Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Four Fours

The other day, at the supermarket, I think it was the same day Cesaria Evora died, when I was completing my transaction, I was a little taken aback to see that the change came out to exactly 4,444 yen, a number with not much significance to a typical Westerner, but fraught with peril for Japanese. Four, or shi 四, has the same pronunciation as the word for death — hence the aversion. For four fours to be stacked together like this was formidable.

Who were the four? Well, first there was Christopher Hitchens, whom I wrote about a few days ago here. Then Evora, the lovely Portuguese singer from Ivory Coast whom I remember seeing live some years back in Berkeley. Then Václev Havel, author of The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, last President of Czechoslovakia, first President of the Czech Republic. Finally Kim Jong Il.

Certainly scores of people have died around the world in the last week — these are only a few of the notables among many. But I'm a superstitious blogger. So I match each four of my change to a name.

Of these, the Korean dictator interests me the least. Frankly the threat of that depressing regime elicits mainly a yawn — even if I do happen to live within missile range of his apparently trigger-happy son.

Of the four, as a historical figure, Havel, leader of a revolution that smacked communism down, will be remembered longest.  But as a writer — I really don't know. Mainly it has to do with this nagging question: can a man of letters, of literature — any artist really — become a political figure without in the end polluting the spring of creativity from which the words flow?

I guess it depends on what type of artist you are; what you think art ultimately can or should do. For Havel, a lifelong dissident, living within a system he wanted to erase, living without the luxury, perhaps, of complete artistic freedom, the notion of pure art, or art for art's sake would have had very little meaning.

But still, for a writer entering the stink hole of politics, the danger cannot be overstated. Perhaps Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru's 2010 Nobel Laureate, summed it up best in his "Fleeting Impression of Vaclev Havel": "....almost inevitably politics degrades the language in which it is expressed, that its discourse sooner or later falls into stereotypes or clichés, that it is rarely authentic or personal since what is politic to say always takes primacy over what should be said."

Havel was certainly aware of the danger. In his play The Garden Party, Pludek, the father, keeps spouting maxims and clichés: "The middle classes are the backbone of the nation." "He who fusses about a mosquito net can never hope to dance with a goat.""Not even the Hussars of Cologne would go into the woods without a clamp." (Your guess is as good as mine as to the meaning of some of those.)

Of course, both Llosa and Havel recognized the differences between political discourse and literary language. And it was precisely because of this moral laxity or laziness of other politicians that Havel chose to write his own speeches.  Llosa speaks of Havel being aware of "the Machiavellian conflict, sometimes latent and sometimes explicit, but always inevitable, between efficacy and truth."

Havel knew that pressure, but resisted it. Or so he said. "I can guarantee that in the pursuit of government, I have never lied." Interestingly, this statement reveals nothing about his art.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dumpster 0108

"We, too, are natural."
"When the sea and sky are cleaned up, the whole environment becomes beautiful."

Cue corny violin.

Friday, December 16, 2011

That's What Killed the Old Man

By now I'm sure anyone with half an internet connection or a TV is aware that the writer Christopher Hitchens has passed away.

Other than marking his new book Arguably as "to read" on Goodreads about a month or two ago based on an article I read in the New York Times, I can honestly say he was almost entirely off my radar. If I had read his reviews or essays in Slate or The Nation or Vanity Fair, I had never put the name to a personality, I was never conscious of "following" Christopher Hitchens.

Until last night, that is. As I was strolling here and there on the internet, I somehow meandered from a Wikipedia entry on Rudolph Steiner and anthroposophy (whatever that is) to the god-awful looking Goetheanum, to discussions on the philosophy of freedom, to trying to wrap my head around the statement "mathematics is a kind of thinking in which thought itself forms the perceptions," to the cult of Joseph Smith and the Church of the Latter Day Saints, to a video of Mitt Romney talking in his fake "I'm trying to be so sincere" way to an old gay soldier who was asking him about marital rights, to finally a critique of religion by Hitchens. All of that was followed by a couple of hours of watching him on YouTube skillfully and suavely eviscerate opponents and shibboleths.

I watched the profile on him on 60 Minutes from this March. I peeked through my fingers at the smarmy Anderson Cooper interviewing him last year ("Hitchens, God, and Cancer.") I watched pre-cancer interviews and talk show appearances. I watched him talk honestly and acerbically about his vices and beliefs.

