Japan

The Reiwa Era

Tuesday, 30 April, 2019

That’s what begins tomorrow in Japan when Prince Naruhito becomes the country’s 126th emperor. He will ascend the Chrysanthemum throne and lead the country into the new Reiwa era. This will mark the end of the current Heisei era, which began with today’s abdicating Emperor Akihito in 1989.

The talented young Japanese photographer Tatsuto Shibata was born in Ibaraki, a prefecture bordering the Pacific Ocean northeast of Tokyo. Shibata’s compositions oscillate between the classical and the quirky, like this Buddha.

Japan


The silence of the Jesuits in Edu Japan

Friday, 25 November, 2016 0 Comments

“Two trees, made into the form of a cross, were set at the water’s edge. Ichizo and Mokichi were fastened to them. When it was night and the tide came in, their bodies would be immersed in the sea up to the chin. They would not die at once, but after two or even three days of utter physical and mental exhaustion they would cease to breathe.” Silence, Shusaku Endo

In his 1966 novel, Silence, Shusaku Endo explored the many intricate, terrible torments feudal Japan devised to kill Jesuits arriving to spread the word of God. The plight of those “hidden Christians” (隠れキリシタン Kakure Kirishitan) convinced Martin Scorsese to turn the book into his latest film, which will have its premiere next week in front of a very critical audience at the Vatican.

“It’s called the pit. You’ve probably heard about it. They bind you in such a way that you can move neither hands nor feet; and then they hang you upside down in a pit,” so writes Endo describing a popular torture venue above which Christians were hung upside down and bound. They were then cut slightly behind both ears, just enough so that blood trickled out, leading to a lengthy, painful death.

Andrew Garfield, who plays Father Sebastião Rodrigues in Silence, told Fandango he spent a year preparing for the role: “I got to spend a lot of time with Marty and with Jesuit priests; one in particular being Father James Martin, who’s become a real mentor to me and a spiritual director for me, basically. Teaching me about all things Jesuit in a visceral way, not just an intellectual way. In a ‘lived’ way. I just fell in love with the whole process of what it is to be a Jesuit priest.”


The Japanese are different

Friday, 3 June, 2016 0 Comments

First, the news the world has been awaiting: Seven-year-old Yamato Tanooka, who went missing in bear-inhabited forests in northern Japan after his parents abandoned him, has been found alive. Yamato’s parents said they made him get out of their car on a mountain road last Saturday because he had thrown stones at people and cars. After being reunited with his son, father Takayuki Tanooka told reporters: “The first thing I said to him was that I was really sorry. He nodded and said OK, like he understood.”

This clip by the Oh! Matsuri team about the Onbashira Matsuri (Sacred Pillars Festival) in the Nagano Prefecture offers a glimpse of what makes Japan different. Groups of men chop down 16 huge fir trees from the local forests and engage in all kinds of raucous ceremonies as they haul them to the Suwa Grand Shrine. The ancient spectacle is held across the region every seven years to replace the shrine’s sacred pillars.


Surreal English/Japanese phrases

Tuesday, 26 April, 2016 0 Comments

“What a nice barbed wire.”
“Thank you. I knitted it myself.”

While that’s the kind of surreal exchange one could imagine happening in a bar on Mars run by Salvador Dali, it’s actually an example of conversational English as presented by English Vocabulary Not on Any Test, a book that’s big in Japan. And that’s not just an idle phrase, either. The Twitter account has 88,000 followers. The book depicts ordinary people doing ordinary things, using English and Japanese. The target market is Japanese speakers who want to learn English as it is used in conversation across the Anglosphere. Well, an Anglosphere where HR managers convey the bad news by saying, “I’m afraid to say this, but you are passed your best-before date.”

Japanese English

Note: “octopus wiring” is authentic Japanese English and the term is used internationally to described hazardous arrangements of electrical cables.


“The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”

Friday, 14 August, 2015 0 Comments

Reporting from Tokyo for the Financial Times, Robin Harding writes: “On the night of August 14 1945, as Japan prepared to surrender to the Allies, a group of rebel officers launched a coup d’état and seized control of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.” Seventy years on, Harding tells this dramatic story in “Japan’s longest day: plot that nearly prevented war from ending“. Here’s a thriller-like scene: “Determined to fight on, even if it meant the annihilation of their country, the plotters ransacked the palace looking for the prepared recording of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender message and very nearly prevented the end of the second world war.”

For all those who continue to peddle the notion that Japan would have somehow surrendered in a moment of rationality, Harding’s article should be recommended reading. With its fascist leadership and genocidal agenda, Japan was intent on turning Asia into a colony that would be ruled by the Shin guntō, barbarically. In the end, however, the plotters didn’t find the recording of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender message. It was successfully smuggled out of the palace in a laundry basket of women’s underwear and broadcast to a nation that had never heard their “God” speak.

In his speech, Hirohito noted, with historic understatement, that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”. Finally, he said: “However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.” No word of remorse, though, for the horrific crimes that were committed in his name and with his sanction.

From the FT comments on Robin Harding’s article:

Harold Godwinson: “Surely the message is that in fact the use of nuclear weapons saved many millions of lives. Japan then is comparable to Daesh now. Fanatics who believe their cause is beyond value in human life must always be opposed.”


Why Paul Fussell thanked God for the Atom Bomb

Thursday, 6 August, 2015 1 Comment

The great American cultural and literary historian, author and academic Paul Fussell landed in France in 1944 as a 20-year-old second lieutenant with the 103rd Infantry Division and was wounded while fighting the Germans in Alsace. When his Thank God for the Atom Bomb (PDF) essay appeared in The New Republic in August 1981 it was received with howls of rage by leftist revisionists who accused Fussell of justifying a “war crime”. Unlike his detractors, however, Fussell knew whereof he wrote.

During the storm, Fussell remained firm in his conviction that the two bombs ended World War II. Along with saving the hundreds of thousands of American lives that would have been lost in a protracted invasion, they also saved millions of Japanese lives that would have been sacrificed in defending Nippon. Snippet:

“John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, ‘a difference, at most, of two or three weeks.’ But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. ‘Two or three weeks,’ says Galbraith.

Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That’s a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.”

The atom bomb was a a terrible weapon, but it was used to prevent a more terrible slaughter.


“What hath night to do with sleep?”

Tuesday, 25 June, 2013 0 Comments

That’s what John Milton asked in Paradise Lost. Ichiro Tanaka, 45, who commutes daily to Tokyo from Kumagaya City in Saitama Prefecture, may never achieve Milton’s level of immortality but his Zukai: Densha Tsukin no Sakuho (An illustrated guide to accomplishing rail commuting) has the potential for posterity. Do not close the book you are reading, look out the window at the platform or make a phone call is his advice to seated passengers on how to avoid giving a false sense of hope to the standing masses that they’ll be getting your seat at the next station.

Tokyo Dreams, “a journey behind closed eyelids”, in which the British filmmaker Nicholas Barker “contemplates the stillness and vulnerability of his fellow passengers and wonders whether they will wake in time for their stop”, is an absorbing clip about sleeping commuters in Tokyo, but it does raise some disquieting questions about privacy. Are all our public appearances now fodder for the filmmaker? What right to solitude does the unconscious person have? And, importantly, what aspectbs of personal dignity remain within the control of the individual today?


Kirin knows its apostrophes

Sunday, 21 April, 2013 0 Comments

While its and it’s are surely the most often confused words in English, the people at Kirin Brewery know how to use the apostrophe and there’s no fear that Kirin will be cited by the the Apostrophe Protection Society for abuse of punctuation. By the way, in Japanese, “kirin” can refer to giraffes or to […]

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Thursday, 26 April, 2012

Everything that people admire about the Japanese: their reverence of tradition, their dedication to craft, their respect for family, their work ethic, their politeness towards customers… is captured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono. Filmed in his Tokyo restaurant, it focuses on his work and his relationship with his son and successor, Yoshikazu.