not do the right thing… not the right legal thing… but the right moral thing, and pay due respect, and move on with the lesson learned.

As soon as the issue of sex slaves had come out in the open in 1991, Japan should have pulled up its pants and spoke in front of the global microphone, taken full responsibility, apologized, and worked with the survivors and South Korea to provide a better quality of life for all involved.

I suppose monies could have gone to families of the action if the woman in question had passed - or something… create a memorial to all “comfort woman”, and place it on Japanese soil, along with one in South Korea. Heck, even one in North Korea. I'm sure women there were part of the ordeal when it all just Korea.

Media and public blow-back would be huge, as the sins of WWII are re-hashed, but just as quickly, it would have faded into the background. I know… that sounds harsh. I’m sure it wouldn’t have faded for the families involved… I was speaking politically for Japan.

Instead, you have the dying breath of a woman swearing at Japan in 2019 for actions not done in her lifetime.

R.I.P Kim Bok-dong. Your fight continues. Unfortunately.

Andrew Joseph
PS: You should read Moby-Dick. The chapters alternate between the actual story, and author Melville's scientific writings on whales and the whaling industry. Both were good reads.
PPS: When the book was first published in Great Britain in October of 1851, it was done so with the title: The Whale. When it was first published in the U.S. in November of 1851, it was re-named as Moby-Dick by Melville's brother Allan. Yes, Moby-Dick is hyphenated.
Title page, first American edition of Moby-Dick, 1851
Of course, the whale was only referred to once with the hyphen within this edition... on the cover page... so was the title incorrectly hyphenated by Allan Melville? Or is that how both Melville's wanted the title to read, regardless of how the whale's name was spelled within the cover.
As such, refer to the book's title as Moby-Dick, but the whale as Moby Dick. Of course, most publishers don't follow that. I'll follow as per the first U.S. edition.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Complete Musashi - The Book Of Five Rings And Other Works - A Book Review

My friends over at Tuttle Publishing recently sent me a copy of the book: The Complete Musashi - The Book Of Five Rings And Other Works.

Translated by Alexander Bennett, the book purports to be THE definitive translation of the complete writings of Japan's greatest samurai, Miyamoto Musahi (surname first).

First off... Miyamoto Musashi... apparently everyone called him Musashi... but that's not his family name.... it's his first name... something quite alien in Japanese culture, and by that I mean for people to refer to him as thus. That alone could separate the man from everyone else.

But no... Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵, c. 1584 – June 13, 1645), also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke or, by his Buddhist name, Niten Dōraku, was a Japanese swordsman, philosopher, writer, samurai and rōnin.

Yes... a rōnin... a masterless samurai. Surprising, or unsurprisingly given the translators obvious admiration for the life and legend that is Musashi, calling Japan's greatest swordsman a rōnin would be akin to a slap in the face.

While Musashi was a samurai, from 1603 on until his death (19-years of age until age 61), there weren't any wars being fought... and aside from wandering the countryside picking battles with experts from various schools of swordsmanship in duels, he spent most of his life during a period of profound peace in Japan. Masterless. A rōnin.

He is considered Japan's greatest swordsman for having won 61 duels without a loss with his cool two-sword style of fighting. Consider that the No. 2 greatest Japanese swordsman only had 33 wins.

While I enjoy a good samurai movie - and I do, but reading historical biographies has not been my cup of tea.

Sure in the past three years I have read about 10 such biographies on sports figures in hockey and baseball, and one on General Custer and enjoyed them... but this book... The Complete Musashi - The Book Of Five Rings And Other Works.... this was a translation of a swordsman's writings about how to become a better swordsman... a teaching mechanism.

Boring, I thought before reading it. But was it?

I did enjoy the translator's efforts to create a more definitive history of the legendary swordsman, backed up with good detective work, and some good guesses. It's something I do quite often when trying to make heads or tails out of a jumble of conflicting data - for this blog, and for my Pioneers of Aviation blog.

The book offers complete teachings of how to become a better swordsman... and provides combat strategy data that any swordsman of the Edo period would have found either sacrilegious (because it conflicted with their own school of combat) or the greatest thing since sliced bread, which wouldn't be invented until the 20th century.

To read The Complete Musashi - The Book Of Five Rings And Other Works, I believe that one should have some interest in becoming a better swordsman than what one already is.

Yup... a book on swordsmanship for the swordsman.

However, according to translator Bennett, Musashi's lessons can be applied (in theory - not practical) to all... with the old adage of practicing something everyday will make one better.

And... it's not like there aren't other versions of Musashi's Book of Five Rings out there by other publishers.... it's just that Tuttle Publishing and Bennett believe their version is the most correct of the bunch.