Then I went to bed. In the middle of the night I came upon him on a desolate country road with dead yellow stalks of grass blowing in the cold wind. Hitchens, gaunt and unshaven, wearing a giant black full-length wool coat, held a tattered piece of cloth up at me — he was somehow simultaneously both threatening me and pleading for help. His anguish and my fear were both real and extreme. I'm told that I woke up shout-murmurring, which eventually trailed off into a whimper.

This morning I decided I had to buy his latest book and read it, so I downloaded it from the Apple Store and perused the Table of Contents and the Introduction. I read a little bit of it here and there. I wondered if he was still alive.

Two or three hours later, Breaking News on the front page of The New York Times: Christopher Hitchens has died.

This evening, in class, I taught the word coincidence to one of my students. But he wasn't interested, or perhaps just couldn't relate. A navel gazer turning circles around a little island. All just too much after a hard day at work.

But I'm not really convinced that my dream and Hitchens's death were a coincidence. Not really convinced that's how the world works. Not really convinced either by Hitchens's brave stand of atheism:

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”
— from The Portable Atheist

It is entirely possible that what you wish for is what you get. Angry and confused on the way out. I don't pretend to know what happens at the time of death, but I much more inclined to think along Tibetan Buddhist lines:

The Buddhist view is that at the time of death the subtle consciousness, which carries with it all the karmic imprints from previous lives, separates from the body. After spending up to forty-nine days in an intermediate state between lives, the consciousness enters the fertilised egg of its future mother at or near the moment of conception. New life then begins. We bring into our new life a long history of previous actions with the potential to ripen at any time or in any of a myriad ways.

The state of mind at the time of death is vitally important and can have a considerable effect on the situation into which we are reborn. Hence the need to prepare well for death and to be able to approach our death with a peaceful, calm and controlled mind. (from Healing: A Tibetan Buddhist Perspective)

If nothing else, we can leave this life in a hopeful state. We can look forward to death. It's very hard for me to agree with Hitchens that there is "nothing more."

And I'm sorry I had to run away from him on the road.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today's Kanji Revelation

The kanji for whale

鯨 = 魚 + 京

kujira    equals      fish        plus       capitol

as in the western and eastern capitols: Kyōto 京都 and Tōkyō 東京.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kanji Study Sunday

The kanji for house. いえ。A place to keep a roof (the top radical) over your pig's (bottom radical) head.
Thankfully houses have evolved, even if the character hasn't.
One I particularly like in Imabari.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

For Those of You Studying Japanese

Penguin has just come out with a book of contemporary short stories with English and Japanese on facing pages. Nicely, the Japanese has the furigana or ruby over the kanji so one need not spend all one's time looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

Authors include Murakami Haruki, Yoshimoto Banana, Koike Masayo, Ishii Shinji, and others.

From the introduction by Editor (and translator) Michael Emmerich (with a dash of hyperbole):
So here we are. Something amazing is happening. We are standing right on the verge of it. We are, in fact, already a part of it, in its sway — and so is this floppy little book you hold in your hands: the incredible thrill of starting to read, for pleasure, in a language that seemed for so long as if it had been designed expressly to exasperate and discourage. There is a community of people, growing steadily larger, who share the excitement of knowing two very different, very rich languages, and we are joining it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bashō Passed Through Fukushima Once

In 1689 Matuso Bashō went on a long walk, starting in Edo (present day Tokyo) and ending 2400 kilometers later in Ōgaki, Gifu Prefecture sometime in 1691.

On his way he passed through Fukushima. After bumbling around in the mountains looking fruitlessly for a purple, floppy-eared iris named katsumi — calling out "katsumi, katsumi" as he went along — Bashō poked about Kurozuka no Iwaya (the cave-house of Kurozuka, home to a she-devil) before searching for lodging in Fukushima.

Passing strange then. Passing strange now.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Who "Owns" Radioactive Waste?

from the November 24th Asahi Shimbun:
During court proceedings concerning a radioactive golf course, Tokyo Electric Power Co. stunned lawyers by saying the utility was not responsible for decontamination because it no longer "owned" the radioactive substances.
“Radioactive materials (such as cesium) that scattered and fell from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant belong to individual landowners there, not TEPCO,” the utility said.
You can read the rest of the article here.

TEPCO's position is as ridiculous as Chichikov's in Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Hachiya. Furry feeling on the tongue before ripe. Astringent. Must wait till ready to burst to eat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yucca, Yucca Moths, and Bogus Yucca Moths

Yucca is not native to Japan, but it does well here in our area. This one has been planted in a cozy, reflecting spot against a wall.

It does well with this one caveat — there's no one around to pollinate it, so any plant you see is at an evolutionary dead end. The Yucca in the United States, Mexico, and Caribbean rely on female moths of the genus Tegeticula to deposit pollen into the stigma of each flower. Without these moths, and absent anyone to hand pollinate them, the flowers won't produce seeds.

In their native habitat they are also host — and I love this term — to "bogus yucca moths," smaller moths that reside in the relative safety of the flowers, but don't do any of the heavy lifting/pollinating work.

My guess is that some day in the misty future, these "bogus" moths will — like the much-maligned and removed appendix in the human body — be shown to serve some useful purpose and will have to be renamed.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Right Enzymes

Echosquirrel and I have this running dispute on how long it takes to digest a meal. I've always tended to think that at most it takes a day, whereas she argues that the whole process from intake to elimination of wastes takes a few days. While doing a little basic research to find out that she is right — it takes 72 hours on average (the large intestine is not 9 meters long for nothing) — I also discovered that many Japanese people carry an enzyme in their gut not found in Westerners' for digesting seaweed.

According to a May, 2010 article by Karen Schwarzberg and Mike Gurney in the Microbe Blog Small Things Considered,
the Japanese can digest their nori (Porphyra) courtesy of the particular strains of B. plebeius that they carry, strains that are not found in North Americans. Furthermore, genomic evidence suggests that the initial acquisition of the β-porphyranase genes by B. plebeius was by horizontal transfer from a marine Bacteroidetes. The likely site for the transfer might well have been within the human GI tract since such Bacteroidetes are present on the uncooked seaweeds that have been avidly eaten by the Japanese since at least the eighth century. The transfer would have provided the host with a selective advantage: the ability to metabolize and derive energy from a frequently-eaten carbohydrate source that others in the population could not digest. Interestingly, the paper (Hehemann, Nature) reports an incident of transfer from mother to infant, implying that we can pass those modified bacteria to close family members and perhaps others.
I don't have any particular problems digesting nori or the various other seaweeds I ingest on an almost daily basis.
Here's hoping I have the right enzymes.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November Flowers

I've been seeing these here and there about town the past few days, but I haven't been able to identify them yet. Not immortalized enough to be in the haiku flower book; not tasty enough to make the edible plant guide; not pedestrian enough to grace the field flower guide.

**** after writing these lines I decided to do a quick Google blekko search in Japanese — don't know why I didn't start with that — and quickly found out who they are: koutei dahlia (皇帝ダリア) or Dahlia imperialis, native to Central America.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Racy Ancient Literature

In a previous post, I wrote a little about Haruki Murakami's new book of essays, The Enormous Turnip; The Difficult Avocado. At the time I hadn't yet read the first eponymous essay and so did my best to project my own thoughts onto what our lover of deep holes might be up to.

I'm happy to report I've read it now — to my surprise Murakami has shot off in an entirely different direction. After introducing us to the wholesome version of the tale that all Japanese children know (with all of the townspeople pulling together to remove the turnip) Murakami tells us that the Russian "original" indeed has a precursor — in ancient Japanese literature — and the story is a racy one.

According to Murakami, before the Russian version, there was a similar story in the Konjaku Monogatari (今昔物語) a thirty-one volume collection of tales from India, China, and Japan written  in the Heian Period (794-1185). All of the stories in these volumes start with the phrase "Now long ago (今は昔) which Murakami himself slips into the retelling of the turnip tale.

His recounting goes something like this: Now long ago, a prince was traveling from the Western Capital to the Eastern one, when all of a sudden he was overcome by a burning sexual desire (i.e. a raging hard-on). He happened to be in the countryside near a field, so he went over and pulled out the biggest turnip he could find, made a hole in it, and, after relieving his desire inside it, tossed the used thing back into the field.

The next day, a young woman came by and found the ravaged vegetable with the hole in it. What did she do? Of course, she ate the whole thing (I kid you not) and soon thereafter became pregnant. Her parents couldn't quite comprehend how the eaten turnip could have caused their daughter's condition, and were not a little put out, but nine months later, when a beautiful child was born, they changed their minds.

Of course, all that is needed is for this strange tale to have an even happier ending — which we get in the form of the Prince coming back round after five years to see what has happened to the turnip he had poked. After learning the story, and meeting his child, he decides to do the right thing by sticking around and marrying the girl.

Murakami tells us it is a strange tale. He tells us it's surreal. That there is no moral. That to arbitrarily have sex with a turnip can be a good thing (turnips not possessing personality or feelings). That the Russian and Japanese tales, are two entirely different species.

"Somewhat strange, but good, this fairytale," he tells us. Yes.

This One's For You

A heartfelt kampai! to Jon Allen at The Japan Blog List and Nicolas Soergel at The Japan Blog Directory for including links to my blog on their directories.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ai Weiwei's Waiting For You

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was released from jail in June but has recently been slapped with a $2.4 million "tax" bill which he must pay within two weeks or risk further harassment and/or imprisonment from the government.

According to a report in the New York Times, he had begun receiving small donations from people over the internet to pay the bill until Big Brother shut that down:
"The donations began pouring in on Thursday, many of them delivered  electronically and accompanied by politically tinged comments. “You helped them to design the Bird’s Nest, but they sent you into a bird cage,” said one donor, referring to Mr. Ai’s role in designing the Olympic stadium in Beijing. “You charged them fees, but now they fine you more than hundreds of times that in blood and sweat.'"
Most recently people have begun walking past his property in Beijing and floating paper Maos over the wall into his garden.

How To Make Flying Money:

First, tape a couple of high denomination Yuan together, then follow the instructions above.

Ai Weiwei will be waiting for you.


Update 2/19/2016: I don't know if the situation for Weiwei in China has changed, but here in the U.S., the website Artsy has a dedicated Ai Weiwei page which includes his bio, pictures of over 120 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date exhibition listings. 

You may also want to follow Ai Weiwei on Instagram @aiww where he has been chronicling the plight of refugees coming into Greece by boat.

Little White Dog

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Artificial Persons

I was heartened yesterday to learn that Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks had created a group called Wolf-PAC with the aim of calling for a constitutional amendment through the state legislatures to abolish the absurd fiction that corporations are somehow persons — in effect ending corporations' ability to spend unlimited amounts of money to finance elections. (See Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.)

That two-thirds of the states must call for a convention, and then three-quarters of states must ratify the amendment makes the likelihood of such a thing happening perhaps small, but the mere fact that people are starting to push back and get directly involved in democracy makes me feel not a little hopeful — especially with my participation being limited so many miles and time zones away.

I've been listening to Thom Hartmann rail against the notion of corporate personhood for quite some time now. When I used to live in Montana, I'd drive around to the local bookstores and hear him and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders eloquently and it seemed fruitlessly pleading for the rights of regular, working class people. He argued (and continues to argue) that the only way we can restore a true democracy in America is to abolish the notion of corporate personhood.

From Hartmann's website:
The Supreme Court ruled on an obscure taxation issue in the Santa Clara County vs. The Union Pacific Railroad case, but the Recorder of the court - a man named J. C. Bancroft Davis, himself formerly the president of a small railroad - wrote into his personal commentary of the case (known as a headnote) that the Chief Justice had said that all the Justices agreed that corporations are persons.
And in so doing, he - not the Supreme Court, but its clerical recorder - inserted a statement that would change history and give corporations enormous powers that were not granted by Congress, not granted by the voters, and not even granted by the Supreme Court. Davis’s headnote, which had no legal standing, was taken as precedent by generations of jurists (including the Supreme Court) who followed and apparently read the headnote but not the decision.
What is especially ironic about this is that Davis knew the Court had not ruled on this issue. We found a handwritten note in the J.C. Bancroft Davis collection in the Library of Congress, from Chief Justice Waite to reporter Davis, explicitly saying, “we did not meet the constitutional issues in the case.” (In other words, the Court had decided the case on lesser grounds, which it always prefers to do when possible.)
Yet Davis wrote that the constitutional issue of corporate personhood had been decided, and his headnote was published the year Waite died, most likely after Waite’s death. The railroads were persons, he wrote (in the headnote), implying that they’re entitled to the same rights as persons. And Davis attributed this new legal reality to Chief Justice Waite who had specifically, in writing, disavowed it.
Another great irony of this event is that the Bill of Rights was designed to protect human persons because of their vulnerability in relations with other human persons who may be much more powerful. But corporations are bestowed with potential immortality, can change their identity in a day, or even tear off parts of themselves and instantly turn those parts into entirely new “persons.” Yet regardless of all these superhuman powers, corporations are now considered persons.
People are ethical, moral beings. Corporations are blind, amoral, entities whose sole reason of being is to maximize shareholder profit. Which is not to say that there are not unethical, immoral, or amoral people, or that there are not ethical corporations. There are both.
I think we need to go back to calling corporations what they are: artificial persons.

Or this is the story of your enslavement.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vintage Cars Around Town

A Renault:
An Aston Martin. (This one's my favorite):
A Mini Cooper:
A Chevy Chevelle? (Can't read the writing on the side.)
A Honda Civic. (This one needs some work):
 I could be wrong on any or all of these. If you have any insight, please comment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Under Surveillance
Growing up in a Roman Catholic household, the fact of God's ubiquity and hence ability to see what I was up to at all times and in all places, instilled in me a healthy dose of paranoia.

A smart trick, certainly, when a mere concept can deter someone from doing something. No need to spend lots of money on pesky priests peeking out from the confessional to see what their nasty boys are doing.

Smarter certainly than the Chinese who, with the help of good ole Cisco, are in the process of plastering the entire city of Chongqing with video surveillance cameras. 500, 000 of them to be exact. Fulan Gong is fucked.

But it's not much better in Manhattan, where Wall Street elite get to play God next to the NYPD's Jesus, spying on peaceful protestors, anarchists, antichrists, and just regular sick-of-it-all peeps who, I think, might have some conceptual smashing to do.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Female Joro Spider

These beauties are everywhere around here. They particularly like to build their webs across trails, so if you're hiking in the woods in Shikoku be sure to bring a stick to whack the threads out of your way. Otherwise you'll be left trying to extricate yourself from the sticky coating of web stretched across your forehead.

Tell-tale signs that you're looking at Nephila clavata: yellow and green-gray patterned back — bright red tipped abdomen — and black and yellow legs.

Here's a view from the other side:
There's also a marked sexual dimorphism, the male being about a third or fourth of the size of the female:
The spider makes a horseshoe orb web with threads radiating out from both the front and back creating a kind of triple boxed kite-like structure.

This female will lay her eggs on the underside of a leaf or stick or on the side of a building. Apparently all of the adults die off in the winter.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Whither Materiality

Chatting with one of my students yesterday, a middle manager in his forties, I learned from him that his company was preparing for a Shinto blessing of a new filtration system at one of their chemical plants.

Not only would they give thanks to the old system for its having served them well for the past forty or fifty years, but they would welcome in the new one with the hopes that it would serve equally admirably for at least as long.

While to some this act might seem deeply superstitious, a superfluous gesture hide-bound in tradition, to me it touches on a deep, metaphysical question.

To wit, Do machines have souls? (Japanese, or at least those who are adherents of Shinto, would probably not word it this way, instead taking it for granted that materials possess ki, a kind of essence or spirit.)

Well, do they, do machines have souls? That was the subject of last week's Car Talk episode (start at 28:00) wherein a caller from Davis, California wanted to know that if by swapping out the engine on his 1990 Isuzu Trooper he would be losing the car's soul.

There was, of course, some good-natured bantering on the question, but the consensus seemed to be that if indeed cars had souls, they would most certainly be located in the engine, so that the swap would most definitely result in the loss of the car's soul. Worse, by putting in a new engine, the caller was at risk of gaining an entirely new and potentially whimsical or dastardly one. (The guys seemed to be conflating soul with personality here, but so be it, they're comedians, not philosophers or semioticians.)

I'm not sure what someone like the late American physicist Richard Feynman would have done with these arguments, but I suspect he would have simply stowed the question in the category of things we don't know anything about. I don't think he would have said de facto that machines or objects don't possess spirit, just that until someone "proves" that they do, we'll have to be content with not knowing.

"Start out understanding religion by saying everything (we know) is possibly wrong."

Everything we think we know is possibly wrong.

And "I don't feel frightened by not knowing things."

I don't feel frightened by not knowing things.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Freedom & Hubris

I had two reactions yesterday when I read the story about exotic animals on the loose near — where else? — Zanesville, Ohio.

The first was "Go Monkey! Go Wolf!"

The second was "what right do we have to subdue and cage wild animals?"

A comment by one Shefiff Lutz summed up opposition to both of my sentiments neatly: “We cannot have animals running loose in this county.” 

And later, as I read about a shark massacre off the coast of Colombia, I thought, "we're doomed. Doomed to live in a domesticated hothouse."

(I came home from work unplanned this afternoon, surprising a cockroach. Splattered the bastard against the kitchen baseboard. Scraped its guts into the trash.)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Finding The Enormous Turnip, The Difficult Avocado

One of the pleasures of living in Japan is that I'm able to get the latest Murakami well before it ever makes it to the states. His newest collection of essays, a self described "comeback after a ten year absence" (as an essayist) is titled The Enormous Turnip, The Difficult Avocado. 

Like salivating over "Japan's most delicious oolong tea (© Murakami)" I was drawn to the cover before I even saw that it was a Murakami by — what else — the big, fat turnip with its conga line of characters dangling from it, the lot of them just having pulled it from the earth.

The cover illustration reminded me of a post I did back in March about a magazine I had found which exalted the turnip by dedicating its entire 96 pages to that venerable vegetable.

And inside that magazine, on page 64, was a spread on the well-known Russian children's book by Alexei Tolstoy from which Murakami got half his title. In the story, an old man grows a giant turnip, asking his wife to help him pull it out after he is unable to do it alone. When even the two of them can't manage it, they recruit, one by one, a child, a dog, a cat, and on down the line to a mouse, until the thing at last pulls free.

The Enormous Turnip's enduring popularity as a children's book does say something interesting about the desire for a kind of collectivism in Japan (I'm assuming that parents pick out most of what children read at this age); or, if not collectivism per se, at least an emphasis on the importance of working together to achieve a common aim. Certainly we're not talking about the fostering of a kind of Russian brand of early Bolshevism; more to the point, I think, is the continued honeycombing of the collective brain-hive, a snug, neatly built structure protected by virtue of being surrounded by ocean; by virtue of employing a single language; by adherence to the notion that the harmony of the group matters.

While The Enormous Turnip may be an apt metaphor for the all-for-one mentality that will be needed to cope with the ongoing problems associated with the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl (you can read about some of the latest issues here, here, and here) it may be a tad simplistic to think that there's going to be some sort of early 1960's-like inspired flowering of national will to achieve those ends. Given the technical difficulties of handling the clean-up of radioactive elements; and normal people's normal aversion to getting anywhere near anything called "radioactive," there's just as likely to be a national burying of heads in sand, a national distancing, as time piles on top of itself, and forests grow, and power plants resume humming, and people forget.

But since I don't think Murakami's essay has so much to do with some of these specific larger issues, and since this post was supposed to be about serendipity, and influences, and what is "in the air" at any one moment, I'll end this admittedly ragged post with one of the book's illustrations, by Ayuru Ōhashi (大橋歩):

They're thinking, I'm thinking, aren't we all thinking: "Holy shit, what if Big Brother lets go?"

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Under My Bike Seat

カマキリ (kamakiri, or praying mantis) looking for a free ride.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

One Piece

I was attracted by the wavy lines in the stone — with the water dripping down into the basin from above and flowing down the lip, it was all rippling motion.

When I asked the temple owner about the carving, he told me that it was all one piece: the fish was carved out of the surrounding stone by a well-known local artist.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

First Stab at Carving Utensils

With all of the typhoons and local storms we've been having this season, there has been a corresponding bumper crop of driftwood on the beach. You can only collect so much before you have to do something with it, so, after finding a pretty cool knife in the hardware store that boys across Japan used to keep their pencils sharpened with, I decided to start hacking away at a few of the pieces I gathered.

Here are the admittedly amateurish results.
Though I am happy with the grain that's been exposed in these, the shapes are a little wonky yet. Worse still, I've used a really fragrant piece of wood to carve the butter knife — a no-no perhaps for something to be used with food.

I did find this excellent book in our local bookstore to help me going forward. It's called "Hand-made Wooden Cutlery"(手ずくりする木のカトラリ) by Nishikawa Takaaki.

Not only does it show some really fine pieces including a cherry wood butter case, but it has step-by-step instructions for creating some of the more difficult pieces, like boxes and bowls.

All right, it's out. I'm in love with wood. At least I'm in the perfect place to carry on the affair. We'll see if it's lasting. I think it should be.

I just need to find me some walnut or gingko.

I do know where one of those is....