Who am I to say otherwise? Bennett certainly does present a good argument as to why his translation and definition of the Japanese-language scrolls is the best.

It may indeed be.

But not being a swordsman or even a practitioner of swords, I couldn't say for sure.

I certainly do enjoy watching dual-sword samurai battle a one-weapon opponent in the cinema. It looks cool.

Until reading this book, I had no idea that this sort of swordsmanship was actually NOT the norm in the Edo period. I knew it was different, and was portrayed as the best... but at least I know that it was not the norm.

You can't argue with a dueling record of 61-0.

For the average person looking for a book to read, I would stay away from reading any version of The Book Of The Five Rings.

However... if you are a swordsman involved in the Japanese martial arts seeking to learn more about bushido (the way of the warrior), maybe you'll want to read the The Complete Musashi - The Book Of Five Rings And Other Works.

It's dry reading, but it's put together quite well by Musashi and translator Bennett. I'm sure you could learn many a thing from it.

The hardcover book has a total of 224 pages - good bang for the buck (US$14.99)... but when I am reading a book about sword techniques - even a historical tome such as this, I want more photos showing how Musashi envisioned it.

Simply writing about it might be enough for most sword practitioners, but I'm a visual person. I like to see what I am reading. It would be helpful.

I am aware that the students for whom The Book Of Five Rings was written for 400 years ago would only have the words to learn by... and that the Tuttle Publishing edition seems to be a faithful rendering of Musashi's words... but this book should have aspired to be more than merely the most definitive translation of Musashi's teachings.

It should also have been a modern teaching method.

Again... maybe it is for the swordsman... but for the lay reader... more would have been better.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Grills Gone Wild

I like Ariana Grande. She’s a beautiful young woman with a helluva voice, and is one of the world’s leading pop singers.

I’m not really a fan of that genre - pop - so forgive me.

However, I used to watch her TV shows with my son: Sam and Kat and Victorious, and found it quite funny. She played a ditz… something difficult to do when you aren’t one.

But Ariana recently did something quite ditzy.

She got a Japanese kanji tattoo to celebrate her new hit single. Cool, right?

However, the greatest fear of anyone getting a tattoo using a foreign-language alphabet… well… Ariana got burned… with a BBQ.

Looking to get a palm tattoo - ouch - with the Japanese kanji symbols for “7 Rings”, her new hit single, she instead got one that says BBQ.

Ariana Grande in 2015. In 2019, it's more like Me-ow!

The kanji 七輪 means Japanese-style charcoal bbq grill (shichirin).

I don’t know if she looked it up herself, or if she had the tattoo artist look it up, or if the tattoo artist was Japanese and simply understood a request for shichirin to be BBQ rather than seven rings…

Google Translate shows 7 rings to be written with the same kanji Ariana chose: 七輪.

When I type in seven rings in English to Google Translate and convert it to Japanese, the site shows: 7輪 (7-rin).

If she then chose to convert 7 into kanji: 七, you can see how she would have thought that 七輪 would be correct.

Transversely, when you place the kanji for shichirin (七輪 - aka BBQ) into Google Translate and ask it to convert it to English, it comes up with “tambourine”.

Seriously - WTF?! Tambourine?

Using 七輪 as a Chinese symbol and converting it via Google Translate, it becomes: Seven Round, which at least seems closer to seven rings.

Did Ariana Grande simply use Google Translate, and did it let her down?

Can you sue?

Right now, the singer seems to have a great take on it all.

Responding to a fan via Twitter, Ariana wrote: "Indeed, I left out "つの指" which should have gone in between.It hurt like f**k n still looks tight. I wouldn't have lasted one more symbol lmao. But this spot also peels a ton and won't last so if I miss it enough I'll suffer thru the whole thing next time."

She then added in a second tweet,  "Also.... huge fan of tiny bbq grills."

Funny woman!

As she wrote, the tattoo should have read as such: 七つの指輪 (Nanatsu no yubiwa), or Seven Rings.

When I pumped in that kanji string, it did indeed show up on Google Translate as “seven ring”.

As for Ariana and her love of tiny Japanese BBQ’s… well, she could have it removed, but since the pain is something she doesn't have a high tolerance for, I have a better suggestion.

Write a song about a tiny Japanese BBQ.

The tiny Japanese BBQ known as a shichirin.  
The song 7 Rings, by the way, came about after she returned her engagement ring in November 2018 from Pete Davidson, and then purchasing seven Tiffany & Co. rings that she wears with six of her friends.

Grande is the first artist to have the lead singles from each of the first five studio albums debut within the top-ten on the US charts.

So… for anyone getting a tattoo in a foreign language, especially one that uses a foreign alphabet, caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph